Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Bad volunteer?

After struggling with one of my senior classes, this week I finally had 12 students with enough books that everyone was sharing one between two. Compared to last week where on one day I only had one student and on the next I had 16 who only brought two books, Monday's class was excellent.

So yay!

Yet my spirit feels a heavy nay.

I am tired and exhausted.

I have not had a weekend yet.
Yep no weekend
where the time is only for me,
no work responsibility.
What do you mean? No weekend?
Didn't you just finish Saturday and Sunday?

Yeah, but I was working on Saturday and Sunday, preparing for clubs, for lessons, then having knitting club followed by writing club. The weekend was not my own but filled with scattered work.

In one week, I have spent 34 hours interacting with students. It is draining. When I have free time for myself it is not really my own because I have to prepare lessons and activities. My schedule is scattered so even though I get big chunks of free time, it still feels like I am working all day from 8 am-7 pm. There are very few moments where I feel like there is no responsibility on my plate except when I lay my head down to go to sleep.

This semester reminds me of how parents are always on. They go to work and when they come home they have their kids to be responsible for. My time is filled with students morning, noon, and evenings. I get moments of free time, but haven't learned how to use them to unwind and re-energize.

I feel like I need a full day without social interactions with students, without feeling the stress that I should be preparing for lessons and clubs. I need solitude from the patience and engaged attitude one needs in order to have English conversations with English learners. I need a moment of rest from the not very intellectually stimulating interactions where the focus is on the student. I need to be able to leave work at work, but as a volunteer in China my life and my social interactions are work.

Over the past year and a half I have had a light teaching load of 10 hours a week; therefore, I filled the time by interacting with students outside of class in the English community center. This semester I have jumped to a teaching load of 16 hours a week and still feel responsible to maintain the interactions with students outside of class.

The question I need to ask though is when is too much too much? Maybe I should cut back? As a volunteer should I drive myself to exhaustion turning into a drained shell of a person unhappy, stressed, going to bed early and having anxiety dreams, feeling the dread of each day, feeling like a machine churning out English learning conversations?

Teaching volunteers in China are responsible for their primary job of teaching English in university classrooms. Plus there is a slight push to do secondary projects. Volunteers can feel pleased with their volunteer service if they are successful at their primary job even if they only do a small secondary project.

My dilemma is will I still be a good volunteer if I cut back my secondary projects from 18 hours a week to maybe something a lot less?

I fear that if I stop going to the Tree House the students will be disappointed since many of the workers volunteered to work in the library in order to have weekly conversations with a native speaker where they have to be there because it is their job.

When I asked one of the Freshmen assistant managers, "Do you like being responsible for opening the door twice a week and having to sit in the Tree House for four hours a week?"

She replied, "Yes I do because it forces me to go to the Tree House to practice my oral English."

If I cut back my secondary projects from 18 hours a week to something a lot less, students won't get to interact with me as much on a one on one level, will I still be a good volunteer?

1 comment:

M said...

No you won't. You have to find a balance because if you are exhausted and stressed and irritable and what not because too much is too much, you are not a good volunteer either. The interactions with the students will be less enjoyable for both you and them if you don't want to have them and force them on yourself.
I think one day off is completely reasonable and the students can understand that. Try and share with your sitemate, to make sure she goes to the treehouse when you don't and vice versa?
Good luck and take care of your health mental and physical health, it's a big part of the whole thing (well, you know that after having had so many PC docs in various countries of the world!)