Volunteering at School Without Losing Your Mind
We’ve all seen it. The flyer or email that comes home from your child’s school asking for your help. Or maybe it was a sign-up table at the back-to-school event and a poster in the lobby with smiling faces to pour on the guilt. You avoid eye contact and make vague promises to your child’s teacher about “being available” and “lending a hand” while secretly hoping she forgets your email address until the second parent-teacher conference. Starting a new school year can be overwhelming for both parents and students. I’m here to help you figure out how to get involved in supporting your child’s school without feeling like you’ve signed away your life.
1.) Go to the first few PTA/PTO meetings.
It is especially important for you to attend these parent support meetings in the first month or two of school because you will get the scoop on the upcoming needs and events. Those hard-working people are planning the whole year in advance, because they are just as busy as your family. You will also get first pick of how you can volunteer. If you’re only willing to purchase the juiceboxes or pick up the reward party pizzas, this is the time to claim your gig. If you’re ready to jump-in and become the Room-Mom Superior, this is the time to find out what roles are available without stepping on any predecessor toes.
2.) Tell your child’s teacher when YOU want to be available.
Lots of teachers are grateful for even thirty minutes to one hour of volunteering with any kind of consistency because they can plan for how to best use your time and willingness. If you can only be in the classroom for 30 minutes a month, or want to commit to one hour a week, tell the teacher right upfront what you can offer. He’ll be glad to know when he can depend on two extra hands and willing to accommodate your schedule as long as it’s consistent and doesn’t cause more work. Classroom contact also helps you get to know your child’s friends and see firsthand how the teachers works.
3.) Meet the Principal AND the Librarian.
Introduce yourself directly to the Principal and other administrators. They will put a face with your child’s name and know you care about the community of the school. You also get first dibs on asking what kinds of needs the school has. They probably have plenty of backpacks and supplies for the initial kick-off, but they might need brownies for the teachers on conference night in 6 weeks. Or the cafeteria team might want help on special guest days to make lonely students feel better when their family can’t attend. It also pays off to meet the special teachers, like Librarians, Artists and Coaches, because you can find out when during the year they will need volunteers for special projects. You could end up “serving” at a thirty minute dance-party in November and get to pat yourself on the back for meeting a volunteer requirement. It’s surprising how many unusual ways there are to get involved if you ask the right staff member.
4.) Don’t Be Afraid to Say No (or Yes).
Life gets busy, and fast, when you have children in school. Your time is precious because you are juggling a lot. Don’t let the school’s requests for help intimidate you. They want to make you aware of all the options and needs. They are not trying to soak up every second of your time. If each parent is doing a little, those little bits add up to big commitment. Speak up about what your talents or interests might be, and you’ll find the perfect ways to say, “YES” to your perfect volunteer role this school year. It might be the best yes you offer to the children you love.