Like many professions, it is important for educators to stay current in their content area and also to be a lifelong learner related to the art of teaching. In virtually every state, educators are required to return to school to earn additional credits and/or they must attend a predetermined number of hours of training. All of this professional development for educators usually falls on the shoulders of the educator to both seek out and fund.
Therefore, years ago educators from each content area began to form groups and organizations to gather and share best practices. Now, these organizations provide professional development and training for educators in each content area at a national, regional, state and local level.
In content areas such as mathematics and English, you will typically find a national organization that holds an annual conference, seeks out speakers and experts to share with the participants and members and sometimes even does research. The local affiliate for the content area helps to provide much more cost-effective trainings for teachers because it is closer to home and they understand the needs of the local area.
For world language teachers, there is a series of organizations that focus on the art of teaching a language to students at the national (ACTFL), regional and state level. For examples and descriptions, please visit the Acronyms in Education document where many of these are hyperlinked. In addition to these organizations that support teachers of every language, there are also a series of national language-specific organizations like the American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese (AATSP) and the Chinese Language Teachers Association (CLTA). Each of these support language teachers of their specific language and they provide opportunities for students learning those languages too.
Why is this important for an AFS volunteer?
First, many of these language organizations have competitions for students of the languages. This means that there will be events where students and teachers alike are dedicating time outside of the school day to learn language and culture. These students are prime candidates for our study abroad programs and these teachers are great connections because they are clearly supportive of ensuring their students connect with language and culture. On top of language competitions, there are also language immersion days for students and teachers, there are language-specific newsletters and/or there is a language website.
Second, these events are almost entirely volunteer run. There will be registration tables where you could assist and have AFS materials available at the same time. There are events that you and your hosted students could help to judge (if you know/speak the language of the competition), hosted students could assist during a transition time by telling jokes in the language, performing a dance/song for the participants or even helping to hand out the awards at the end of the day. This is a great opportunity to remind the educators of the benefits of having a native speaker in his/her class as a model for the students, show participating students that study abroad and hosting opportunities are available in their area, meet parents who are there to see their students perform who might then make a connection about language learning with a hosted student and finally show the hosted students a new activity done by students in the United States.
Next, this is a great place to combine forces. Everyone there is volunteering in some way and you can match up a volunteer with a talent from AFS with a need at the competition. For example, you may have a volunteer that loves to take pictures so that person could walk around all day with an AFS shirt on and talk to kids and families about the program while taking photos. You may have a volunteer who likes to write, they could write an article about the competition and submit it with a few photos to the local newspaper to highlight students and their families. You may have a liaison that is finding that their hosted student isn’t making a lot of friends, this could be a great way to find an interested audience who might want to engage with the hosted student.
Finally, you can connect with the educators from these organizations (state organizations/chapters are recommended) to share at their board meetings, to offer to work alongside them on a project or even to be present at one of their events. You are encouraged to meet these teacher leaders and their engaged students and share the AFS mission and things that we have to offer like Project: Change, Global Prep Programs, Scholarships, opportunities for school presentations and so much more based on what your local volunteers have the capacity to promote and deliver.