To celebrate our inspiring Oakland School Volunteers, we’re asking them to share their stories. These are their Volunteer Voices.
Education has been important for communities since the dawn of human history—as English writer G.K. Chesterton put it, “Education is simply the soul of a society as it passes from one generation to another.”
Here at the Ed Fund, it’s our privilege to support the many Oakland teachers and school staff who facilitate the passing of our city’s soul to the next generation.
We also love to support people in the community who choose to volunteer in classrooms and help Oakland kids learn what they need to know for us all to thrive.
So you can understand why we were doubly excited when aspiring teacher Ray Murphey reached out to us about becoming an Oakland School Volunteer as part of his career transition!
From School Volunteer to New Career
Ray had known for a long time that he wanted to be a teacher, but work as a business analyst in the private sector seemed a more prudent choice financially. It just wasn’t for him, though, so he set his sights on how to make his dream of being a teacher a reality.
“I needed experience to be able to apply [to teaching programs], and even though other volunteer options were closer, Oakland School Volunteers made it so simple to connect and get into the classroom.”
Ed Fund Volunteer Coordinator Lilly Smith worked with Ray to find a school match that met his criteria. After a brief stint at United for Success Academy, he landed in the 4th-grade class of Mr. Mason Riley at East Oakland PRIDE.
In his past experience as a volunteer in other school districts, Ray had seen situations where volunteers often had to do the footwork of finding a school, reaching out to the principal, and filling out paperwork themselves.
“Oakland School Volunteers has devoted staff who provided guidance along the way. It’s awesome to have that support.”
What Makes Oakland Schools Unique
Mr. Riley at PRIDE was very welcoming and appreciative of the extra help Ray brought to the classroom. They regularly touched base to make sure they were on same page and that Ray felt included and knew what was going on.
One of the reasons Ray chose to volunteer at the elementary level was to experience the rapport that develops when a teacher is with the same class of students all day, every day.
“The most enjoyable part of volunteering was developing a relationship with the students. It was fun to notice the little things, like how different kids respond to different subjects, and what their unique strengths are.”
Students called him “Mr. Ray,” and would be so happy when he arrived in class, even competing a little bit for his positive attention. Their fourth-grade excitement about life was infectious, and made volunteer time fun for Ray, too.
Building relationships with East Oakland PRIDE students was especially eye-opening for Ray because of the wide range of socio-economic conditions students have to navigate outside the classroom. Understanding how those conditions impact kids in the classroom—and how the OUSD Community Schools model works to support the whole child—was invaluable.
“Things operated much differently than I thought in OUSD, and in particular at East Oakland PRIDE. I would never have had this exposure elsewhere, both to the diversity of student experience, but also to the variety of programs that are offered to support kids, from emotional and mental health support to free lunch. It’s just wonderful. Nobody ever thought about all that when I was a kid!”
New Perspective on Teacher’s Challenges
Of course, Ray himself provided extra support to students as a volunteer. He served as a teacher’s aide, doing whatever was needed.
Some days Ray helped set up and assist students with experiments, reading, grammar, or math. Other days he facilitated social emotional learning through games, class meetings, and academic accountability check-ins with their teacher.
Having another adult in the room who could answer questions and help with assignments was a huge boost, since even the simplest assignments—say, writing a three-paragraph story in 30 minutes—can become major undertakings in the classroom.
“The teachers I worked with did an amazing job, but they’re just one person with 31 kids, so they’re not able to hit every student with individual attention.
“For example, while at United for Success Academy, I was asked to work with a student who primarily spoke Arabic and was having a hard time understanding ratios. Since English was an obstacle in communicating this abstract, complex concept, I had to get creative and used a combination of computer-based translation, drawings, charades, everything I could think of. But in the end it was successful!”
Something to Be Proud Of
As Ray told us, “Teaching is something I can feel proud of. It comes down to the rewarding experience of making a lasting impression on a child, for their whole life.
“The challenges of teaching different kids different things, and seeing them develop their confidence and self-esteem when it clicks for them—there’s nothing like it.”
We’re proud we could be a part of your path to becoming an educator, Ray, and may you have plenty of future volunteers like yourself!
Whether you’re looking to make a career change like Ray, or simply want to be a part of passing the soul of our city to the next generation, please join us as an Oakland School Volunteer!
Oakland teachers welcome your support year-round, especially in light of recent unexpected budget cuts. We’ll work with you to find a school match and ensure you get any training you need to have fun and make a positive impact in a student’s life—click here to get started.
If you’d like to make your own Volunteer Voice heard, please email Oakland School Volunteers Program Coordinator Lilly Smith (email@example.com).