I Volunteer

For the past four years, I have volunteered weekly in my kids’ classrooms. I usually only spend an hour or two there but I am exhausted when I leave. I can’t imagine what it feels like to be a teacher.

This year seems to be my last year of weekly classroom help. Second-grade teachers don’t need parents like I need them. Next year I’ll have to find other classes to help in or other ways. I’ll miss the routine.

When helping in my daughter’s first-grade class this year, groups of kids rotated every fifteen minutes. I got four to six kids at a time. They rolled on a floor covered in chunks of dirt from their shoes. They fought over who was supposed to have what book. They wrestled, took off their shoes, talked, needed pencils sharpened, sucked up strings of snot that hung to their chins, told me they didn’t need a tissue, used pencils as Wolverine claws, sang, did a little work, went to the bathroom for fifteen minutes, ate boogers or scabs, tattled, and argued over how they would pair up to play a game.

I refereed, told the kids what books they were supposed to have, told them wrestling moves were not part of their assignment, pointed out the tissue box, sharpened pencils, told them to do work, helped them read words, told them to stop singing and talking, told them to get out from under my chair, told them that pencils are for writing, listened to stories about their cat, dog, or baby brother, and said “Good job.” Then the next group came and the cycle repeated.

Every class I’ve helped in has been different. Some groups have been more challenging than others, but I did it every year because I simply love it.

English: This is one of the kindergarten rooms...

I’ve enjoyed every minute in the classroom. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I started volunteering when my son was in kindergarten as a way to adjust to long days without him. My son rarely cracked a smile when he saw me, much less said hello. But I quickly loved helping the other kids read sight words, figure out an addition problem, or just giving them attention.

I worked with kids who had trouble learning their ABCs and sight words. The teacher had me quiz them on sight words. They’d squirm. They’d all but panic. I wasn’t allowed to help them. I knew they hated it. I hated it. But I’d say nice job or find a way to compliment them during class.

Those kids who had the hardest time hardly ever talked to me. I couldn’t blame them. At the end of the year, those were the kids who came up and squeezed me around my waist on my last day. No words. Just a surprise, quick hug. I left with a lump in my throat. I knew it was worth it.

In college, I volunteered in a pre-kindergarten classroom. The teacher told me that some of the kids didn’t get much attention at home. I could tell. They all wanted to show me everything they could do. They fought over who would hold my hand. I learned more in that classroom than I did in many of my college courses, and I’ve never forgotten those lessons.

I volunteer because I know what my kids get at home every day, but I don’t know what another kid’s home life is like. Even though I had loving parents as a kid, it was always nice when someone else took an interest in me. When someone other than your parent takes notice, you take notice in yourself. Sometimes all it takes is a positive comment. “You did a great job reading today.” “Wow, look at you reading those big words.” “I’m proud of you.”

You just never know. So you do it for all of them.



Filed under About Mom

19 responses to “I Volunteer

  1. wow..great job…thumbs up for you!…i really appreciate for what you are doing….keep it..up..god bless you for all your awesome work…

  2. Thanks for sharing your lump in the throat (didn’t realize they were contagious). You are such a great mom and it’s amazing that you have shared that with children other than your own. Makes me feel just a tiny bit better about sending mine off to school.

  3. I enjoyed reading your post. Volunteer work is always fulfilling. Hopefully you will have an opportunity to read some of my posts. May THE FORCE continue to be with you!

  4. I loved this post. Those kids were very lucky to have you! And really, you’ll never know just how much of a huge impact you’ve had on them. I’ve worked in special ed for years and was also a preschool teacher. There is nothing better than when a child lets you know how much you’ve helped them with a hug or a smile. And I know I’ve learned more about life and what matters myself just from being with them.

    • I learn so much every time I go. It’s amazing to see through the eyes of children. They really are so smart and clever at a very young age. I’m sure I didn’t change any lives, but I hope that sometimes maybe I made a difficult day or moment easier. I think it’s helped me to be a better mom too. You see what goes on in classrooms and what other kids go through. You have to help your own kids handle that and empathize and be respectful and friendly and understand what they see.

