The Testing Ground: Exploring Careers in Education through Volunteerism
A common connection between many Boston Partners volunteers is an interest in pursuing a career in education. Many former volunteers are now teachers in public and private schools, whether they were inspired by their service or used Boston Partners as a way to get a ground-floor view of how a classroom works. Not only do volunteers gain insights watching the teachers they’re matched with, they also gain perspective on the benefits of having a volunteer in the classroom. Three former volunteers – Boris Samarov, Nicole Casty, and Eowyn Daly – shared how their volunteer experiences influenced their professional paths.
Boris Samarov volunteered with Boston Partners in order to facilitate a career shift. “When I decided to change careers completely from being a binary printer to working in elementary education – which is a pretty severe change – I felt like I really needed some hands-on, in-class experience to figure out whether it was something I could and wanted to do,” he said.
Samarov now teaches in Hingham, Massachusetts, but eight years ago volunteered at a school in Jamaica Plain. He worked one-on-one with a fourth grade student on literacy, “but he mostly just wanted to talk about the action figure that he had with him,” he said.
“I tried to do kind of a social trade with him where I would talk to him about his action figure a little bit and then he would engage with me in the reading,” said Samarov. “He was definitely charming.”
The class he was in had a number of troubled students. “To me, the benefit of having a volunteer like that in a classroom is another adult that can form a positive and impactful relationship with the student. It’s just another opportunity to reach somebody,” Samarov explained. He also believed the teacher was careful to pair the students that could actually benefit from help from a stranger, and because he could assist, the teacher could focus on some of the other students.
Eowyn Daly attended Simmons College in the 1980’s with the goal of becoming a teacher. “They [Simmons] started us off straight away with volunteering, even before student teaching, just to get our feet wet,” she said. Their philosophy was to get people in the classrooms early to make sure it’s what their students really want, before they spend four years on a degree. This is how Daly first became involved with Boston Partners.
Daly’s experience was part of a larger partnership with Simmons College, and it was a bit different from the one-on-one mentoring model that Samarov followed. Daly would take students outside the classroom and they would read together. “I was there to read and talk with them,” said Daly. “They all seemed eager to talk.”
Her experience as a volunteer confirmed that teaching was right for her. “I really enjoyed working with the children and the students; they were so engaged in what we were doing. It was further proof that I was doing the right thing,” she reflected.
Nicole Casty, who taught in middle and high school, also felt that the experience set her on the path she wanted to pursue. “I was a history major in college. And I kind of had the idea I wanted to teach,” she said.
She was looking for internships or opportunities that would help her in that direction, and found Boston Partners. After her training, she was sent to the Grover Cleveland School for the summer to assist a teacher. “It was a completely different environment than I had ever been in before. It was amazing, such a positive experience,” she said.
The teacher Casty worked with was a man named Mr. Snow. “He was just a nice guy doing his job and trying to get through a rough class in a summer school environment. Summer school is a rough place to teach—nobody wants to be there.”
The eighth grade class was mostly remedial students. Casty recalled two 16-year-old kids in the class who could not read, “who had just been passed on, and passed on, and passed on,” she explained. For her, it was eye-opening to see those kids for the first time, who were struggling so much.
“I think that’s the purpose of Boston Partners,” Casty said. “It’s to bring another person in there who can help teachers focus and to give kids more one-on-one attention, even as a volunteer. You’re paying attention to someone who may ordinarily not be receiving that attention from other places.”
Casty, as with Samarov and Daly, also shared that the volunteer experience was extremely formative. She appreciates the opportunities Boston Partners provided to work with inner city students. “You are competing for their attention over so many other things kids have going on in their life,” she said.
Boston Partners welcomes anyone considering a career in teaching to share the academic mentor experience in a Boston Public Schools classroom.