Volunteering At School Tips (and Advice) For First Time Parents

All parents should volunteer at their kids’ school. I know most parents are SUPER busy, and volunteering at the place where they send their kids so that they can get all their other stuff done seems like an unnecessary burden.

But here’s the thing. When you are in your kids’ school on a weekly (or even daily basis), you gain so much extra insight into the challenges that your child faces, the difficulties your school is facing, the wins/losses/fails.

You as a parent understand so much more about what your child is doing all day, which then in turn helps you understand why it is that your child acts the way he does before and after school and on the weekends.

I have a deeper understanding of what my children are capable of, and I no longer worry if they are ahead, behind, or on track. I see them everyday, working along with their peers. I don’t need to question the teacher’s assessments of them, because I’ve seen their performance with my own eyes.

Being present in the classroom, I can notify the teacher of things that I think my kid needs more of (like more challenging reading or math), and advocate for him to get the help I think he needs. Maybe that isn’t fair to the kids of parents who have to work and aren’t in the classroom all the time. But hey…I’m not trying to hurt anyone or take things away from anyone. I am just pushing to make sure my kids’ needs are met.

I get to know all the names of the kids in the classroom, and I have an idea of what their personalities are like and what their needs are. It helps me decide which children I will steer my children towards being friends with, and the families that I might steer him away from.

This comes into play when I hit it off with a set a parents and move towards scheduling joint play dates or activities, not realizing that their son or daughter isn’t all that nice to mine in the classroom on out at recess. I also understand why my children gravitate towards one particular friend or another.

I’m not a teacher, but I am very motivated to help my children get through school successfully. Being in the classroom shows me how my kids’ teachers are teaching them. Knowing this, I can support my kids through their homework and in areas where they are deficient in a manner that is very close to and consistent with what the teachers are doing.

My children love it when I come to school and spend time in their classroom. Even though I am usually busy cutting something or cleaning something, my children both come over and give me extra hugs and a kiss. They seek my attention and approval while I am there, as they work on their work, or hang out with their friends.

It gives us a unique opportunity to connect, and it gives us both something to look forward to when the morning drop offs are a little more tearful or difficult than normal.

When you are present in the school consistently, inevitably, other opportunities will arise in the classroom or at the school that other parents might not hear about or know about. I was able to travel with one of the classes on a really neat field trip, and also to sit in on an important committee meeting recently that I heard about through a teacher only.

As a result of all my hanging around, I understand now why the teachers do what they do, and teach what they teach (and how they teach it). I no longer feel any need to criticize or critique my kids’ teachers or the school as a whole.

I have so much confidence now in my kids’ teachers. I see how hard they work every day to provide the best possible experience and education they can. And overall, it improves how I feel about the school so much.

Tips for Parents Who Want to Volunteer

I volunteer in both of my sons’ classrooms. I’ve picked up a few things that I thought it would be useful to share about the experience.

One, let the teacher select the date and time and length, as much as you can.

The teacher is juggling a full schedule, and a constant barrage of activities, phone calls, emails, requests, jobs, etc. He/She knows when it will work to have another adult around and when it wouldn’t be that helpful. I volunteer once a week, for 45 minutes for my younger son, and for 90 minutes for the other.

Two, be open and willing to do anything.

Teachers are not obligated to have you in the classroom. I have heard teachers tell me that parents come in but are unwilling to really help much at all. These parents are obviously caring people, but are more of a burden that anything to the teacher. Over time, the teacher’s enthusiasm for having you in the class will wain, and you may find that the opportunity will evaporate.

Three, be consistent.

When you start volunteering and helping, the teacher will start to rely upon you. He/She only has so many hours in the day, and if they set aside something for you to do, THEY in turn can work on something else. But if you don’t show up as scheduled, then that THING that you were supposed to do doesn’t get done, and that can leave the teacher really hanging, especially if there isn’t enough time to get it done on their own.

Four, be as friendly as possible, to everyone.

You don’t see it, but the teachers are co-workers and friends both at work and outside of work. They talk about their students, and they talk about the parents. Your kid is going to be at that school for years, and if you burn a teacher early on, you may find that you have poisoned the well for yourself for the remainder of the school year (or beyond).

Five, be prepared to deal with difficult kids.

Not all kids are always well behaved, and not all kids are always difficult. The more you are present in the classroom, the more comfortable the children become with you, and the more likely they are to trust you with their struggle feelings, or to test your limits.

I’ve had the experience where kids I am working with suddenly get frustrated, or even get angry. They stalk away from the work table, or decide it is time to go to the bathroom for a break in a huff. One boy tried to punch me when I refused to go along with something he wanted (that he wasn’t supposed to do).

These are obviously not unusual behaviors for children, but it can be challenging to understand how to deal with them, as they are not actually your own children.

I had that experience today, actually, where a girl I was working with on a very difficult math sheet got more and more abrasive, and more and more difficult to direct. The math sheet was difficult, I will give her that. And it took me a while to understand the problem. You see, the worksheet had information on BOTH sides.

This poor girl couldn’t actually tackle the problems on one side because she couldn’t see both sides at the same time. She ran away from the table and came back again probably ten times….and she started to get aggressive with the other kids at the work table. I spoke with the teacher and we decided to get an extra sheet so that she could see both sides….and the behavioral issue evaporated, just like that.

As it was happening, I didn’t really understand what her problem was, and I felt her behavior triggering, in me, feelings of frustration.

We got through it, and I felt better after it was over. But if I hadn’t been willing to work with her, and to be persistent to get through the challenge, I wonder if she would have gotten the help she needed today.

Six, communicate with the teacher if you are having struggles, or to get direction about how best to help in the classroom.

There’s no egos allowed here. When we are in a kids’ classroom, we are there to help. The more we can work with the teacher and in his/her style or method, the better we can serve the kids. Sometimes that means taking some critiques or direction about how to handle certain kids or certain situations. Sometimes it means doing things differently (or not at all). If you let your ego get bruised because of something the teacher said or suggested, it isn’t likely that your time in the classroom will be all that enjoyable for you or helpful to the class.

Seven, do your chatting with the teacher when he/she has time away from the kids, and not in the middle of class.

The teacher is there to focus on the kids. Don’t take away his time, attention, and focus away from them. Also, be wary of conversations about the kids in front of them….kids don’t always need to hear what they think about them and what they need.

Eight, ask for help with behavioral issues.

Kids will struggle. The teacher is familiar and experienced with each child’s troubles and struggles, especially behaviorally. If you have a child who is acting out, who is trying to hurt you or others, who is breaking rules or is out of control, ask the teacher for some help. She will either tell you what to do or will take over the situation to get the child the help he needs. Discipline is not your job, so don’t try and make it your job.

Nine, don’t be afraid to suggest creative activities.

If you have a special skill, don’t be afraid to suggest to the teacher that the class do an activity around that skill or knowledge. For example, a mother I knew was a skilled potter, and she had a kiln in her home. The kids were able to make mother’s day gifts out of clay, which she then fired for all the kids. It was a unique and awesome experience for everyone, and something I am sure the teacher appreciated being able to facilitate.

Ten, be positive, energetic, and fun.

If you are a nice person who genuinely seems interested in the kids, they will be excited to see you in the classroom, and be excited to work with you in the classroom. Your child will come home with stories about how jealous his friends are that you are his mom/dad.

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