A volunteer is defined as, “a person who freely offers to take part in an enterprise or undertake a task.” This past year I took on a regular volunteer role at my children’s school and my eyes have been opened to not only how important school volunteers are, but “how to” volunteer the right way.
I know there are some stereotypes that are associated with being a school volunteer, especially when it comes to being part of the PTA aka Parent Teacher Association. The thing is, being a school volunteer is a wonderful way to be more active in your child’s life an education, as well as a way for you to share your time and talents with others. These days, we are all stretched on time, but even if you can’t physically be at the school during school hours, there are other ways to get involved and lend a helping hand, and school community’s is always open to volunteers!
For me, being part of the PTA, as well as finding time to volunteer in the classroom has been a wonderful experience. I have gotten the opportunity to know other like-minded parents in the school community and I’m always in the loop with school events and happenings. My children enjoy having me around (for now), and they look forward to participating in all the activities going on, as well as making more school friends outside of their respective classrooms.
This year I had some challenges in the classroom of my younger child, and being an active parent who is regularly volunteering on campus held some weight when I was falsely accused of being a “liar” and using racially charged language. A lot can be said for building relationships and knowing who to talk to when unfortunate situations can occur, and in my case the credibility and “reputation” I had built as a volunteer, made a difference.
Here are some volunteer DO’s and DON’Ts….
- DO make sure you are properly registered as a volunteer with the school office and district. This may include live scan (fingerprinting) and a background check. Yes, it may seem like a chore, but at the end of the day it is for the safety and security of the kids.
- DO offer to pitch in and help when you can! Share your special talents, everything from designing school flyers, updating a website, selling raffle tickets or joining a planning committee. In the classroom you can read a book to the kids, cut paper, organize items, open snack packages at lunch, chaperone field trips, etc…
- DO show respect and compassion for everyone on campus. We are all there with a common goal, and that’s ensuring that every child is having a good experience, because when that happens, you know your child is in a good place!
- DON’T over volunteer. I say this with the utmost respect, and more so in regard to time spent in the classroom with kids. I’d say a good average for volunteer time in a class is once a week, 2 hours at a time.
- DON’T use your volunteer time as “social” hour. Be mindful of your behavior on a school campus, (I believe) parents should hold themselves accountable to the same standards as the children in regard to acceptance, respect, bullying and safety. Remember, the kids look up to the “grown-ups” in the room..and they are always watching!
- DON’T be a flake. Yes, volunteering is free and things do come up, but if you sign up for something, you’ve gotta come through and be reliable. If your circumstance changes and you are no longer able/available to help out, be sure to communicate with those in charge.
This year I did have an issue with a parent “volunteer” in my son’s class and I finally had to speak up when things just seemed way too “off,” and I’m glad I did. In a nutshell, said parent was volunteering 5+ hours a day in the class “volunteering,” come to find out this parent had not followed through on the proper background check protocol for being in the classroom 20+ hours a week, was tripping children and throwing objects (i.e. crayons) at the kids as a form of “play,” and was having rather personal conversations with students like my son about his race and ethnicity. This parent became so comfortable in the class, that he brought cupcakes to celebrate his own birthday. He was constantly giving the children gifts including money, key chains, cookies, cakes, etc… to the point where my radar was about to explode! On top of all of this, I believe he was misrepresenting himself as a “licensed” professional, however I could find no evidence of said license.
All this to say, volunteering at school is an awesome way to pitch in and show your child you want to be involved in their “world!” It certainly is a positive thing and warmly welcomed, but don’t be a creep. We always hear about school budget cuts and the state of education, and this is a way you can make a difference. Volunteers make schools stronger and better, but just make sure you’re there for the right reasons and are ready to work!