  5. Thank you! Please keep volunteering through middle school; the kids in middle school need you even more. I taught a sixth grade “intervention class” – my students’ parents ranged from parents who worked three jobs to prison inmates. Needless to say, I didn’t have the abundance of parent volunteers the “Gifted and Talented” class had next door. I had exactly zero parent volunteers until one day a mom came in whose son did not want her in his class, so she offered to help in mine (the class with the scary kids). It was heavenly to have the help – just one hour a week literally changed my year and took hours off my day. She learned a lot too; like how well behaved my students were and how they were not scary gang members who were going to beat up the rich kids – they were just sweet little 12 year olds with really hard lives (and lots of warm hugs).

    This was an excellent post – I’m going to do some volunteering next school year (you’ve inspired me).

    • Thank you. I hope to volunteer as long as I can. It’s sad what some kids have to go through, and I’ve been shocked at what some kids have told me goes on at home. It really makes me all the more thankful for the life I have and more determined to volunteer. Like I said, I’ll never know the impact I make, but I don’t care. Sometimes you just need to listen. Sometimes you just need to smile. Sometimes you just need to show up every week. Sometimes you just need to help put crickets in a jar even though you seriously cannot stand bugs.

  6. Kim E.

    I just got home from volunteering at both of my kids’ end of year parties. I have helped in my first grader’s classroom every week this year. It was all I could do to keep it together when those little kids were hugging me. You get so attached to them. Volunteering with kids means as much to me as to the kids I help. They are all so special.

    • It’s hard to say good-bye every year, but it’s so neat to see the kids year after year and see how much they’ve grown. Some of the kids from my son’s kindergarten class still say hi to me.

  7. As a teacher, I must say that we are always so grateful for our volunteers. You will never know how much of a difference you’ve made, but I guarantee it has been significant.

  8. Such a great post. You just never know how much that word of encouragement or that extra couple minutes you spend with a child means to them. I also volunteer in my kids classrooms and don’t know how the teachers do it (and do it so well) day in and day out.

    • I know. Teachers do so much and are so under-appreciated. Even with the teachers who I wouldn’t have picked, I’ve found they do a good job and they work hard and they know what they’re doing. Being in a classroom is eye opening, and I’m grateful for every teacher my children have had. They can put up with a lot, and I think a lot is due to the parents.

  9. That is great I know I would love to have you volunteering around my children at school. My daughter starts kindergarten at the end of this year and I have another daughter who is 18 months behind her. Do you think I could volunteer and bring her sister? I have been wondering if they would let me do this. I think it would be so neat to go and help and be apart of everything! Thanks for sharing!

    • It all depends on the teacher. When my son was in kindergarten, I volunteered when my daughter was in her preschool class. (I wasn’t allowed to bring her.)

      Preschool and kindergarten are my favorite ages for volunteering. They do a lot of crafts and are just learning to read and write. They’re really in that “can you show me?” mode. Older kids are less prone to ask for help, though they do need it. Plus I feel like a fool when I fall for the “spell I CUP” or “under where?” jokes. 😉

      Hope you are able to help out. It’s a great age!

  10. Love it! I miss those days.

  11. Another great post, Karen. No shortage of great comments either. I’ll try not to be wordy, though I feel compelled to comment too.

    My last child finally entered just the school system, so this was my first year to really volunteer (before, I did most work at home since she was with me full-time). I committed only Tues and Thurs, 9 to noon, initially, but by the end of the year, it was more like 20 hrs per week of behind-the-scenes work (managing the annual fund-raiser carnival, filling teacher requests at the district’s workroom, helping in the cafeteria and library).

    My favorite of all, I have to say, was teaching Junior Achievement. Only an hour per week for 5 weeks (plus prep-time at home) for just one 2nd grade class, but I got soooo much more out of it than all the volunteer stuff combined!! Next year I’m hoping to do 2-3 grades.

    You’re super-right about kids needing a surrogate parent at school (for not getting much at home). I don’t mind. I have enough love to spread around. In turn, they’re teaching me to be patient, engaging, creative, happy (even when I’m not), and lovingly goofy. Kids coming up to hug me NOT at school…that’s the best. Then they take me to meet their parents for the first time. Kids are so sweet.

    WorryWart’s right. The real need is in middle school. I’m gearing up already. Not quite there yet, but it might be good to put my foot in the door before I have a kid there.

  12. Guess what? You’re “it”! Click here to find out what the heck I’m talking about!

  13. As a former teacher who knew about some kids’ unfortunate home lives, I’m glad you choose to volunteer in your kids’ classrooms for the sake of some of the others. Thanks for sharing your story! (I hope to follow in your footsteps once my kids are in school!)

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