CASA is grateful for all teachers! We interviewed four volunteers who have taken the lessons learned from decades of teaching and how they applied them to their volunteer work with the vulnerable children they serve.
1. What type of teacher are/were you? How long have you been in teaching?
Carol Beth Mooneyhan (CBM): I was a teacher in four public school systems for a total of 30 years with 24 of those years in the area of special education. Then, I served as a special education consultant for 9 years at Ohio Valley Educational Cooperative.
Paula Miller (PM): I have had quite a few different experiences as a former educator. I served children in Special Education programs at the elementary and middle school level. I have been a 4th grade classroom teacher and I have been a Middle School Guidance Counselor.
Susan Muldoon (SM): I taught clinical and population epidemiology at the university graduate level. I taught in university settings for 25 years. In addition to teaching, I was an associate dean for student affairs in my academic unit.
Kate Weidmann (KW): I'm a college level English as a Second Language teacher and examiner, I've taught and examined around the world for 30 years - and here in Louisville at UofL and also at Jefferson Technical and Community College.
2. Are there any similarities between teaching and being a CASA?
CBM: Teachers provide support to children and youth to meet their needs and concerns educationally and emotionally as adequately as possible. As CASA volunteers, the same principle applies. Teachers work to build the strengths of the students by encouraging them to do their best and guiding them to take the challenge to expand their knowledge. CASA volunteers are also encouragers and a part of a support team to children and youth.
Teachers are advocates for their students in the classroom. Teachers are evaluating daily how to assist each student to be the best that he/she can be. CASA volunteers are advocates as well observing on a weekly basis how the child is progressing in his/her living environment. Teachers are in contact on a routine basis with parents to keep them informed as to the progress their child is making in school. A teacher is aware when there is a problem at home because problems appear at school for the child. Most teachers recognize these issues almost as soon as the student walks in the door of the classroom. CASA volunteers are also aware that when there are issues at home, the child’s disposition has changed.
PM: As an educator I always believed in order to really teach, reach and understand the children I was working with I had to get to know the “whole” child. I needed to try to learn all I could about them, not just what's happening in the classroom. That meant learning about their home life, their traumas suffered, their worries and fears, their wants and needs, their goals and dreams . By trying to do this with all my kiddos, I felt that I might have a better chance of gaining their confidence and trust so that I could help them be the best they could be and for them to know how important they are. This approach I took as an educator is exactly what I am doing as a CASA. As a CASA we investigate a child’s current and past situation. We learn as much as we can to help inform us as to how to help these children in their time of crisis and hopefully onto a better future. We know it takes time and patience for a good solid relationship to develop. If we haven’t gained their trust and confidence then we might not be as successful.
SM: Anything that concerned the students, and was of concern to the students, was a focus of mine. This is similar to being a CASA - we are always seeking ways (or they seek us!) in which we can help our children. We are the empathetic ear; we are always there listening and focusing on the emotional and physical well-being of a child, on a consistent basis.
KW: Actually, working as a CASA it's kind of a luxury to "only'" be getting to work with members of a family - a much smaller number than we have to deal with in a classroom setting. A frustration of being a teacher is knowing that if you could devote more time to individual students, you could help them more BUT having the competing demands of the whole class to deal with.
3. What skills or lessons from being a teacher have helped you during your time as a CASA volunteer?
CBM: One of the first lessons teachers learn is to care for all their students no matter the situation we may find. All students have strengths and it is the teacher’s job to find those strengths and encourage the student to build on them.
Another lesson is to build trust between the teacher and the students. They have to know that you care before they can trust. Once they trust you and know they can count on that trust, the students are in the frame of mind to learn. Not all students have someone who they trust at home and it is important that they have adults in their world they can count on. The most important part of the job of teachers and CASA volunteers is building relationships with students. CASA kids may not have that adult in their lives they can count on, but a CASA is always there to care and support them, someone they can trust and build relationships that can last a long time. When trust and relationships are strong, the student’s life can begin to more positive.
SM: In both teaching and CASA work, it can be a challenge to hear and understand the message that the student, or child, is trying to convey. We can be in a position to help. The challenge can sometimes be determining exactly what it is that the student or child needs.
KW: A lot of teaching is about creating good conditions in which people can learn - trying to create a space that is positive and judgement free. It is also about making learners comfortable with you, getting students or exam candidates willing to talk, to listen and contribute. As A CASA, being interested in getting to know the person in front of you, asking a lot, listening to and remembering what someone tells you about their life and themselves has called on skills you develop as a teacher.
4. What would you say to current/retired teachers who are interested in volunteering?
CBM: Individuals with a teaching background are perfect match to be a CASA volunteer. Teachers have a passion for kids and that passion does not relinquish itself just because they retire. Being a CASA allows retired teachers to continue fulfil the need to encourage and advocate for kids just as they did while in the classroom.
PM: First, I have the confidence to be an effective CASA because of the training I received. The training and continuing education programs are very helpful, thorough and worthwhile. The support and encouragement from the whole CASA River Region team makes it possible to do a good job on behalf of these abused and neglected children. Second, for me, it was a natural transition from being an educator to being a CASA. Working hard, one at a time, trying to meet a child’s emotional, mental, social and physical needs is incredibly rewarding! Becoming a CASA volunteer is important and needed work. I have been blessed by this work and all the children I meet. I wish I had found CASA sooner!
SM: Take CASA 101! When I took the CASA orientation, I left thinking, I was born to do this. Then you will be assigned to a supervisor, and you'll be on your way! It is a wonderful way to help children in need, one family at a time. As a teacher, you have, or have had, a great impact on many students. If you'd still like to give back and be involved in a positive way in the lives of children, being a CASA is a wonderful way to do that.
KW: Being a CASA can have its frustrations - it can feel 'one step forward, two steps back' - but you are well-prepared for that by a life in teaching! The skills you honed in a classroom will definitely stand you in good stead AND you will have the satisfaction of working really closely with one family. I am very glad to be doing it and recommend you give it a try!