By Andrew Hawk
In my career, I have always gladly accepted help from parent volunteers. Some parents really like to get involved in school activities. Hosting parent volunteers in the classroom offers teachers a resource to furthering their teaching and increasing student learning outcomes. Here are eight ideas that you might consider if you ever have a parent volunteer help out in your classroom. I have used all of these ideas, and they were a great help.
- Clerical Assistance. Many teachers use this strategy. Copying, stapling, filing, and organizing are all great ways to put a parent volunteer to work. When I taught first grade, our reading program came with decodable books that had to be torn out of a larger book, folded, and then stapled. I had one parent volunteer who came in once a week to complete this activity for me. It was a tremendous help. The alternatives were to use precious class time having the students do it or make the books in my off hours. I much preferred and appreciated the help I received.
- Small Group Remediation. In this situation, the volunteer acts as a teaching assistant. As long as you review with parents the material you want them to teach beforehand, this is a great way to help students who are struggling with part of a lesson. If a couple students are having trouble staying focused, have them sit close to the volunteer during the lesson. The volunteer can prompt them to do a better job following along. If your lesson calls for stations, a parent volunteer can run one of them.
- Assessment Proctor. This is a real convenience if you have a student who was absent and needs to take an assessment the rest of the class has already taken. This can also be a help if you are differentiating your classroom instruction to the degree that students are taking different assessments for the same lesson.
- Experiment Preparation. Making science a hands-on learning experience is the most effective type of instruction for this subject. The problem is, a lot of prep work goes into getting ready for an experiment. There is also usually some cleanup afterward. A parent volunteer can really make your life easier in getting prep and cleanup done.
- Single Student Tutoring. At some point, all teachers will have a single student who needs extra assistance. This could be due to a prolonged absence or a variety of other reasons. When you find yourself in this situation, have your volunteer work with the student one on one. I have found it very useful to have a parent volunteer review flashcards with one or more students who were struggling with basic fact recall. This is another instance where you may have to give specific instructions to the parent.
- Homework Assistance. I know we call it homework because it’s expected to be completed at home. The thing is, some students get assistance from adults at home while others do not. If you can schedule a twenty- or thirty-minute homework period toward the end of the day, it can be very helpful for students who don’t get a lot of assistance at home. Having one or two parent volunteers assist during this time can make a huge difference.
- Scribe for Special Needs Student. You may have students who have the use of a “scribe” as an accommodation on their IEP, but it’s more common to have students who simply are slow writers. Have your parent volunteer act as a scribe and take notes for these students. Some might argue that this will not help the student in the long run, but I disagree. Students who have trouble writing are often so focused on writing the notes that they are not really paying attention to the lesson. Having someone to help take notes can really improve these students’ focus during class time.
- Box Tops for Education Preparation. When parents are ripping off the tops of their boxes, they probably have no idea that someone has to sit and trim all the edges. Once trimmed, the box tops need to be counted. This time-consuming task is perfect for a parent volunteer. It’s also a huge help to the school.
Two Bad Ideas
- Grading. I have known several teachers who have used parent volunteers to grade papers. In and of itself, this isn’t a terrible thing to do. However, if word gets out to other parents, I would not be surprised if one or more of them call to complain, most likely, because they don’t want other parents seeing their child’s grades.
- Discipline Issues. You need to be very clear from the beginning what a parent volunteer is supposed to do if he or she encounters a discipline problem. I would suggest that you handle all of them except for issues that may arise from the parent’s own child.
Parent volunteers can make your life a lot easier at school, and if you plan ahead and use them well, it can be fulfilling for them, too.
Andrew Hawk has worked in public education for fourteen years, starting as a teaching assistant in a special education classroom. He has taught first, second, and fifth grade as a classroom teacher, and for the past three years, has worked as a resource room teacher, providing services for fourth and fifth graders. Working as a special education teacher has given him the opportunity to work with a variety of age groups and exceptionalities. In 2011, he earned his master’s degree in special education from Western Governor’s University. When Andrew is not preparing for school, he enjoys spending time with his wife and daughter.
We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.