Building Relationships through Volunteering

Ranjani Ganeshmurthy is a two-time Citizen Teacher and volunteer intern with Citizen Schools. 

When my husband came home from work one day declaring that he had signed us up to volunteer with middle school students once a week, I was filled with apprehension and self-doubt. Having worked at an IT firm before, I was not convinced that I could manage a classroom full of students. So it was with quite a bit of persuasion on his side that I agreed to teach my first “apprenticeship” class  with my husband’s company Cognizant and the nonprofit organization Citizen Schools.

My stint at teaching ended up being a great lesson for me and my better half. By taking on the challenge of teaching a group of energetic middle schoolers how to build and program robots, I ended up learning just as much as them. Here are just a few of the lessons learned...


1. Be open. Sometimes we are so caught up in our ways that it takes something totally out-of-the-box to give us an awakening. Teaching this group of enthusiastic children was that moment for me. What had seemed a daunting task turned out to be fun the moment I entered the classroom. Meeting the students, who were very eager to learn, was a total boost to my confidence. There is something about being looked up to as a teacher, which breaks barriers and opens one’s mind to trying new things.

2. Engage. After our first class, it became clear that we had to do a lot more than just get concepts through to the kids. We needed to really engage them! In order for them to love what they were doing, we had to be engaged with the material as well. We not only taught from the lesson plans but brought in outside materials- like videos of active industrial robots to show the kids. Those videos came in handy when we explained why certain parts had to go in certain places of the robots. Going the extra mile made all of the difference. We didn’t realize it then, but by us being engaged and excited about the content, the students became engaged and excited too.

ranjani13. Synchronize and support. One of the reasons we agreed to volunteer was because it would be something that we could do together as a couple. We spent several weeks before the class started debating over the lessons and working on the robot. They were fun-filled evenings that strengthened our understanding of how the other works under stress and how much our patience could be stretched. We learned that supporting each other was fundamental to working better as a team in a professional setting.

4. Trust. One of the most important things we learned was to trust.We had to trust each other to put in the effort to make each lesson great for the students. Sometimes, he had to trust me to think of creative ways to engage the students and work on lessons while he was busy with work. Other times, I had to trust him and our fellow volunteer Citizen Teachers to facilitate the lessons, even when we weren't as prepared as we would have liked to be. As we learned to trust each other as teachers, we got much better in the classroom.

Even though I was apprehensive at first, I am proud to say that now I have taught  two apprenticeships with my husband and his colleagues from Cognizant. I learned so much from the experience-- like the impact that volunteering can have on children and adults alike.

You can be a part of this phenomenal change by signing up to teach an apprenticeship this fall. Whether you teach with your spouse, your friend, your colleague or even someone you don’t know, you will both grow from the experience.