Some say only the brave would sign up to be a class chaperone. Other parents think it is the easiest school volunteer gig of the school year. Both are right, really. But there’s a difference between being a chaperone and being a good chaperone.
A Model Class Chaperone
To start, a good chaperone must take the position seriously. It is your job to help the teacher and make the field trip fun and safe for the entire class, and not just for your child.
We had one class chaperone who was a former member of the Army’s Special Forces. He was constantly counting kids, and he always knew where the exits were. He kept his group together and ran it like a real leader. While we might not all have his level of expertise, we can still aim to be responsible and effective chaperones.
All the Necessary Tools
Come prepared with a big purse or canvas bag capable of holding granola bars, a massive lunch (which you will likely share), a pen, a small water bottle (which you can refill as needed so that the bag is never too heavy), sunscreen, tissues, and hand sanitizer.
There will usually be at least one student who has no lunch. Check with him or his teacher to be sure he has no food allergies, and if not, just hand him some of yours. For children with food allergies or gluten intolerances, the teacher will ordinarily have alternatives.
The Essential Attitude
Maintain a level of authority. If you are in charge of a small cadre, keep tabs on your group — and know everyone’s name. For safety reasons, most kids don’t wear name tags.
If your child is embarrassed by your presence, so what? That comes with the territory. You have a job to do — helping his class — so remind him why you’re there, and get to it!
The Bathroom Visit
The bathroom is often where the system breaks down. Try to take bathroom trips en masse with another group so that one chaperone is watching each door. Tell the kids that they have three minutes to use the bathroom.
Of course, you don’t have to hold them to this exact limit, but it signals that you expect them to be quick — and not, for example, wash their hands five times because the soap is the cool foaming, pink kind. You might have to remind students not to switch clothes and shoes. Make sure the kids all have their jackets before you leave.
An Unwavering Focus
Don’t talk on your cell phone or check your email. In fact, don’t use your phone for anything other than taking the class photo during the trip — or calling for help if there is an emergency.
As terrific as the other parents seem, keep your focus on your group of students. Don’t give your own child extra attention or use this opportunity to talk to the teacher about your child’s class performance. A good chaperone treats his child the same as all the other kids.
Do not go into the gift shop. Do not buy your child something unless you want to buy it for everyone.
The Bus Protocol
When you first get on the bus, check that all of your kids are there, too. And that they still have their coats.
Once you’re on board, try to take a seat by one of the emergency exits or on the perimeter. There will be jockeying to settle who sits where, so let the kids have first choice. It could very well be that lots of kids want to sit by you, or that your child does, or that nobody does.
If they’re chatty, talk about the field trip with the kids. Some kids will be wound up and eager to share; others will be sound asleep. Be prepared for the child who gets carsick. This is the perfect opportunity to use the plastic bag you brought your lunch in, along with those tissues and hand sanitizer.
The Parental Benefits
Chaperoning is informative for parent–teacher relationships. You might spend 15 minutes with the teacher at each conference and another 30 minutes at a class party — but you’ll spend hours with him on a fieldtrip. Chaperones learn how a class works socially, and they can gauge how students and teachers interact.
Last year at our natural history museum, the kids kept coming up to share interesting things that they had seen with their teacher. It was clear that she was well-liked.
We chaperones were also reminded that spending hours in charge of so many little people is not easy. We remain eternally grateful for the hard work teachers do.