Volunteering in your child’s classroom can help you keep tabs on what is happening at school and show your child that you think education is important. Following these tips will help make your volunteer time fun for you and helpful to the teacher.
1. Find out ahead of time the school’s requirements or procedures for volunteers. Some schools require parent volunteers to show proof of a negative tuberculosis test; others require volunteers to be fingerprinted. If you are planning to drive on a field trip, you will probably have to show proof of insurance. Calling ahead prevents unpleasant surprises on your first volunteer day.
For the safety of students, many schools require visitors to check in at the office before heading to classrooms. Complying with all of the school’s requirements will help keep your child and others safe.
2. Communicate with the teacher. Let him know what types of things you’d like to help with and get a sense of what he’s comfortable with you doing. You can also tell him about any special skills or talents you have that might be helpful to the class. While you should be clear about your expectations, it is also important to remember that teachers have different styles. One teacher might want you to design a project and lead the class in doing it. Another might need to learn to trust you before he will want you to work independently with a group of students.
3. Be flexible. You will be most helpful to the teacher if you are willing to do whatever needs doing. But if you aren’t getting to do the things you’d like to do, discuss that with the teacher after school hours. There may be a better time for you to come or she may just not need help in that area.
4. Don’t take it personally if the teacher doesn’t have time to chat. Class time must be focused on the students. If you need to talk to the teacher, make an appointment to talk outside of school hours.
5. Remember that it is not your job to discipline the kids. It is OK to ask students to stop unsafe or unkind behavior, but the next step is to let a teacher or other school employee know about the problem. If you are having trouble with a student or group you are supervising, let the teacher know immediately, and ask her how she’d like you to handle similar situations in the future. It is also important to understand the class rules so there are consistent behavior expectations for the students.
6. Be reliable and on time. The teacher will quickly come to rely on you and may be caught short-handed if you do not show up. Being reliable is important even for a one-time volunteer job like chaperoning a field trip. Teachers count on parents who have said they’ll be there. If you absolutely can’t make it, let the teacher know as far in advance as possible.
7. Don’t gossip! While volunteering, you may occasionally overhear private information about other students’ academic progress, family life or behavior. If you learn any sensitive info, be respectful and don’t tell others.
8. If you work outside the home you can still help. If you want to help during the school day, you may be able to take time off from your job to do it. Several states have policies that require employers to permit parents and guardians to take unpaid leave to participate in school activities. The requirements vary from state to state and most apply only to employers with a certain number of employees. The National Partnership for Women and Children provides a list of state school activity leave policies. Downloading this PDF file requires Adobe Acrobat Reader, which you can download for free if you click here.
If you can’t take time off from work or you have other daytime commitments, ask your child’s teacher if he needs any assistance behind the scenes. He might ask you to help during non-school hours by calling other parents, preparing supplies for an art project or science experiment, setting up a computer data base, or editing student writing.
9. Prepare your child. Talk with your child before your volunteer day, and let her know that although you’ll be in the classroom, you may not work directly with her. You might also remind her that she needs to listen to her teacher and follow directions, even when you are in the classroom. It is probably easiest to let the teacher handle disciplining your child during your volunteer time, although you can remind her to follow the rules just as you would another child. You’ll be amazed how much you learn about your child’s life at school, even while working with other students.
10. Have fun! Learn the names of the students you work with, and try to praise something they did well during your time together. Maybe they figured out a tough math problem, cooperated as a group, or listened to directions. The students will remember your compliment and be excited to see you next time.