This will be the first year I’m not volunteering on a weekly basis in my daughter’s classroom. She’s in fourth grade now, and apparently this teacher doesn’t need the weekly help in literacy, which I consider my specialty. (Not to mention the fact that I’m teaching two classes at CU and running this site, and …) Let’s just say it’s time to hand off more school duties to the hubster, who has not experienced the joys of volunteering. He’ll be helping with science once a week. (And actually, as I’m writing this, I just got an e-mail about parent volunteers needed for Junior Great Books, so you see, I might be at school this fall more often than I thought if I can work it into my schedule). But right now, hats off to my husband and all dads who volunteer at school. We need more of you!

Perks of the job

Personally, I like getting to know the kids in my daughter’s classes and better understanding the classroom dynamics. I like helping kids develop their critical thinking skills. I like learning what makes each one tick. I figure any bit of extra adult attention is good for any kid – even one with the most loving, cohesive, conflict-free family (if there are any out there). And did I mention how good it makes me feel?

It’s true that some teachers are better than others at putting parents to good use in a classroom. One year, I was assigned some tasks better suited to someone with hand-eye dexterity and patience … my job was to thread needles for students who were making their own stuffed polar bears during the unit on Alaska. I can’t thread a needle to save my life, so the kids had to do it for me, which is precisely what the teacher didn’t want to have happen. I am also not keen on being the stern-faced “roving adult” who springs into action at the first sign of an unauthorized conversation, unplanned outburst, or too many requests for the bathroom pass.

Find your strong suit

My strong suit is sitting on the rug with a small group, reading together, taking turns reading passages, talking about the meaning of the story or chapter, discussing new words, and tying the themes in the stories to the children’s real lives. I will miss that.

My plan is to be the parachute parent who shows up when a need arises for special assignments or field trips. My first task might have something to do with colonial America. I’ll do just about anything (except, perhaps, wear a bonnet). And I notice there’s a unit on “news.” I would like nothing more than to get a bunch of 9- and 10-year-olds excited about telling stories that matter to them, and maybe they’ll be the ones who figure out how to save journalism. One can hope!

You don’t have to have kids to volunteer

Even if you don’t have kids, think about volunteering in a school. Our school district now requires a background check, but apparently an abundance of parking and a few speeding tickets do not affect the results. If you’re tired of the rhetoric around school reform, jump in the classroom and make a difference for kids right now.  And if you’re wondering how to handle volunteering if you also work full-time, read this EdNews Parent post.


About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.