At school, there are boundless volunteer opportunities for parents, but many think that the role of classroom parent is the crown jewel of them all.
It is the ideal philanthropic situation for working parents, those with small children, or anyone looking for a manageable way to help out at school. All it takes is a single meeting and some emails.
By taking on this role, you’ll get to know your child’s teacher and other parents as you help make it a fun year for the students — all possible without needing to attend any PTA meetings (which, if you have ever been, can morph into a metaphorical hydra of tasks and sideline meetings). Classroom parents gain insight into what teachers’ needs are, as well as the limitations of what the school can provide. It sounds like a big job, but really, it’s not complicated.
What does the room parent do?
Effective classroom parents have one goal: to help the teacher in every capacity possible. Your most important task, other than staying in touch with the teacher, is to coordinate volunteers and donations. The key word here is “coordinate,” because a great classroom parent delegates and lets others help. The classroom parent might plan class parties, organize field trip chaperones, schedule snacktime (for younger grades), arrange for teacher gifts, communicate about school events, create a class roster, or stock extra school supplies.
The room parent could do it all, or delegate these tasks to other parents. Typically, there is more to do for the younger grades (playground monitors, library helpers, readers), but a graduating grade can be challenging too, since there will be more parties to plan.
How can you get the job?
Tell the teacher that you are interested in being the classroom parent before back-to-school night because the position will almost certainly be filled by then. After you get the job, you’ll start by doing about two hours of work getting things set-up, and maybe twenty minutes a week after that.
How do you begin?
Write a welcome letter and introduce yourself. Create and distribute a class roster with names, emails, and telephone numbers. For families who do not want to be on the roster, simply list the child’s name. Add new families to the roster as needed.
If you can, host a coffee or playground meeting outside of school to give parents a chance to chat in person. Ask the teacher to provide a master list of all available volunteer opportunities, and distribute it to the other parents. Encourage them to sign up early for volunteer positions.
Make a master calendar with sign-ups and send it around. Include contributions that don’t require parental presence, such as sending in cookies or buying art supplies. Email reminders a week in advance and on the morning of the event.
How should you handle the finances?
Collect about $20 from each family to cover group gifts for the teacher, plus a little padding for unforeseen extras. My former classroom parent partner kept our kindergarten class stocked with paper towels.
How do you stay in contact?
Limit your all-class emails. Also, emails to parents should not include an attached document because often people don’t open them.
What hurdles can you expect?
The fourth grade slump, which is sometimes used to describe students’ deflated academic performance, also refers to parent volunteers. Parents just aren’t as gung-ho as the kids get older, and sometimes it can be hard to find parents willing to make cookies for the bake sale or staff field day for the fifth time.
Sometimes there are two classroom parents. The role tends to draw very organized, “alpha” volunteer types. Be patient, stay involved, and divvy up responsibilities at the onset.
As classroom parent, you will act as a liaison between the parents and the teacher. You might need to advocate for your teacher against parent criticism. And when it’s helpful, let the teacher know if some parents aren't happy about things. You might hear about lessons gone awry, or misbehavior on the museum trip. In instances such as these, a responsible room parent might say something to the effect of "I'm sure it was all under control," and peel away gently. As a room parent, your loyalty needs to be with the teacher. Just like our children need a teacher to support them, teachers need parents who support them as well.