I have a confession to make: I do not like volunteering in the classroom.
I do it anyway. I know that parental involvement is over and over again shown to be a key factor in a child's success. I know that parent volunteers are valued in the public school classroom. As a full-time mom I'm supposed to be really devoted to this particular aspect of parenting. But I just don't like doing it.
When Daniel entered kindergarten last year I started spending one hour per week in his class, and I've continued that through this year in his first grade classroom. He is lucky to have had teachers both years who are both excellent instructors and quite efficient at running the class. In fact, I have at times felt like an extra distraction for the kids who have a hard time settling down, and I wonder if I'm getting in the way, more of a hinderance than a help. There's also the lack of authority you have as a parent volunteer. When the teacher tells a kid to put her shoes on and sit down, that kid is much more likely to do just that than when I tell her to.
Today was especially difficult. Daniel's teacher was out for the afternoon at a meeting, so the sub was arriving just when I was. When a sub is there, it's basically a free-for-all anyway. The squirrelly kids were extra squirrelly, one kid kept coughing and clearly didn't feel well, and two boys who are normally a little better behaved kept sticking pencils down their shorts instead of doing their work when they thought I couldn't see what they were doing. I couldn't wait to get out of there, to be honest.
Whatever teachers are getting paid, it's not enough. By a long shot.
And by the way, as a quick aside, I saw an article online estimating that the work at-home parents do is worth about $59,000 per year, give or take. Of course, there's no concrete quantifiable way to measure the value and worth of the work I and millions of other moms and dads do for $0, but someone out there estimated what it would cost to hire domestic help for childcare, housework and meal preparation for 40hrs/week, and that 59K was what they came up with. And of course all that work takes far more than 40 hours any given week, but you have to draw the line somewhere. Anyway, I wonder how much more you could figure into that number if you counted all the hours parents spend volunteering for their communities and their kids' schools? Because that takes a LOT of time, and it's really important work (even when I don't like it.)
I'm considering calling it quits on the in-classroom volunteering after this year. (I'll finish out the school year, at least, though even that seems interminable; they've got another month to go!) Not to brag too much on my own kid, but Daniel is exceptionally well-behaved and bright enough he doesn't really need me there to do well. What's holding me back is that I really like getting to know the teacher, getting to know the kids, understanding their relationship with the teacher and with each other, and seeing how the classroom operates, at least for one sliver of the week that I'm there. I just wish I liked being there a little more.
Anya starts kindergarten this coming fall, a thought that makes my heart ache already. I'm sure I'll spend some time in her class, but whether or not I go to Daniel's remains to be seen; the kids are a little more independent by second grade anyway. I certainly plan to be involved in other ways. I'm on a committee that coordinates outdoor education, which is a thriving part of the curriculum at this particular school. Last month, I spent several volunteer hours planting tomato and pepper seeds with all the first grade classes...alas, most of them didn't sprout (my gardening expertise leaves something to be desired), but that was a project I genuinely enjoyed.
With two kids in public school full time next year, I anticipate some big changes ahead. I will have more time during the day for freelance work and all the chores and errands that come with being the "at-home" parent. But as the kids get older, parenting gets more emotionally complicated (though if one more person says to me "If you think it's hard now, just wait until they're teenagers!!" I may blow a gasket. I'm not an idiot, after all) and I'm bracing myself for what's to come.