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10 Tips for Classroom Volunteers

Let our tips help make volunteering easy and productive.

By GreatSchools Staff

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.

Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

05/30/2012:
"the info is helpful "
09/18/2009:
"11/10/09 I'm sorry you felt unappreciated with the amount of work you put forth in your child(rens) school. Welcome to the profession of teaching I rarely feel appreciated from anyoe, especially parents. 11/26/09 Welcome to the profession of teaching, spending $85 out of my own pocket to do a project is common, I probably do it on a weekly basis."
09/17/2008:
"Very good article. At the beginning of each school year it is great to make a list of things to accomplish with the school. Check your list several times a month to make sure you are on track. Also, when possible band together with other parents and volunteers. Share ideas freely, and accept criticism as a means to improve your performance. I especially like the idea of coordinating work online 12/4/2007 and 11/20/2007 Thanks for the great ideas! Now I am going forth better armed with these ideas. "
12/17/2007:
"Also delegate! Seriously, there are so many things to do, use the parent network. Send out sign-up sheets (either paper or Qlubb.com) and get parents to help, buy supplies, contribute, etc. Delegating is a good way for you to meet other parents too."
12/4/2007:
"Thanks for all the advice, as a first-time room parent, I was pretty intimidated by the whole process. So far it has been a fun experience. We are going to create a photobook for the holiday gift - snapfish also has a picture book service. And we decided to use Googlegroups and Qlubb.com to manage the communication, as you suggested!"
11/20/2007:
"As a veteran head room parent, I advise parents to utilize the Internet as much as possible. The must haves for me have been: 1) Yahoo/Google Groups (www.yahoogroups.com) for shooting off email of announcements 2) Qlubb (www.qlubb.com) for managing the day-to-day classroom issues (roster management, sign-up sheets, event calendar, blogs, photo sharing, etc..) Online sign-up sheets are SOOO much easier! 3) Picture book services (www.blurb.com or www.shutterfly.com) because the best gifts (holiday, end of year) are picture books of the kids throughout the year. In the past, we have made a page for each child, and had the child create some art work and copy that are scanned and printed in the book."
10/26/2007:
"Every since my son started school I've signed up and attended every party bringing snacks and drinks. He in the 2nd grade now and really enjoys me being there. I have 2 smaller children and now plan on volunteering an hour or more to his school every week since my daughters are older. My school sends a sign up sheet home at the beginning of each school year and I'm going to turn mine in next week."
10/15/2007:
"I am about to volunteer in my child's kindergarten class as well. This really helped!"
10/15/2007:
"Thanks for the wonderful ideas. I have volunteered in my sons school for 2 years now and I am now the Volunteer Coordinator!! LOVE IT, LOVE IT!!!! I absolutly love the kids, the hugs, the smiles, the thank you's and the great satisfaction of knowing that I am helping not only the kids but the staff. So to all moms and dads, PLEASE take the time to volunteer because not only will the kids enjoy it but you as a parent will have 999% satisfaction of knowing that you have helped a child. Gina Brack, Coordinator for Franklin Elementary"
10/11/2007:
"If you work outside the home you can still help"
10/11/2007:
"I USED TO VOLUNTEER AT MY CHILD'S SCHOOL(S) WHEN SHE WAS IN SCHOOL. SHE HAS SINCE GRADUATED, BUT I ENJOYED EVERY MINUTE OF IT. WHEN SHE WAS IN THE SIX GRADE AT GLENWOOD ELEMENTARY SCHOOL, PRINCETON, WV, SOME MOTHERS, INCLUDING MYSELF, TOOK IT ON OURSELVES TO MAKE A 'MEMORIES' BOOK FOR THAT GRADE, SINCE IT WAS THE FIRST YEAR THEY DID NOT HAVE A YEAR BOOK. WE WORKED HARD. GETTING ADVERTISMENTS, DONATIONS, ETC., AND THEN GETTING IT PUT TOGETHER BEFORE THE END OF THE YEAR, BUT WE DID IT AND WE WERE REALLY PROUD OF IT AND SO WERE THE KIDS! I'VE ALWAYS BEEN THERE FROM KINDERGARDEN THROUGH THE TWELVE GRADE. MY CHILD WS AN 'OUT CAST', SHE WAS PUT DOWN A LOT AND FROM THAT SHE ATTEMPTED SUCIDE THREE TIMES AND WAS ADMITTED TO THE HOSPITAL. WE THOUGHT WE HAD LOST HER IN THE NINETH GRADE, BUT THANK THE GOOD LORD AND WITH HELP OF HER DOCTOR, SHE PULLED THROUGH, SHE WAS HOME SCHOOLED FOR THE REST OF THAT YEAR. SOMEONE AT THE HOSPITAL OVERHEARD HER CONDITION AND THEY KNEW HER AND WENT TO THE SCHOOL THE NEXT DAY AND SPREAD IT AROUND LIKE WILD FIRE! THAT HURT WORSE. SO YOU SEE, I HAD MY REASONS FOR VOLUNTEERING BESIDES HELPING OUT AND OTHER THINGS. I WANTED TO BE NEAR MY CHILD, ALSO. STILL I COULDN'T PROTECT HER FROM THE CRUELTY OF OTHERS. SHE WAS AN A-B STUDENT ALL THRU SCHOOL, ON THE HONOR ROLL ALL THRU SCHOOL DESPITE HER CONDITION. SHE STILL SUFFERS FROM LOW SEFL-ESTEM AND YET, IS UNDER A DOCTOR. YOU CAN'T KNOW HOW SOMETHING LIKE THIS CAN HURT UNTIL IT HITS YOU!"
