A few years ago, I decided it would be my year of “YES.” It was my son’s last year of elementary school, my daughter’s second, and after a year in a new school I felt almost familiar and safe enough to get involved. Yes, I know many people just jump in on the first day of kindergarten and get busy…not me!! But, I wanted to be involved and figured it was now or never.
So when that email went out requesting Room Parents for both of my kids, I took a leap. I emailed the poor teachers, “I don’t really want to do this but let me know if no one else volunteers and I will.”…can’t imagine what those ladies thought of me, but they were both gracious. Lo and behold, no one else volunteered for my fifth grader, and two other ladies in my first grader’s class also didn’t want to commit fully but were willing to share the duties. Somehow that year, I became a Room Parent times two (as well as a coordinator for Destination Imagination, a team manager for both kids’ DI teams, super involved in the PTA, etc, etc.) Does it surprise you that my year of YES was followed by a year of NO? Anyway…
If you’re considering volunteering as a Homeroom Parent or in some other capacity at your kid’s school, or you just want to better support those dear souls who are taking the job so you don’t have to, here are some things I’ve learned through my journey:
- Don’t wait to volunteer thinking someone else will. They probably won’t. Most of the time teachers and PTA leaders are woefully shorthanded, and end up doing so much extra work on their own because everyone thought “someone else will do it.”
- If your child is in middle or high school, you probably won’t be a Room Parent, but volunteer help is still very much needed and hard to come by! Don’t be afraid to reach out to your older kid’s teachers and let them know you’re available if they need help.
- Be honest with the teacher, or PTA president, or whoever is putting a call out for help. If you can’t handle the full job but would love to help with party decorations or games, tell them. There are many small ways to help. They will appreciate anything and everything you can do!
- Respect that teachers have different personalities. Some are more laid back and happy for any help they can get because that is one less thing they have to do. Some would rather do it the way they want than take a risk of someone else doing it …not the way they want.
- Seriously – don’t assume someone else will handle it. I’ve seen pleas for middle school donations sit unfilled for weeks. There are almost 1500 students at this school…no one could bring in some chips but me?!? Alas, this is the result of the “someone else will do it” mentality that we all have sometimes.
- When you have the time, or the money, or the motivation, or the extra paper plates, be the someone else. If you have other parent friends you can call and ask to send in supplies or join you in selling concessions at movie night, hit them up.
- It’s okay to say no. I ’ve seen other Room Parents in my kids’ classes not ask for help, try to take on too much, and then simply fade away, dropping all the balls they were trying to juggle. Just like with anything else, volunteers can get burned out or stretched too thin. Ask for help, share duties, or just say no before it gets to that point.
- If you’re stressed about it, change something. It’s not good for your kid, the teacher, or yourself if you are stressed out and resentful about helping. Try to bring in other parents — many are happy to help with just one task or event, as it’s less overwhelming.
- About those class parties… I have gone all out for class parties (chocolate-covered strawberries, gorgeous decorations and homemade Pinterest inspired goody bags, garlands were strewn all about and confetti everywhere) and I have gone the more Dollar Store Minimalist route. Guess what? Kids don’t care. Parents care.
- If you’re agonizing over every party detail, ask yourself why. Those decorations are going to be ripped and thrown away, photo booth props broken and hanging limply in their bucket, goody bags emptied before they ever make it home….so just relax.
- Parties should be fun for the kids, easy for everyone, and follow the direction of the teacher first and foremost. She may not appreciate your idea of popsicles and a war of sponges soaked in water, or she may come up with that herself! Be flexible and low key.
- Think outside the box. Many people shy away from volunteering because they have jobs, or younger kids at home, or (like me) have a difficult time going up to a campus and mingling with folks while making copies or stuffing folders in the workroom. I have sent emails to teachers explaining that I couldn’t come in to help, but that they could send home projects that needed prep work. EVERYONE I’ve offered this to has taken me up on it, and I’ve happily done the job because, hello? Volunteering for my precious kiddos and their amazing teachers WHILE watching Netflix and wearing pajamas?? Who wouldn’t do that?
- Be patient with parents. It will likely take you approximately five minutes after agreeing to volunteer in your kid’s school for other parents to…kinda annoy you. They forget things, don’t sign things, don’t show up, ignore emails, and NEVER sign up for party clean up. Even so…..
- Don’t stoop to gossiping. You may find yourself carrying a heavier load than you expected, or working with a group that wants to complain about THAT parent. You need to find your zen here, because guess what….you’ve probably been THAT parent before, too. We’re all just doing the best we can, teachers and volunteers and parents, who are too stressed, too busy, too broke, or even just too shy to help out right now.
- Follow deadlines and due dates. It’s best for parents to have information early, and then send out a reminder shortly before the event. Some people will get right on it and buy the snowflake plates immediately- they benefit from that early notice. Some people will do things at the last minute no matter when they hear about it-they benefit from the reminder right before the event.
- Be careful asking parents for gifts or donations to the teacher. Depending on your school, collecting donations for a teacher’s birthday gift may be a breeze, or it may be like pulling teeth. Be sure that you are following the guidelines for this process.
- Sometimes, all you will get is $8 turned in from a class of 25 people. You may have to pony up your own money to round out the amount and get a decent gift card or present. Or you may have to get creative with stretching that $8 or crafting a handmade gift from students. Be sure that you let parents know up front that they are not obligated to participate in any specific gift-giving event, and also that they are welcome to send something hand made or handwritten from their child at any point during the school year.
- Speaking of gifts… If you don’t already have one, get your child’s teacher to fill out a getting-to-know-you sheet, where they list all their favorite things. This makes gift giving much easier. Many teachers love handmade or crafted gifts from the students, especially if they include pictures of the class. They also love gift cards, especially to school supply stores or their favorite restaurants.
- Try to stay away from generic or themed gifts like coffee mugs, plaques, and candles…unless you know they love these things. I once had a teacher (let’s call her Ms S) whose class theme had been Ms. S’s Sunflowers for her entire career. Her room was festooned with sunflower EVERYTHING. At back to school night, she practically begged parents not to get her any more sunflower knick knacks and accessories. A brand new teacher who’s just starting to build her room may feel otherwise. Be sure to consider your teacher’s personality and needs when selecting gifts.
- Can’t volunteer right now? Don’t beat yourself up! As I said, I had to follow my extreme volunteering year with a year of NO. One son was starting middle school, one son was starting high school, and I wanted to be as available as possible for their needs since we didn’t know what to expect. So, again and again, I said NO. It just wasn’t my year, and I was okay with that. Most people are understanding and those who aren’t? Those aren’t your people.