Yesterday was the first day of school in my children’s district and I had a very excited couple of kids. They flew out of bed and into the clothes that they had laid out the night before and could hardly wait to shrug on their new backpacks and get out the door. If only every school day was as exciting, right? Almost as eagerly, I paced the yard waiting for them to hop off the bus at the end of the day, snapping pictures like the paparazzi.
How was your day? Did you have fun? What was the coolest thing you learned? Who did you sit by at lunch?
Yeah, I had a million questions, maybe a million and one. My kids put up with my interrogation good-naturedly before eating a snack about as big as a meal.
Even though I had a bunch of questions after their first day, there is one question that I make sure to ask repeatedly throughout the year, and it’s not a question for my kids, but for their teachers: Is there anything you need from me to help you in your classroom?
I ask this on the day before classes start when the kids take their school supplies to their classroom. I ask it every month or so to see if there is something running low or if there is a big project coming up where I could help with the preparation or be an extra set of hands in the classroom on a busy day.
Most of the time, the teachers smile and say they’ve got it under control, but every now and then they think seriously about it and say, “We’re going to be doing a project about wood – do you have any scraps at home that the kids could use?” or “We’re working on a reader’s theatre show and I’d love some help with the costumes!” Even helping to cut circles for a snowman craft can save a busy teacher some time. Or buying an extra bottle of hand sanitizer and sending it during cold and flu season because, let’s face it, kids are germ factories.
The time commitment is small on my part, but it helps build goodwill for all of us – me, my student and his/her teacher. If I help during class time, I can see how my child interacts with his/her peers and his/her teacher. If I volunteer after class, I might be able to get a bit of one-on-one time with a person who is vital in my child’s success for the year.
I don’t use the time to pry details about how my kid is doing or to complain/question the teacher’s methods, but sometimes just being there can go a long way toward showing both my child and his/her teacher that I really am invested in how my student is doing. I care, and not in the general sense of “Well, yeah, of course I care how my kid is doing,” but in the sense of “I care how this classroom and all of the kids are doing.”
Of course this sort of flexible volunteering is really only possible because I’m working part-time at a place that values the relationship I have with my kids and their school. Parents who work full-time out of the house have a harder time just popping in to help, particularly if they need to save sick/vacation time to use to stay home with a sick child.
But there are things you can do – ask if there is prep work for upcoming projects, stuff you can do at home in the evening or over the weekend. Join the parent-teacher organization to help with fundraisers and enrichment activities for your child, often these meetings are in the evenings and there are some activities outside of work hours. Send supplies mid-way through the year: tissues, hand-sanitizer, new dry-erase markers, stuff that takes a beating at the sweaty little hands of our youngsters.
But I think the single most important thing you can do is to take a team approach to your child’s education. Work with the teacher to supplement classroom learning with home-based activities. Learning happens outside of school and part of being a parent is to reinforce what’s going on in your child’s classroom. Try to find a positive way to interact with the school and the teachers because your attitude is a huge influencer of your child’s success. And, above all, encourage your young learner to do their best and to enjoy something about school each day.