10/10/2007:
"I found this very helpful.. Self explanatory.. All parents should know these tips for Classroom Volunteers..."
10/3/2007:
"Very helpful information as I prepare to begin volunteering in my daughter's kindergarten class. Thanks!"
11/15/2006:
"The article is very helpful and I hope to read more like it."
11/15/2006:
" I have 3 children ages 16, 13 and 11.I have never volumteered for school activities so I thought I would do a fun Christmas project in my daughters 5th grade class.I also decided to buy all of the supplies for the project myself.I had no idea that a simple beaded candle project for 28 children would turn into such a costly excursion on my part.At this point in the supplies purchase I have spent over $85.Yikes!! Before volumteering your time, energy and MONEY, do your homework. : )"
11/13/2006:
"I liked your article on classroom volunteering.I have been volunteering for 4yrs. now.(preschool through 1st grade).I have tried alot of the techniques you suggested. My favorite part about volunteering is the look on the kids faces when they see me come in. They are so excited to see me.Some even have hugs for me.I have learned most of there names and try to talk to all the children a little bit.It is so rewarding. thanks Mrs.Dawe "
11/13/2006:
"Really helpful. I read the school rules on volunteering before entering the classroom, and it's made the experience much more enjoyable. I think every one of the points you make is important, especially 'Don't gossip.' Kids don't need to see parents behaving badly."
11/13/2006:
"Great article. One thing I will say to the commentor from Pennsylvania 11/10 - Are you volunteering for your child or for you? If you need acknowledgement it sounds like you are volunteering for the wrong reasons. My oldest of 3 is now in 4th grade and I have done everything from room parent to PTA secretary, you have to volunteer because of the need. You help where needed and you try to improve things. Maybe next year you should volunteer on the volunteer luncheon committee so you can make sure you have a seat."
11/10/2006:
"As a classroom teacher, I can only say Amen and right on to this article. It was well put and so true. I have grandchildren in school and am a first grade teacher myself. Volunteers are the backbone of our school but I know many teachers would rather not bother with the extra 'help' and bother. Several years ago I developed a program that trains volunteers to coach beginning readers on a one/one basis using techniques and strategies we use in class. Its been very sucessful and honors the volunteers by respecting their abilities. Plus our test scores have improved dramatically. Yeah, volunteers! "
11/10/2006:
"I enjoyed this article. I volunteer once a week at my children's school and have been volunteering for about 4 years. There suggestions really do help!"
11/10/2006:
"Excellent article. As a former teacher(now I'm a full-time mom, I find it hard not to assist the teacher in controlling the class. I'm glad to hear your thoughts on letting the teacher make those discipline decisions."
11/10/2006:
"Some teachers should learn to appreciate the help parent volunteers provide and not take them for granted. Volunteers should be honored, with at least a note EVERY year regardless of whether they are able to make the volunteer 'tea' at the end of the year. I volunteered for 8 years, and was only ever invited to two luncheons and later found out they spend $1000s yearly on volunteer gifts but only those who had time to come to the luncheons received gifts. My last year volunteering, I was there every week, and averaged 10 hours a month, yet did not receive even a note acknowledging my time. The administration knew because I signed in EVERY TIME and the Home and School Officers knew because they logged the hours in their book....I felt very unappreciated. ALl kinds of special things were done during teacher appreciation week...and gift certificates and dinners, etc. were done....yet the teachers/staff didn't show any such courtesy to some of their most loyal volunteers. I! t's very discouraging and then the ADMINISTRATION was wondering why they were having trouble recruiting parents to help!"
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