Stay-at-home Mom, work-from-home Mom, work full-time, work part-time, running a business, starting a business, full-time student or any combination of work schedule; we’re all so busy. How many of us are guilty of finding a week’s worth of old notices from the teacher about upcoming events at the bottom of the child’s backpack days after the event has passed? I’ll raise my hand high for this one. It seems like the children are having some kind of class event every few weeks. Bake-sales, class trips, pizza parties, and book fairs, oh my! It’s overwhelming and expensive.
It seems like someone from the school is begging for us to do something for the class, every five minutes, right? Yes, this is true, but I’ve been on the other side of planning such events and I’ll share some insight about why you’re being contacted so often regarding class events. Teachers are with our children day-in and day-out. Even if we’re asked to send in the 1,000 boxes of tissues and hand sanitizer at the beginning of the school year, most teachers easily spend hundreds of dollars out of pocket each year. It adds up quickly too. Most districts provide the basics. Teachers get to know our children’s learning styles and emotional struggles intimately. It’s not unheard of for them to selflessly pick up a game or manipulative that will solidify the concepts that the group has been working on for the past several weeks. Class parties are likely not calculated into the district’s school budget when discussing finances at board meetings. Here’s where the notices found at the bottom of the backpack asking parents to donate time, money or both come into play.
I know how busy you are and I understand that it may be nearly impossible to be at all school events. There are; however, huge benefits for us as parents to volunteer at the kids’ schools.
A first-hand glimpse of how your child’s teacher engages with students.
It still tickles me to think back to when I used to work at schools and would run into a family while shopping in the same community. Students, and oftentimes their parents, would treat me like a local celebrity and be seemingly amazed that I shopped for my own groceries too. The wide-eyed look, the pregnant pause while they’re deciding whether or not to approach in public. Unless running into the store after work, I’d notoriously be looking my worst as if I were making a quick run to the dumpster to throw out trash, but I digress. After the chance encounter, the dynamic of my relationship with the student would usually experience a slight shift as they realized that I, too, was a human who ran errands in sweatpants and not the usual “teacher clothes”.
Similarly, volunteering in the classroom enables parents to see the more “human side” of school personnel, the good and the bad. You’ll learn how compassionate and caring the teacher might be when a student falls or how short-tempered he/she might be when a kindergartener has an accident, how often the other teachers gossip, how much the teacher seems to enjoy or perhaps dislikes their job. The more regularly the parent comes to volunteer in the classroom, the more comfortable the teacher becomes being themselves. Think the first time a guest comes to your home versus the 50th time. I think it’s important for me to get to know the teacher making a life-long impression upon my children beyond back-to-school night and the last day of school. I also think it’s equally important for the teacher to know that I will “show up” for my kids and not just when I want to complain. So, when I can, I volunteer. Some years, I was class mom, working side-by-side with their teachers to plan all class events. In other years, I wasn’t able to miss work as much and was only able to volunteer once the school year for an hour or two. Should you feel horrible if your schedule, financial situation or both don’t allow you to volunteer? Absolutely not! But, I’d encourage you to find another way for you and the teacher to get to know each other as “humans”, as I believe it helps build a foundation for mutual respect between parent and teacher.
A view of how your child socializes with peers.
The elementary and middle school years are so challenging. I’ll be frank with you. SOME kids can be jerks. I don’t fault them because they are children. They’re learning and growing. Some developing and maturing faster than others. Also, having been a counselor in schools, I’ve been privy to the confidential information shared with me by my students. While I won’t dare share specifics, I will tell you that you have no idea what some children have been through at a young age. Regardless of zip code or type of school, dysfunction and mental illness are prevalent in the homes of children and the effects oftentimes manifests itself it the only place the child can feel safe, school. Their class bully has likely learned his/her behavior and is either modeling what has been seen, responding to what has been rewarded at home or is coping with the trauma he/she has experienced thus far. As a parent of a child who has “the bully” as a classmate, there’s very little you can do. However, what you can do is teach your child how to avoid or respond to the other child’s behavior.
Our children won’t learn how to deal with difficult personalities unless they are taught. While it’s inappropriate for us as parents to go into the classroom and make another parent’s child feel bad or scold them, even if they are “a bully”, it is very appropriate for us to engage in a dialogue with our own child at home about how they should have responded to an incident that we may have witnessed while volunteering earlier in the day. One of the best ways to gain a bird’s eye view of how our child socializes in school is to be present. A quick trick from a veteran parent is to multitask. Kids act differently when you’re there. Be 95% engaged in helping out while the other 5% is discreetly taking note. Work every time.
The opportunity to engage with other class parents.
If your child has never been the bully but has been bullied or harassed by a peer, you’ve likely had the thought, “who raised you?” Here’s your opportunity to engage with the families whose children are helping shape your child’s daily experiences. I don’t know about you but I like to have some insight into their values and perspectives. Working with other class parents has revealed why the kids might be so darned pushy, as their parents are the same way. Sheesh!
Likewise, I’ve formed some relationships that have turned into life-long friendships because I’ve learned exactly how much the family has in common with ours. There comes a point in time where our teens will wake up and believe that we are not wise, we were never children and we know absolutely nothing. Around the same time, they will come to believe that a kid their own age, possessing the same exact amount of minimal life experience as they’ve acquired thus far, knows everything. Parents- let’s roll our eyes in unison. All the more reason to have a clue about how their peers are being raised because like it or not, “those kids” are making an impression.
The chance to steal a few moments with our child during the school day.
If you have more than one child or more than one job, you might feel pulled in several directions. If you’ve ever had to “choose a kid” because your kids have different events in different places, at the same exact time, I feel your pain. Volunteering at my child’s school allowed me to specifically designate uninterrupted time to one child. It allowed me to be able to steal moments and create precious memories that we’ll hold forever. It sounds cliche, I know, but it is true. I made fruit shish kebabs for my youngest daughter’s kindergarten class trip about seven years ago and it was a hit with the kids and teachers. My daughter still mentions that trip occasionally. Every time she brings up the event, I recall that I wasn’t going to go but rearranged my schedule at the last minute to accommodate. In the blur of her early years, this stands out to her. I’ve worked a lot and I’ve missed a lot. So stealing the moments that I’ve been able to “figure out”, means so much to both of my girls and me.
Being Parent of the Year doesn’t mean that you have to show up every single time. It’s unrealistic. Do what you can, when you can. That will be enough for your children. When you are able to show up, being present and actively engaged makes all the difference.