Picture this scene: It’s Back To School night at your child’s elementary school, and the dreaded parent volunteer forms come out. This past year, as I sat in the teacher’s orientation speech, a working mom next to me whispered, “I told the teacher not to expect me to volunteer at school because my job is too demanding.”
Admittedly, this woman was much more senior and accomplished in her career than I am, but at that moment, I just felt sad for her. We’re all busy. I work full time, and I now have two children in elementary school with two classrooms asking for parent volunteers. If you’re one of those parents that immediately dismisses that you won’t be able to volunteer, I want to share with you what I’ve learned as a classroom volunteer.
1. Once your kids transition into elementary school, you don’t have that once or twice daily touch base with the teacher like you did in preschool or daycare. My kids ride the bus, so I don’t have many opportunities to interact with the teachers on a day to day basis. Volunteering in the classroom lets you get into the classroom to see your child in his school environment and learn about the teacher’s style and approach.
I was helping with a project one day that involved writing, and walking around the desks taught me that my child was having significantly more issues with reversals than her peers. I later brought up my concern to her teacher and an action plan was put in place to help her overcome her challenges with reversals. It’s not that I didn’t notice the reversals before, but seeing her peers’ work in comparison to hers was eye opening.
2. You get on a friendly level with the teacher, which considering in public school you get one formal parent-teacher conference per school year, having a relationship with the teacher will give you even more insight and appreciation for what is going on in the classroom.
3. You get to meet all of your child’s classmates and you can have conversations with your child about the relationships she has with those kids. I know who the trouble maker is. I know which kids struggle in class, and who is the class clown. Understanding the day to day environment really helps put the daily conversations on “how was your day” into perspective so that you can ask knowledgeable questions and have more meaningful conversations with your child.
4. There will come a time when your child will be embarrassed by your presence at school. I know this because I remember when I was embarrassed of my own mother being at my school. When she took a job in the office of my high school, my first reaction was to beg her “not to tell anyone she was my mother”. In retrospect, I realize what a jerk I was, but I was a teenager, so I didn’t realize how jerky that was at the time. But now, with my kids being in kindergarten and third grade, it absolutely makes their day for me to come into their classroom once a month or once every other month. They light up, give me hugs, and get so excited to show me off to their friends. I know that will change, so I’m going to soak up their pride and appreciation as long as it lasts.
So before you just write off that volunteer form or request thinking that you’re too busy, I encourage you to find a way to make room for one hour a month, or even every other month, in your child’s classroom. Use it as your lunch break, go into work early that day — whatever you have to do to adjust your schedule, just do it. I encourage you to show up. If you didn’t sign up at the beginning of the year, email your child’s teacher and let them know when you’d have availability to come in and help. The return on this investment of time and energy is exponential, and it goes a long way to show your child how important they are to you.