Volunteering in Your Child’s Classroom

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Has your child’s teacher asked for volunteers this year?

If you have never offered your services, you may want to reconsider. You will find that volunteering in your child’s classroom will help your child as much as his teacher. Many elementary school teachers are eager to ask for help from parents.

When classes have as many as 25 or 30 students, with children as young as 5 or 6 years old, it is truly a blessing to have an extra pair of hands. My consistent involvement in various classroom activities has helped my son to understand that his school day is just as important to me as it is to him. I truly believe that this has been a catalyst to his success.

I have been a weekly volunteer at my son’s school for two years. By volunteering, I have been able to have a consistent dialogue with my child’s teachers about his progress. Each year I became familiar with the daily class schedule and was able to ask the right questions about his day. For instance, instead of the generic “what-did-you-do-in-school-today?”

I would ask, “What was the topic for writer’s workshop this morning?” Subject-specific questions seemed to generate an actual response instead of the common, “Ah … nothing.” I heard about changes that were being made at the school before they were published in the monthly newsletter. I also got to know the children he was friendly with, and was relieved to find out that he was making good choices.

Where Do You Find the Time?

Not everyone is fortunate enough to have a flexible work schedule or the time to participate in classroom activities on a regular basis. If you want to volunteer but your work schedule does not permit it, ask your child’s teacher if you can do something from home. Sometimes creating colorful signs for the bulletin board or making book covers for students’ portfolios is just as helpful to a teacher as your physical presence in class.

Your child’s teacher will still get to know you better. She will realize that you want to take an active role in your child’s studies and will appreciate any help you can give her. You can seize the opportunity during brief phone conversations to ask about your child’s progress or any concerns you may have.

If creativity isn’t your thing, you may want to help out at special events. Take a “personal day” to volunteer at the Teacher’s Appreciation Luncheon or the annual book fair. How about volunteering to be a chaperone for one of the field trips? These occasions can offer a relaxed setting for discussing a recent development in your child’s behavior.

A casual comment from his teacher such as, “Sam hasn’t been concentrating on his writing lately … has he been getting enough sleep?” is usually less threatening than a formal note home. You can get to the bottom of your child’s problem and come up with solutions together.

If you decide to volunteer, here is a short list of some dos and don’ts that I have learned over the past two years:

  • DO let your child’s teacher know ahead of time any special skills or hobbies you have.
  • DO show up on time.
  • DO refer to your child’s teacher as Mrs. Smith (not Mary) in the classroom.
  • DO wait for an appropriate time to ask about your child’s progress (not in the middle of a messy art project).
  • DO dress comfortably and appropriately.
  • DO show the same respect to your child’s teacher as you expect your child to show.
  • DON’T ask for special favors.
  • DON’T overstay your welcome.
  • DON’T make a pest of yourself (you are there to help out, not chat about a million other things).
  • When in doubt, ASK!

The Benefits Accumulate

I decided to volunteer in my son’s class to learn which subjects he needed the most help in at home, and to get to know his teacher well so that I could feel comfortable asking questions about his progress. What I did not foresee was how much I would personally benefit from the experience.

I became friendly with other mothers who volunteered and made connections with many of them outside of the school setting. I got to know the office staff and the principal on a more personal basis. This made the communication from home to school much easier. By watching my son’s teachers, I also learned many innovative ways to teach him at home.

The cooperative alliance of parents and teachers who work together as a team is a formula for success. Find the time to get involved and show your children how much you care about their education. Any level of participation is important. Your children can only benefit from your genuine interest. You might find, as I did, that it is one of the most important things you can do for them.

Myrna Beth Haskell is a freelance writer.

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