Volunteering at my kid’s school: Why?

I’ve started volunteering at my son’s school.

He’s in the second grade at his third new school in a little more than a year and, well, maybe I feel guilty about that or maybe I genuinely want to know his teacher and student teacher and every single classmate he has or maybe I just want another way to be involved in my not-so-little-anymore boy’s life.

Maybe I want to be the cool mom who other kids say, “There’s Rye’s mom!” with a smile on their face. Maybe I want my own kid to think that.

Whatever the reason, I started volunteering at my son’s school and, so far, I don’t love it.

Every Monday, I show up at 3 p.m. to help with whatever task the teacher assigns.

The first week, I finagled a paper cutter in the teacher’s workroom to help make various stacks of oddly-shaped flashcards, which I then wrote “2+3=5” and similar facts on.

Last week, I helped students learn subtraction facts by flipping flashcards. I got through about five or six students (not my own) before my time was up.

Yesterday, I cut out more math facts from over-sized sheets of laminated construction paper.

As I sat at the small desk at the back of the room, maneuvering the scissors over the slippery laminate, I wondered: Why am I here?

My son’s teacher greeted me, handed me my assignment and then ignored me. My son seemed both happy to see me and horrified that I was in his classroom and might oh-my-God speak to one of his friends, at the same time. My son’s classmates glanced at me awkwardly, unsure who I was, what I was doing there or if I’d be calling them over to practice their math.

My brain ticked off a list of other ways I could be spending that hour: work, laundry, going for a run, unpacking, reading, painting the bedroom, planting flowers, ETC.

I kept cutting. The classroom carried on around me.

I tried to remember the times my own parents visited my elementary-school classroom. There was a year both my mom and my dad led my Girl Scout troop. That was fun. And there was a time or two my dad brought his college actors in to perform a skit from a children’s show he was directing. I also remember, as a really young kid, bringing Halloween sugar cookies to school for my birthday. My mom had made those.

But aside from school programs and other functions, those are the only times I can remember my parents being at school. Certainly, neither volunteered to help the teacher on a weekly basis.

And as a kid? This was fine with me.

So I’ve been struggling lately with how I spend my time, what commitments I’ve made, whether the things I do reflect the priorities I have. If I want more time with my family, why would I take on any community obligations? If I want to be a five-day-a-week runner at this point in my life, why wouldn’t I forgo another commitment to make that happen? If I want to learn to play the guitar, why would I pursue any other extracurricular activities?

It’s a tough line to find, to cross, to sidestep, to hover over. And I’m still working on all the answers.

But for now (for always), I know one thing for sure: Being involved in my kids’ lives is important.

And if being present in my son’s classroom on a regular basis helps communicate that to him, if Anne Lamott is right that 80 percent of life is just showing up, if my son looks back one day and says, “Wow, Mom was at my school a lot, she must have really wanted to be an active participant in my life,” if my son feels he can pursue any interest and his mom will support it …


Then all the mindless, thankless cutting of flashcards, was worth every second.


8 thoughts on “Volunteering at my kid’s school: Why?

  1. This is great. You are so completely honest in your posts, and I really respect that. I have felt the same way volunteering, and I have to remind myself that every task I helped with (even removing the uncooked spaghetti images and staples from the display board), may not have directly helped a student, but me doing the task helped that teacher be with that student that really needed her that extra 30 minutes, because I was doing something that she didn’t have to at the end of the day. Maybe she got to go home at a decent hour, instead of staying late, to be with her own family. Kudos to you. Your son will remember your sacrifice down the road, like you said.


    • Rachelle, thanks for your comment. I’ve told myself what you just said, too – that me helping cut out flashcards gives the classroom teacher more time to lesson plan or work with students or do whatever else she has on her plate (I’m sure her plate is FULL) that is more important.


  2. Wonderful post. Thanks for sharing. I’ve learned that I am not a school Mom. I wish I was …. but let’s face it. I’m just not. When Ms A was in kindergarten, she lamented one night that “ALL the other moms” helped at her school and I didn’t. We then had a frank discussion about how my job makes us money and that money allows us to pay for the house we live in, the food we eat, the doctors we need when we are sick, and the fun stuff we get to do. And at our house, it’s up to Mom to get that done. And other people rely on both Mom and Dad and sometimes just Dad. But we agreed that year I would volunteer at one thing each year at her school. It’s been a great compromise for both of us.


  3. I totally agree with you! Every Wednesday at 11:30 I help with whatever the teacher wants me. Times I cut out lots of stuff! Which I too sit there and wonder what else I should be doing! But I figure that doing so showing my daughter that keeping commitments and showing my presence at school will show her some responsibility and I care she’s at school.


  4. Loved reading your post; especially the part about the teacher basically ignoring you. At least she gave you an assignment to do! I just volunteered at my daughters preschool (it’s required once a month) and I am really disappointed. One of the teachers (there are 2) gave me an assignment alright, but as soon as the other teacher saw me handing out papers, she dove in and took over immediately! I guess she didn’t like a parent “taking over” HER work in HER classroom. Bleh. Then to make matters worse, she undermined me in front of my daughter! yikes. Do i really have to do this once a month??


    • Kate, urgh. I’m sorry to hear that! I do think many (most?) classroom teachers appreciate parents’ help. But perhaps some of them could do a better job showing it! Hang in there, maybe your experience (and mine) will get better.


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