Most of my life has been spent as a professional volunteer and a lot of those volunteer hours were at a school. There was a time when I had seriously considered becoming a teacher myself, so helping in the classroom came naturally to me. As it turned out, learning to balance volunteer commitments, family expectations, personal preferences and classroom needs was more difficult than I had imagined.
Invariably I would end up disappointing someone: either myself, my family, or the teacher.
I also volunteered side-by-side a lot of mothers who felt obligated to volunteer, but hadn’t found a role they enjoyed. Their time volunteering felt like drudgery to them, and I hope my tips today help a few of you who haven’t found your sweet spot in finding a volunteer role that you enjoy.
1. Talk to the teacher
I learned that getting to know the teacher soon after school started in the fall sets a good tone for the entire year. Once I understood what the teacher’s needs were, I could determine if I was willing (and able) to help or not. Some years, the tasks the teacher needed weren’t a good fit for me, but there were for another volunteer mom. That’s okay!
2. How much time can I give?
Once a week? Once a month? Morning? Afternoon? Evening? Remotely? In-class? It all depended on family obligations, my gym schedule, other family members needs, outside work schedules. This is where it got tricky not to overcommit.
Realistically sitting down and mapping out my week helped ensure I created boundaries that didn’t make me regret saying yes.
Remember, you’re the volunteer, make it work for you.
3. What do I like to do?
I liked working in the classroom. Interacting with the teacher and students gave me a better sense of my child’s learning experience. For parents who don’t feel comfortable being in the classroom, there are lots of other volunteer opportunities.
In some seasons of life, it was lovely to just zone out in the printer room making copies for the teacher to get some peace and quiet. In other seasons, I craved being in the classroom for parities with the kids.
4. Beware of open-ended commitments
This was the one that blindsided me — more than once. Help with the fundraiser? Sure. How was I supposed to know that this would go on and on … and on… sometimes late into the night… sometimes requiring long drives to make pick ups or deliveries. Not the best use of my time and talents.
Ask specifics of what they’re asking you to do before saying yes.
5. Delegate to Dad
School volunteers aren’t limited to moms only. My husband did a fair amount of carnival set-up, chaperoning, and help with the (blessed) fund-raiser.
Some of the (literal) heavy-lifting volunteer jobs are great for dads! I remember my daughter thought it was the neatest thing when her dad showed up at school—make use of their unique talents and put those men to work!
6. Mom guilt
From time to time, something (or someone) made me feel like I could’ve or should’ve done more. Learning to be kind to myself and laugh at lessons learned helped every time the “mom guilt” popped up. (a glass of Pinot Grigio always helped a bit, too).
For those who can’t commit to spending time on campus during school hours, there are many other ways you can support the teacher and/or the school. Here are a few ideas:
|Phone calling||Serving on PTA/PTO/School Board|
|Preparing art project supplies||Sports coaching|
|Holiday decorating||Organizing classroom supplies|
|Grading papers, clerical help||Sharing specialized knowledge or experiences with class, photo slides|
|Making costumes/set designing||Party planning|
Looking back 20 years later, the hours I spent at school were always the best use of my time. My daughter loved being a student and my being a part of it made it a win-win for everyone.