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Remember, volunteer experience you gain AFTER you submit your application will not be considered, so it’s a good idea to start your classroom volunteer work with at least a semester in advance of applying to the PDP.

If you’re thinking about becoming a certified teacher, you may have heard that SFU’s Professional Development Program (PDP) has a great reputation for educating future teachers in a holistic, hands-on learning environment. You may have also heard that applying for the PDP is (gulp!) fairly competitive and according to the PDP Admissions website, “Classroom volunteer work with the B.C. curriculum is strongly recommended.” (admission criteria can be viewed in full on the PDP Admissions website).

If you speak to someone in the PDP Admissions Office, they will tell you just how strongly they recommend this classroom volunteer work (the answer: VERY VERY STRONGLY). Not only will classroom volunteer work be useful in terms of helping you decide whether or not teaching is for you (the last thing you want is to get halfway through a program and realize you don’t like teaching), but your classroom volunteer experience will also impact the scores you receive on your resume and reference letters when you apply to the PDP. The best-case scenario, for yourself and your application, is to gain volunteer experience at the age level (elementary or secondary) and subject (Math, English, etc.) you’re planning to apply for.

Given that volunteer experience in a BC classroom is so strongly recommended for an application to the Professional Development Program, how does one go about getting said experience? And what kind of experience is going to be helpful?

If you already happen to know some teachers working in your area, you may want to talk to them about referring you to another teacher in their school (as per the PDP website, “References from relatives and close friends are NOT accepted,” so you probably don’t want to do your volunteer work with your mom or your best friend, considering they won’t be able to provide a reference for you). The people you know can put you in touch with potential teachers to volunteer with and maybe even put in a good word for you.

If you don’t know any teachers at a school near you, you will still be able to find volunteer experiences, though unfortunately you’ll have to start “cold.” The PDP Admissions Office usually advises students to visit a school convenient to them (nearby or on a convenient travel route), and to ask to speak to the principal or vice-principal. Students are advised to inform the administrator they’re speaking with that they’re interested in applying for SFU’s PDP, that classroom volunteer work is strongly recommended, and that they would appreciate being put in touch with any teacher who might be interested in having a volunteer assistant in their classroom.

Once you get put in touch with a teacher who’s willing to bring you on as a volunteer, the next thing you will need to do is make sure the experience you’re embarking on will be useful to you. The rule of thumb with the PDP is that the more hands-on your experience can be, the better. If your volunteer experience is more behind-the-scenes (marking, photocopying, etc.) that’s not going to look as impressive on an application as volunteer experience that shows a high level of participation in the classroom and interaction with students (working one-on-one with students, planning and leading group activities, etc.). Not all teachers are okay with a volunteer becoming really involved in their classroom, which is why you should talk to your potential teacher at the outset to outline both your expectations. You should also expect to undergo a Criminal Record Check before you will be allowed to volunteer in a school.

Remember, volunteer experience you gain AFTER you submit your application will not be considered, so it’s a good idea to start your classroom volunteer work with at least a semester in advance of applying to the PDP.

While I wrote this blog to get you on your way, you must keep in mind that neither SFU Volunteer Services nor the ENGAGE blog are any replacement for advising from the PDP Admissions Office. If you are interested in applying to the PDP, you should contact the PDP Admissions Office directly at or at 778-782-3620 for more information on the application process and admission criteria. You can also find them on the Burnaby campus, Education Building room 8624, during their office hours.

As a first step, you an also visit the PDP Admissions website.

SFU Student
Lauren Kresowaty finished a BFA in Theatre Performance in 2009. She has since returned to SFU to study creative writing and English literature part-time. When she's not in class, you can usually find her at work in the Faculty of Education.
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Jan 24, 2013

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