If you’re reading this blog, chances are good you have at least one child at home. If your child is in elementary school, chances are even better that the PTA will be knocking on your door, calling your house, or sending colorful flyers home in your child’s backpack asking you to volunteer at school this year.
Each year I battle my inner demons when it comes to volunteering. In my heart I know I should check a few boxes, supervise a few field trips and stay up late gluing snowmen for the teacher. But like most working parents, my spare time is a precious commodity I don’t give away freely. It’s hard enough getting to the parent-teacher conferences, open houses, school plays and performances that are scheduled during the work day.
So when it comes to making a decision about what to volunteer for, I simply apply the 80/20 rule. I try to find the jobs that deliver 80% of the value with only 20% of the work. If this philosophy can work for big business, I figure, it can certainly apply to volunteering at school.
First, decide why you are volunteering. In my mind there are only three reasons to check the box:
1) So your child can see you helping out at school (the young ones really love this)
2) So you can get to know the teachers and they you (this can be good or bad)
3) To meet other parents in the community (ditto above)
Certainly, there are many, many parents who volunteer out of the goodness of their hearts or to provide additional enrichment opportunities for school children. I admit, I am not one of these parents.
I volunteer because my boys really like it when I do, and I know the day will soon come when they’d prefer I take a trip to China before I step near their school building. Last year I worked in the library one Tuesday every other month during my lunch hour. My son’s class came in for exactly 30 minutes. I arrived at 12:29pm and was out the door by 1:04pm. I was able to meet and observe some of my son’s classmates and I helped them check out age-appropriate books. Easy and fun.
I also volunteered for the yearbook committee. Not so easy. Yearbook (even at an elementary school) is a huge time commitment and I spent several weekends designing photo pages, trying to identify children I didn’t know, and going crazy using an overly complex desktop publishing tool. While my son knew I was working on the yearbook, at the end of the day, it didn’t make up for the fact that Joey’s mom came into the class for every Science Action activity and I didn’t come in for a single one.
Volunteering for the yearbook did not deliver the target 80% value.
If you’re going to volunteer this year, think first about what you hope to get out of the experience. Then see if you can apply the 80/20 rule. If your work schedule does not permit you to get into school during the day, there are usually a few activities that happen outside of school hours: back-to-school picnics, science fairs, fundraisers.
If your goal is to spend time with your child at school you can always come in to have lunch with him or her (nothing will make you appreciate the school staff more). And if library isn’t available, let me suggest my next favorite activity: Chess club.