When I think of the first few weeks of school and all that needs to be accomplished as an elementary school teacher, I think of only one word that describes the feeling that many veteran and newly minted teachers usually have, exhaustion. By the time they meet their new students on that first day, it is a feeling that overwhelms all others.
I have volunteered in my child’s second grade classroom since the second week of school and am in awe of his teacher and all that she has accomplished during these early weeks of school. Her bulletin boards are colorful, material is well organized, name tags are securely affixed on their desks, routines are automatic and effective classroom management techniques are consistently used before, during and after any lesson. As many veteran teachers know, classroom management is the key to any successful learning in the future and those early days are critical in establishing clear expectations and rules of conduct.
As I sat cutting little bits of cardstock one day, I also realized that many new teachers do not capitalize on the help they could be receiving from their school community, parents in particular. As back-to-school night nears, parents should be recognized as integral members of the classroom. Parents are usually eager to volunteer during those early months and beyond if the teacher establishes strong rapport with them. Parent volunteers can tremendously lessen the clerical workload for teachers.
Planning for what parent volunteers will do in a classroom is essential. Work should be ready a day or two beforehand so their time is maximized. Some parents will be content making journals and stapling papers at home. Others, who are not intimidated by the school environment, can make copies in the office or even read aloud to students while a teacher completes one on one testing.
The opportunities are limitless and the key is to find out what parents like to do and how much time they can give. A back-to-school night survey asking them about their interests and volunteer times can be very helpful. Posting an open calendar with specific times needed in front of the classroom or via an email/letter is also an excellent idea. Having a designated area (e.g., tray labeled volunteer work in the back of the room) for specific tasks that need to be completed could also lessen the interruptions a teacher may have of a volunteer that doesn’t know what to do when they arrive. Each task should include specific, easy to follow directions. The cardstock activity took a very long time to complete and my thumb was a little sore, but I was happy to have at least helped out in preparing these manipulatives for a math activity students were going to complete within the next several days. At least for that day, the teacher could focus on more important things to do after school and her “to do” list would have one less thing on it.
I hope all of our teachers, parents and students have a great academic year. I am thankful for being able to volunteer in my son’s second grade class. As parent volunteers, we get to quietly observe how our own child behaves and interacts with others in the classroom as we cut, staple and organize material in the back of the room. We are also privileged in observing the lessons that are taught that day and have a better understanding of the homework that is assigned.
For teachers, hope for volunteers, plan for volunteers and be thankful for parent volunteers. They are eager to help and are a valuable resource.
Thanks Sra. Martinez (UCI bilingual master teacher) for allowing me to volunteer in your classroom and here’s to a wonderful year working with you!
Here are some other resources for those first few weeks of school: