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Why Bother Applauding Volunteerism?

Why Bother Applauding Volunteerism?

As an elementary public school teacher, I teach all the subjects to my fourth graders; math, reading, history, science, and writing. I could teach one subject a day for a year and still not get through all the content of any one of the curricula. Though I know more about these subjects than my fourth graders, and consider myself a lifelong learner, my knowledge is not as deep as I would like it to be. So, I applaud the volunteers who willingly and without pay, spend time in my classroom sharing their expertise with my students and with me. 

      The Willing Experts

Fourth grade is the year students learn about the history of Idaho and this year I began with the unit on the geography of Idaho. Our state has some spectacular landscapes; deep lakes, raging rivers, steep mountains and volcanic rock beds. Since I don’t know everything about geography, I recently invited Tony, a retired geography professor, into my classroom to teach my students and I about the history behind how some of the lakes in our area were formed. I know some vague facts about the glaciers and how they shaped some of the landscape, but Tony’s life is steeped in the study of land formations. 

Tony tromped down to my classroom carrying a bag of rocks, his briefcase of brochures and large maps tucked under his arm. He taught at the college level, so I was a little worried about how he was going to relate to my high energy fourth graders who lack much self-control. But Tony was not taken aback by them.

He showed them pictures of wooly mammoths, let them hold various rocks left behind by the glaciers, and held up big colorful maps of our lake to explain its unusual shape. He held his audience captive for most of the time and when he didn’t, he knew how to capture it once again. 

Two days later, we met up with Tony again, this time on location. We drove to different points on our lake and Tony’s narration from the classroom came alive as we stood on the windy shoreline looking out at the lake and mountains. I could imagine the ice flow coming down from Canada, and carving out the landscape of where I stood. I’m not sure what my students imagined as they shuffled their feet in the rocks and inched their way too close to the drop-off.  But Tony was not taken aback by their high energy. He seemed to soak it in and enjoy it.  

Afterward, Tony and I exchanged a few words with each other. 

“God bless you for teaching these kids,” he said.

“God bless you for crossing over the threshold of your retirement and into my world,” I replied. 

Why bother applauding volunteerism? I am grateful for those who possess more knowledge than me and who willingly step into my world to share their expertise. We all benefit from each other.

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