548. Volunteers

There are plenty of useful things a volunteer can do in a school. Plenty of things teachers would do if they only had the time, or things teachers do even though they don’t have the time. Being a teacher involves all kinds of work, and teachers really do appreciate having someone volunteer to do some of it.
And yet I hear, from volunteers, that teachers say they don’t need help. I think many teachers don’t know what help they need, and many volunteers don’t know what help to offer. And so many teachers end up working much harder and longer than they have to, and many volunteers end up wishing they could do something.
As a volunteer, I make a habit of thinking back to my career as a teacher. What did I do that could have been done by volunteers? What did I prefer to do myself? And how would the teacher I want to help answer these questions? By the end of my career as a paid teacher, I’d gotten pretty good at using volunteers, but I still could have used them better.
Recently, I had some time to move around the school in which I volunteer and think about what needed to be done. It didn’t take long to think of things. For example, teachers had their class lists – the lists given them by the people in the office. These lists had last names first, and had other information. Most teachers like to also have another kind of class list – just a list of children in the class, with first names first. So I volunteered to take their lists to the computer in the teachers’ workroom and type up that kind of list.
Teachers appreciated that kind of help. I was helping in two ways: figuring out what to do, and then doing it. It’s not that teachers don’t want help; it’s that they tend not to want to figure out what kind of help they want. If volunteers can figure that out, they’ll be precious resources for teachers.
There are plenty of jobs that can be done as teachers are setting up their rooms in August, and plenty during the school year. Listening to a child read is very useful. Just listening. Teachers would like to be everywhere at once, but they can’t. If there are volunteers in the room, those volunteers can be in some of the places teachers wish they could be.
Both volunteers and teachers have to be flexible and sensitive. Teachers need to think about how to make volunteers’ jobs easier, and vice versa. It just takes a little extra thinking. But the rewards can be great for everyone involved. So if you’re a teacher, maybe you could spend some time thinking about which parts of your job can be done by volunteers. And if you’re a volunteer, it would help to come with some ideas about what you’re volunteering to do.

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