I volunteered at my child’s school a lot, and I spent two years on the PTO as well, but nothing gave me more insight into how school classes work than being a classroom assistant these last two years. Believe it or not, most teachers LOVE to have parents volunteering in the classroom, however, not all parents are willing to provide the KIND of help teachers really need. So, to make sure your visit to volunteer in your kid’s classroom is as valuable as can be, follow these tips.
Respond to Teacher Requests
Not all schools are the same, and neither are all classrooms. Some teachers would laugh hysterically at the idea of having “too many” volunteers, being lucky to get even one parent every so often. Others have to set up a schedule to avoid having too many parents in the room at once.
For this reason, it is important to note, and comply with, and teacher requests on how to volunteer. In a school with heavy parent involvement, that might include signing up on an online form. In a school without such parental support, you may need to email the teacher so they know to expect help rather than plan everything out to not need anyone else.
The other reason to check with teacher requests is that volunteer needs can be pretty specific. Believe it or not, your child’s teacher can already do everything necessary in the classroom. That’s the job after all. But, there can be areas where a little help can go a long way.
Reading and math are two areas where help is useful in elementary school. Children at this age can vary widely in ability and speed. An extra adult who can take a small breakout group (advanced or slower) can be a huge asset. Same thing for hands on activities like experiments or building projects. On the other hand, a volunteer might not be as useful during a history video or discussion with the whole class.
Don’t Be Afraid
A lot of parents end up waiting to volunteer out of fear. Some worry about getting in the way, others worry that maybe they won’t be able to provide help.
Remember, a teacher is more than just a source of knowledge. They are also experts in managing a classroom and getting students what they need. They’ll know exactly how to use you. If they can’t, they’ll let you know how you can stay without disturbing things, if possible.
As for ability, if you have a child, then you already know how to talk with and act around kids. As far as knowledge goes, trust me, it comes back pretty fast, and the teacher won’t drop you into the middle of a history lesson on Jamestown (English colony…first permanent British settlement… sound familiar?).
Most help occurs during reading and math, and you totally know how to read, and you remember more math than you think. Remember third graders are still doing basic multiplication and division to start the year. Even fifth grade math come back quick with a little review. (You divide fractions by inverting one of them and then multiplying the tops and bottoms…)
Beware the Schedule
A school schedule is a complex system of moving parts. There’s nothing quite and disheartening as seeing an excited parent drop by class to find out that this is the time the kids are at specials, and then they go to snack recess, and then… Be sure you know that your volunteer time coincides with usable class time.
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The exception to this rule is if you are providing “paper help” like grading, filing, or copying. In that case, just make sure the teacher won’t be scarfing down their lunch during a precious few minutes, or in a planning session with other teachers. Don’t dismiss providing paper help. It’s these paperwork tasks that often bog down good teachers whose first priority is being in the classroom with your child, not making sure that Will gets his art project into his take home folder.
Not Just Your Kid
The biggest thing to remember is that volunteering in the classroom is a way to help the CLASS, not a way to hang out with your own child. Your own kiddo may, or may not, end up being directly with you, although some teachers will try and make that happen if they can.
Nothing makes a volunteer a detriment rather than an asset than a parent who just wants to sit by their own kid for fun. Volunteering is a great way to help your child’s class, and very rewarding, it shouldn’t be selfish.
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