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When my kids were in preschool, they had two teachers and two aides per class. While parents were encouraged to donate their time for at-home projects like cutting out shapes or washing toys, there were few opportunities for us to help out in the classroom (you know, where we might actually get some face-time with our own spawn). I actually couldn’t wait until my daughters reached elementary school age, where I knew parent-volunteers were in hot demand. I’m here to tell you: Be careful what you wish for.
By the time my girls made it to public elementary school, the system was a bleak scene of budget cuts, overtaxed teachers and painfully crowded classrooms. Although I work full-time, I do it from home so I have the luxury of bending my schedule enough so I can pitch in. It soon became apparent, however, that “pitching in” often translated into 10 or more unpaid hours of school-related duties every single week -- and sometimes far more.
In a recent New York Times article about moms suffering from school-volunteer burnout, one PTA president was quoted as saying economic necessity has forced many former stay-at-home mothers to go back to work, leaving them precious little time for classroom participation. The article went on to note that one California elementary school district in particular (sadly, not mine) has been discussing a proposal that would require the families of its 13,000 students to commit to 30 hours of volunteer work during the year. I hate to sound bitchy, but that’s one lousy hour a week -- a two-parent household could divvy it up to an hour every other week or a vacation day every four months.
Here’s where I have a problem with the working-mom theory: At our school, it’s always the same five moms -- and I’m not being sexist here; I’ve yet to see a dad leading a math or reading group -- who do everything, and four of us work. We are the first ones to sign up to bring snacks to the many potlucks and picnics, we drive on every single field trip, we work the after-school movie concession stand, and share shifts at the book fair and huddle in groups to decide what this year’s class project for the school auction should be. Splitting up the time between more parents could give us more of a break.
You may sense that I'm a tiny bit resentful about the time I give to my kids’ school (mostly for the above-mentioned reasons), but I also treasure it. I like seeing their teachers in action, and I like looking the principal in the eye and knowing that she knows who I am. It’s incredibly rewarding to watch a group of students come together as a class during a school year, and to see them grow, physically and emotionally during that time. I just wish all the parents would take a shift or two so that they could witness these small but powerful miracles, too.
How do you feel about volunteering at your kid's school? Chime in below!