Tuesday, October 13, 2009

In The Classroom: Are You There To Help or Hover?

With school budgets under ever increasing stress, and cuts happening in even the wealthiest of school districts, volunteering in the schools is more important than ever. Assistants and aides are often some of the first positions on the chopping block (in addition to supplies), so teachers need help in the classroom with everything from set-up to photocopying to leading small group activities. If you have the time and inclination, it's very much worth your effort to be a classroom volunteer.
Mother Volunteering in ClassroomIt is with this in mind that I went straight to the volunteer sign-up sheet at all 4 of my school aged kids open houses. So did most of the other parents who were there. This will be a good year, I thought to myself. The teachers will have appropriate support.

Fair to whom?

During the presentation portion of the evening orientation, one of my twin son's elementary teacher, a well-regarded teacher with over three decades of experience, said she would make sure she was fair to all the parents about getting into the classroom, and make sure she got through the rotation evenly.
This sounded off to me. Why does the teacher need to be fair to me? She needs to be fair to my son, her student, of course - but me? I wanted to be there to support her and her efforts and do what she needed to be done; that she was thinking she had to be "fair" to me seemed like an undue burden during her efforts to educate this group of children.

I asked around a couple of moms I knew from town. I asked why they planned to volunteer. I was shocked at the responses of some of them. They said their main goal in volunteering was so they could keep tabs on what is happening in the classroom and make sure their child was getting what they think the child needs - and so they could step in early if they needed to. One mother said she'd refuse a volunteer assignment that included photocopying or anything not directly with the kids.

Holding on tightly

Okay, I was shocked. I suppose that as the parent/caretaker of children ranging in age from 1 to 21, and having been through Elementary education in this town before, I have a different perspective and probably a little more trust. For a parent experiencing a school system for the first time, I can see how the desire to maintain some control over the child's day can come about. You're used to having much more control over what they see and do - letting go, even just a little, can be hard. And if your school district is struggling at all, it might be very appropriate to have that in-class oversight.

But, really, we need to let the teachers do their jobs. It's kind of like the "innocent until proven guilty" philosophy of our judicial system: until given proof that my child's teacher is not meeting his needs, I need to give that teacher the space to teach, and not hover, micromanaging every instructional day.

Support, not control

I can't change how the other parents approach volunteering, but I can make the best of my volunteer time. I've resolved to do those volunteer jobs the other parents avoid - the scut work, essentially. The photocopying, the cleaning up after whatever project or class party when the kids are off at the playground working out their pent up energy and/or sugar. I've let both of my son's teachers know that they can call me for this kind of job - and that they don't need to worry about being "fair." Both of these teachers seemed so relieved.

Maybe in one of my kids' classes my reasons for volunteering will change. I hope not, but I'll deal with that change when it comes about. Until then, this very clear support role - not control role - is just fine for me.

1 comment:

  1. It is important for parents to take part in their kids activities. I think it makes school an important part of a child's world when the parents show interest in it too.