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Most teachers welcome parents who want to help out in the classroom — an extra pair of hands, eyes, and ears is often useful. But sometimes overzealous parents can do more harm than good. Here are some tips from teachers on what they appreciate most.
What to do when you volunteer in class
Consult with the teacher before scheduling your hours
She may feel that you can be more helpful during certain times than at others. If your schedule doesn't allow you this kind of flexibility, then tell the teacher when you can be there at least a week or two in advance. That way, she can plan ahead for your visit.
Show up on time
Elementary school teachers plan their day almost to the minute, so you need to be reliable. If you're even ten minutes late, you could throw off her entire morning's schedule. It's possible that she planned the day's lesson anticipating your presence.
Stopping into the classroom every now and again makes it difficult for the teacher to plan lessons that you can help with. Try to set up a regular schedule, say, every other Friday from 9:30 to 10:30, and stick with it.
Call if something comes up
If you can't keep the date, try to give as much notice as possible.
If you begin to help children with a lesson and realize that you don't understand the teacher's instructions, ask her to clarify. Otherwise, you'll slow down the lesson and confuse the students.
Offer to help with whatever the teacher needs
If you have a special interest, such as reading or art, then let the teacher know of your preference, but assure her that you're willing to help with anything.
Call the teacher first if you want to bring special treats
Whether you want to bring birthday cakes, games, or a pet with you, any special event requires planning. The teacher may need to obtain permission from the parents of other children for certain activities. If she okays a snack, remember to bring necessary extras such as plates, cups, and napkins. If you do bring food, it's best to choose something that can be offered as an individual serving — such as cupcakes, Rice Krispie treats, or brownies — rather than a huge sheet cake that needs to be cut.
What not to do when you volunteer in class
Don't focus solely on your own child
You won't be that much help to the teacher if you give all your attention to your own child. If you prefer to work with your child, create a small group that includes him and a few other children as well.
Don't bring younger children to class with you
They will distract the students and will prevent you from giving your undivided attention to the teacher and those you came to help.
Don't do the students' work for them
If you give them answers, you'll inadvertently undermine their confidence — and they won't really learn. Your goal is to help them figure things out for themselves. You want the kids to be confident. You want to teach the children how to fish, not to fish for them.
Don't overstay your welcome
Limit your volunteering to a few hours at a time, not a full day, and not more than once or twice a week.
Don't sit and watch
When you volunteer, expect to actively help students.
Don't show up if you're sick
Not only will you expose the kids to infection, but you'll also wear yourself down. Helping out in class is hard work, and the teacher needs you at your best. If you're ill, cancel your visit — and don't feel guilty about it.
Don't be negative with the kids
Compliment them on what they do well, and let the teacher decide when criticism or discipline is necessary.