It was back to school night and I was sitting in my daughter’s tiny chair as her teacher talked through all of the opportunities to be involved in the classroom. There were a lot of them and they sounded fun. There were classroom parties that you could help with. There was one for Halloween, 50th day, Winter Break, Valentine’s Day, and 100th day. There were field trips you could sign up to chaperone (dates TBD). You could come help during computer lab at 1:30 on certain days. You could help during journal time at 9 am or math centers also during the day. You could be a guest reader at 3:15. The library could use help. There was also the PTO that held their meetings mid-morning once a month.
I really wanted to be involved and find ways to help in my daughter’s classroom, but none of this looked like it would work for me. I don’t have a very flexible work schedule. I’m expected to be there by 8 and I can’t leave until after 5. I can take an hour for my lunch and it should be from 12-1. Obviously the school day overlaps with the work day, so there is nothing surprising about the fact that the opportunities to help in the classroom were going to conflict with my work schedule. I was still hoping that there might be something I could do, though.
So, I worked on my perspective, got creative, and communicated with my child’s teacher.
The very first thing is that I stopped thinking about what I could do in my daughter’s classroom and started thinking about what we could do in her classroom. My husband’s schedule is a little more flexible than mine, so it’s sometimes easier for him to sign up to help at a classroom party or to attend a field trip. We also included the grandparents. They all live out-of-town, but often come for visits during the week. If schedules line up, we can sign them up for a guest reader slot or some other classroom event. This helps add to our collective effort of helping in the classroom and it is something that they have also loved being able to do. If it’s possible, try to enlist your “village” here.
I also stopped assuming that the only times the teacher needed help were the times that were initially listed. I can’t consistently come at 9, 1:30, or 3:15, but I do have a really consistent lunch hour. I could go from 12:10 to 12:50, so I offered my lunch break once a week. I was worried that this would interfere with the teacher’s lunch or that it would be inconvenient for her or that it was too short, but she was happy to have me come during this time window. The kids are at lunch recess when I first get there, so I help her in the classroom first. I do things like sharpen pencils or sort books or papers or whatever is needed at the time. Their routine is to have story time right after recess to help transition back into the classroom, so I stay and read this story before I head back to my work. I love doing this. I am getting to know the school, my daughter’s teacher, and her classmates. My daughter also loves this. She told me it’s her “favorite part of the week.” And, I’m pretty sure it’s helpful to the teacher. Maybe lunch break isn’t a good time for you, but look at your schedule and talk to the teacher if there is a window of time that you would be available – even if it is short and even if it’s not one that they had already mentioned. (Then, schedule a recurring meeting on your work calendar so that time is preserved in your schedule!)
You can also start looking for some of the behind-the-scenes work that you might be able to do on your own time. Maybe you can’t attend the party, but you can prepare a craft or activity for the party. Maybe you can’t attend the field trip, but you can prepare snacks for the bus ride. Maybe the teacher would appreciate having you sort papers or cut things out at home to help prepare for an upcoming lesson. If you have time to do things outside of the school day, check with the teacher to see if there is any homework that you could do.
If there are special events (parties, field trips, etc.) that you really want to be able to participate in, consider saving a vacation day or half of a vacation day to be able to do these things. I have a friend who always takes Halloween off from work, so she can participate in the classroom parties that day. I have another friend that plans to go on one field trip with each of her children each year and budgets her vacation days to be able to do that. I know vacation days are precious, but this might be a good use of them if being able to attend a party or field trip is something that you’d really like to do.
And, the last thing I want to share is a little bit of perspective that I find helpful when I’m struggling to make something like this work. I think we’ve all heard that “it’s a marathon, not a sprint.” This usually comes along with warnings to pace yourself, so you don’t get burnt out. A friend recently said to me, “It’s not a marathon or a sprint. It’s a relay.” We were talking about something else, but I think this perspective extends to all sorts of situations. We do our best and run the race when we can. When things come up and we don’t have the time or the energy, it is okay to pass the baton and let someone else run that leg of the race. There is a lot to juggle at this stage of life and this might not be a good time for you to take up extra work in your child’s classroom. That is okay. Let someone else run this part of the relay right now. You’ll get back and run a leg when you can.