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Student Story: Phoebe Michael

What volunteering were you involved in?

I was a part of the Student Tutors Project. My role involved assisting teachers within the classroom at a Special Educational Needs school in in Coventry

Why did you decide to volunteer?

I have always believed that everyone should get the chance to achieve their full potential, and volunteering with this project would give me a chance to play a role in these children’s stories, a prospect which seemed wonderfully fulfilling. Also, I am considering Educational Psychology as a career and therefore the experience I would gain volunteering at an SEN school, I knew, would be hugely beneficial.

What obstacles did you face?

Adapting to working with individuals with widely different needs all at once was challenging. The classroom I helped out with regularly was made up of 11 students, some whom ignored me (until they wanted something from me!), some who wanted to be comforted and close (such as one little girl who fell asleep resting their head on me), some who responded to most situations with oppositional behaviour and some who just wanted my attention constantly. Making sure one boy stepped down from the table, another stopped trying to eat the sand and holding the hand of a little girl with cerebral palsy who wanted help with standing and walking required constant alertness.

What did you gain/learn from volunteering?

A huge sense of fulfilment, confidence in my knowledge from my course, confidence in working with children with lots of special needs and getting to know a group of little ones that I will not forget.

I have learnt about the resource, staffing limits, as well as the lack of assistance that teachers often feel they have from other professionals. Also, how these real life limits, in turn, can get in the way of implementing interventions suggested by research in Psychology.

What have been the highlights of your volunteering experience?

Watching one girl with cerebral palsy build up her ability to walk. I had spent a lot of time with her, she’d reach up for me to hold her hand and get me to walk around the classroom with her again and again. She adored it and often the teachers did not have time to spend one on one time with her.

She came out of her shell, too: in the first 4 weeks I was there she was entirely non-verbal in the classroom, as well as completely quiet. Hearing her giggle out loud as she pretended to roll down a hill so that I would stop her wheelchair from rolling backwards was absolutely precious. And I remember when she said her first word to me, I was asking her to eat her snack, some crisps, but she wanted to play with a toy I had closed and pushed to the side. She reached over and tried to open it, but she couldn’t. About four times, in a very quiet voice, she said “open” and it completely melted my heart.

Do you think your experiences working with Warwick Volunteers will improve your chances of getting a job when you leave university?

Yes, I didn’t have experience working in a classroom before I got involved with this project and I plan to work as a teaching assistant in the next couple of years before applying to do a PhD in Educational Psychology. Many of the jobs I am applying to have a preference for individuals who have experience working in a classroom.

Has your volunteering experience changed, or more firmly established you career plans?

Yes, very much so. I was already considering a career in Educational Psychology but wanted to work in a classroom before deciding if it was right for me. Warwick volunteers gave me that opportunity.

Do you think volunteering has had an impact on your wellbeing?

Yes, when working within a classroom full of children that needed my full and undivided attention I would forget what was happening in the rest of my life. I was truly present and would get lost in the joy of the children in the classroom I was in.

What advice would you give to students who want to get involved?

Do it, and now!!!! I wish I had started earlier, nothing beats the feeling you get when connecting with others.

Name: Phoebe Michael

Year of study: 3rd Year

Subject of study: Psychology

Phoebe Michael