Wednesday, 5 June 2019

Why I Left the Classroom for The Third Sector #VolunteersWeek

Social media volunteer Zach talks about his experience before coming to Missing People and how his mental health lead him to pursue a new career. #VolunteersWeek

Childhood Dream

Since year 4, I was adamant that I wanted to be a teacher. This was because I was convinced that this was the best and only way I could help and inspire other people. I was confident that this would be my one and only career path and that I would be able to influence and guide others towards a better life.

The Burnout 

From the end of 2018 to the beginning of 2019, this idea that had driven my life since I was young was shattered. Two weeks before Christmas Holidays I was signed off work with mild depression and anxiety. I was one of the increasing numbers of teachers that have experienced burnout and accumulating mental health problems. Why, in a profession, as noble as teaching, did I burn out? A profession where it is advertised to be spiritually gratifying and rewarding as well as the most generous career in terms of holidays?
There are many factors in the teaching profession that can lead to burnout, but there are a few key things that hit me harder than others. In the era of constant grading, testing, data synthesis and, analysis; I constantly felt that I was treating the children that I taught as stats, not the young developing humans they are.

Further to this, I had entered teaching with the desire to be able to tell stories. I wanted to embed key concepts that children needed to learn according to the National Curriculum into interactive stories. I knew that if I could achieve this, then I could make hard concepts stick and thrive in young minds. In my pursuit of this, I wanted to conquer the fears of subjects like Math or English that can embed themselves in children at a young age. Alas, with the constant need for planning, marking and recording of data, I replaced storytelling with data gathering - A dull, unfulfilling and mentally exhausting trade-off.

A Dream in Tatters

It was the relentless pursuit for data, the pursuit of getting a child who can’t sit still in the class, or focus on a lesson to meet their targets. Then the need to defend your judgment of why a child was or wasn’t making significant progress to leaders that were increasingly just looking at the numbers. This, combined with the fact that teachers work late evenings and weekends just to keep on top of the workload lead to the breakdown I experienced mentally. In hindsight, this is not surprising. 

With my childhood dream in pieces, I had to date the hardest problem I had faced in my life. I was mentally lost, conflicted and drained. All I knew is that I wanted to help others and I wanted to use the ‘Art of Storytelling’ to do so. But, in what career what direction could, or would I go?

The recovery and journey to a new career 

Through the help of my family and friends. The use of the various services on the NHS, and the Listening Place (a charity counseling service), I worked on my mental health. Through rest and soul searching, I slowly worked out what career path I should try to pursue.

After Christmas and time to rest and recover. I came to the realisation that marketing was an area I wanted to work in. Through this path, I would be able to pursue my desire for storytelling, though it did not necessarily on its own mean I would be helping others. Or at least, I would not be helping others as much as I had been in the classroom (despite the problems in education). Additionally, having spent my career teaching I was not, on paper, formally qualified for a career in marketing.

However, despite these drawbacks, there is like often enough in life, a solution. Charities have often always needed volunteers to help them pursue their betterment of society. Plus, working with them gives their volunteers invaluable experience in the area they wish to help with. A win-win for both parties.

With this knowledge in hand, I drafted multiple cover letters, refreshed my heavily teaching focussed CV and applied to multiple charities. Then with luck, Missing People gave me a chance.

My first experience with Missing People 

When I interviewed for Missing People it was for me a scary step. Having just entered the workplace again (even for a voluntary position). My mind was abuzz with scary, unfounded thoughts. Though I was almost instantaneously set at ease at Missing People. The interview was relaxed but incredibly informative and, the atmosphere of the office friendly and welcoming.

After an interview in where a lot of my imagined fears were dismembered, I received an email informing me that I was welcome to volunteer at the Charity. Once I was accepted, I became a Social Media Volunteer.

What is it like to volunteer at Missing People? 

In my short time here at Missing People (just over a month). Many of the problems that I had with my former career have been solved. In my role I support Nicole the Marketing and Communications Officer with multiple tasks. On my first day working at Missing People, and ever since, the friendly and supportive atmosphere has been confirmed and reinforced repeatedly. It is no surprise that Missing People have been given the highest accreditation by and rank's 14th overall for best not-for-profit places to work. From my first day, and consistently since, I am informed that there is support if I need it. Having returned from a period of low mental health to an environment where I can be exposed to some really emotional stories, this was important. Since volunteering for Missing People, I feel mentally enriched and recovered at the same time.

Missing People, like all other organisations, data is an important tool. It informs us how well we are doing, what we can do better, and potential changes we need to make. Like any organisation, Missing People could fall into the trap of becoming solely data-obsessed. However, this is far from the case. The tasks I have done so far in just over a month of volunteering attest to that. 

From editing and subtitling videos for Missing People's FindEveryChild week. Messaging celebrities asking them to share appeals, writing internal news emails, and blog posts like this. I know from experience that while data is used, the stories and care for people affected by missing is at the core of the charities work. Through volunteers dedicating their time, to employees at Missing People working hard to ensure the charities vital service is the most effective it can be. Missing People provides a service for all its stakeholders. Whether you are a volunteer gaining experience, a family affected by a loved one who has gone missing, or a person who is missing themselves. Missing People is here for you.

The Reward Missing People Offers 

Overall, from my experience so far with Missing People, I feel that it is not only the people they help at the end of the 24-hour helpline, the families they support or the general public they educate that make the environment what it is. I feel that their employees and volunteers grow in multiple ways through a great collaborative atmosphere.  So, if you want to grow, be a part of a great and supportive team and mentors, as well as help those in need; find a charity (maybe Missing People) and volunteer. I can assure you from personal experience, it's really worth it!

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Someone is reported missing every 90 seconds in the UK. The Missing Blog aims to give a voice to all those affected by this issue.

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