111. Volunteering

Volunteering in a school is one of my favorite ways to spend time. It’s a luxury; I’m sure that there are people who wish they could volunteer, but simply don’t have the time. They have to, can, and often want to do things for which they get paid, and when they’re done, school is out, so volunteering isn’t an option.
I remember from my paid days that it can be hard to plan for a volunteer, and I try to be a volunteer who can be somewhat reliable without needing plans. Having taught for twenty-five years, that’s not too hard for me. I see papers that need to be filed, a child who’s bugging another child, a child who finishes early and doesn’t know what to do next, a child who’s struggling – it’s not hard to notice where I can be useful.q
There are, of course, problems and issues around volunteering. One problem is that teachers are so used to being judged, and any time you volunteer in a classroom, the teacher may consciously or unconsciously see you as a spy. You may say and think you’re there to help. You may indeed be there to help. But the teacher may see you as someone who is counting the number of times he/she says “Um.” “Um” is a commonly used linguistic filler in many lines of work, but for some people, the more they try not to say it, the worse it gets. And some teachers are trying hard not to say it. There may be other habits the teacher is earnestly trying to break, too. The presence of a volunteer can be disconcerting, and the um-count may skyrocket.
Children are quick to see any adult in the classroom as a potential authority. So a child may come up to a volunteer and ask for permission. If the teacher has well-defined policies that are easy to memorize or put on a chart, volunteers can echo these policies, or direct the child to the chart. But it’s rarely that simple. And some children see the volunteer as a way to circumvent the policy – to get help that isn’t really needed, or get permission that wouldn’t ordinarily be given.
Finally, there’s the feelings teachers have when they are in charge of a class. Diversity is nice, many hands make light work, and children have a better chance to get their needs met if there are more adults tending to them. But there is a special connection some teachers feel with their classes – a bond that makes the presence of other adults difficult. I’ve felt that bond many times, and I respect it. Just as you sometimes want to spend time with only one special friend, a teacher may want to spend time with only the children, and vice versa.
I’m going to keep volunteering in classrooms. I hope those of you who want to get chances to do it. For some teachers, a volunteer can be a gift that’s better than any coffee mug.

Comments are closed.