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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 18, Number 4, January/February 2006

On being well: Volunteerism is social wellness

by Julia Johnson

"The British Columbia Teachers’ Federation is a union of professionals that represents and advocates for the social, professional, and economic goals of teachers, and promotes a quality, pluralistic, public-school system through leadership and advocacy, professional development, collective bargaining, and other services for members." The teachers of British Columbia walked their talk during the recent civil protest. What is not readily apparent to those who have little or no direct interaction with the BCTF Executive, is that the teachers’ walk was strengthened by our elected executive working in partnership with volunteer local executives and professional development associates. In the words of Jinny Sims, "...it is the front-line work of volunteers in each school district that keeps us all connected, as they wrestle with local issues and provide professional workshops that seek solutions to issues. Each BCTF volunteer keeps this professional union grounded, so the face and the voice of the Federation is representative of its 38,000 teachers."

The mandate of the BCTF is to serve the teachers of this province. As a union of professionals, the BCTF meets the needs of teachers and students through those who volunteer. This was evident at the BCTF summer conference held at UBC, in August, for PD associates and local executive members. However, the public (and many teachers) are unaware of how volunteerism is an integral part of our teachers’ union. Through BCTF volunteers, teachers are able to access support for their professional and personal issues, and further their professional development. Using the model, "Teachers Teaching Teachers" the BCTF embodies the social-wellness domain of the wellness paradigm.

Volunteerism is fundamental to the social fabric of a just and caring society. Through volunteers faith and hope is restored to those who see no solution to their despair or their devastation.

When I became a PD wellness associate, five years ago, it never occurred to me that I was becoming a volunteer for the BCTF. I saw my work with the wellness cadre as a way to pursue my interest in this topic and as part of the bigger picture of my work, in the same way a PE teacher views coaching.

A volunteer is someone who chooses to do something with no promise of compensation. In this sense, all teachers volunteer when they participate in school-related activities that are separate from their teaching mandate. It is worthwhile for teachers to be aware of this fact as the choices they make regarding their work can greatly affect the time, energy, and personal well-being they have to give to the job they have been hired to do. It would also be worthwhile for teachers to respond with "I will volunteer to do that," when asked, "Who would like to do this?" Responding with "I will volunteer" makes it clear that you are choosing to do something that is not part of your job. Parents and students need to know the extra things teachers do are adjuncts to the job, and are not mandatory.

In naming this extra work what it is, teachers become role models for volunteerism; they teach that volunteering is an essential component of a humane society, and they demonstrate the meaning of social responsibility. This action creates a greater awareness by the public of volunteerism and its connection to social responsibility, which translates into a more socially well society.

Julia Johnson, a learning resource teacher at Red Bluff School, in Quesnel, is a BCTF PD wellness associate and a member of the Teacher Newsmagazine Advisory Board. johnsonj@abccom.bc.ca

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