Volunteering – A teacher’s perspective.
There is an old African proverb that says it takes a village to raise a child and at school it’s no different. In the school setting, this village starts with the parents and teachers who share the common goal to work together to support the development of the whole child. When parents are volunteering in the classroom, it enhances the program on so many levels.
Parents volunteering in the classroom creates a rich environment for our children and serves as a model for the children as they see adults creating and maintaining positive relationships with other people. This is evident when the children see the parents and teachers working together collaboratively. This develops a sense of community and parents and teachers alike recognise the importance of serving the community as a whole.
The experienced parents offer support, guidance and reassurance which helps me immensely in my role. Although I try my very best to cater for my parents’ needs as well, I am only one person so enlisting extra parent support helps me fulfil my role too. It also helps experienced parents to feel valued and builds a community of trust and friendship.
The Diversity Level
Classroom populations are becoming more diverse. Teachers embrace this diversity and view parents as valuable resources in sharing their cultural heritage with the class family. This can help proactively reduce complications stemming from differences. As Scherer (1999) states, the fact that schools today mirror the world – a multicultural, multiethnic world children will live in as adults – positive diversity experiences in children’s younger years should give us hope for erasing inequities. Parents can help teachers construct “stronger mirrors”.
When children observe parents and teachers working together it not only assists with their learning but also assists in developing them as well rounded people who are more willing to accept and embrace differences in people.
The Academic Level
Having volunteers in the classroom enables more small group time which helps with student engagement and on-task behaviour. This is especially so in the early years, as children at this age are less independent and benefit from more adult guidance. If teachers have parent helpers in the room assisting them, they are less likely to spend significant time on behaviour management and more time on learning.
Volunteering in your child’s classroom has rewards not only for your child or for the teacher and classroom as a whole, but furthermore develops your understanding and appreciation of the education process.
Sonia Priddis is one of three Prep teachers at Living Faith Lutheran Primary School, Murrumba Downs. She has a reputation amongst the parent body for partnering with parents and immersing them in the learning of their children through the establishment of a warm family atmosphere.
Volunteering – A parent’s perspective
My wife and I take turns volunteering in our son’s Prep classroom on alternate Wednesday mornings. While I was always keen to volunteer, I had no idea what would be expected of me. Would I be asked to teach? Would I be asked to read stories? What I quickly came to realise is that, after observing for a week or two, I began to understand the routine and rhythm of the classroom, and could make myself useful in a number of ways. I’ve helped get morning tea ready, I’ve played games with the children and I’ve engaged in small reading groups. One time, I used my expertise to construct a ride on car for the children (lots of fun for them, and me).
Helping out with my skills
With time I have been able to share more of my interests with my son’s teacher, and together we have come up with ways of using this in the classroom (I showed some of the children how to work with wood). I have also found that one way in which I am incredibly valuable in the classroom is simply by virtue of my gender. I find the boys gravitate toward me and I enjoy being a strong, caring and kind male role model for them. One of the most rewarding things for me to come out of volunteering is the lovely discussions I have with young children about all sorts of things. The way children view the world is amazing, and the diversity in their abilities and personalities is very useful knowledge that I have gained from volunteering.
Benefits of volunteering
I view my son a little differently now that I have volunteered in his classroom. I see aspects of him at school that aren’t as apparent at home, and our conversations about how school is going are rich as I know so much about his school experience. I love to watch his face light up when he remembers that it is volunteering morning. My wife and I talk about the joy and pride we see in his face when we do things with him and his classmates while volunteering. He LOVES having us there, and he knows by our actions that we are committed to him, his experiences and his schooling.
Another benefit that has come from volunteering is how well my wife and I know our son’s teacher. I have developed an easy rapport with her, which allows us to have meaningful discussions about many things, including how my son is going at school. I am also able to support her in a range of ways, and she knows that I am committed to supporting the effective running of her classroom. It has also been a real delight to get to know the other parents who volunteer, and share in the authentic sense of community that we are all building. My wife tells me that an integral part of an effective education is having a sense of community in the classroom. I know that my son’s classroom definitely has this, and I am fortunate to be one member of this community.
Stephen Monteith is a Brisbane father to 2 children. He is a full time stay at home parent who volunteers in both his son’s school and his daughter’s daycare centre.
This article was published in Issue 8 of our print magazine, February/March 2015.