Not Everyone Should Be a School Volunteer

My boys are in third grade, first grade, and the final year of preschool and yet this is the first year that I’ve been a regular volunteer in their school.

Back when I was a teacher(before my kids were born), I assumed I would volunteer in my children’s classrooms. But when my oldest started kindergarten, I had one child in preschool and one at home all the time. In the years following, there was always still a child at home and then I added working full-time from home and I simply didn’t have the time to go into the classroom and volunteer.

But this year, with my workload lightened(unfortunately) and all three of my boys in school 5 days a week(even if one of them is only half-day), I decided it was time to volunteer.


I go in once a week to tutor small groups during math time in my oldest’s classroom. It’s a comfortable fit for me: despite being a total bookworm, I always loved teaching math best. And even though I think my son would be okay with it if I had to pull him for a group, I haven’t had to yet since math is his best subject.  I figure he gets my help at home, it works out better that he’s not getting more of me during his school day.

I’ve volunteered a few times in my first grader’s classroom, but only when the teacher asks for help, as she isn’t one who wants a regular volunteer. I could probably be a little more forward with my offer to help in her classroom and she’d probably take me up on it but my first grader hates when I leave his classroom. He does fine when I’m not there, but if I am there and leave at a time that’s not the end of the day and have to leave him to finish out the rest of his day without me, he gets emotional. It’s not worth it.

Volunteering doesn’t have to mean you’re doing any sort of teaching/tutoring. Teachers need a variety of help in their classrooms, getting materials ready, getting things organized, chaperoning field trips, extra hands on party days. And the PTO needs help getting events organized, putting together fliers, getting sponsors, planning fundraisers, etc.  I’m one of only a handful of parents who shows up at the PTO meetings and I’ll do whatever I can to help(not that I’ve actually done much here, but more about that later).

But despite how much I’m volunteering this year, I don’t think that every parent needs to volunteer.

Not everyone has the time: if you work (outside the home or at home), it’s near-impossible to get there. Or maybe you have other kids you’d have to find a sitter for in order to volunteer.

Maybe it’s not your personality to want to help out in a classroom, with all those kids. I totally get that there’s a difference between parenting your own kids and working with groups of your child’s classmates. Sort of like how I watch my own kids on the sidelines at a game, but hate when others assume I’ll watch their kids, too.

At a recent info night about the changes in the end of year reading assessments, one of the parents suggested that in order to get our children better prepared, they need more one on one time and the solution was to get more parent volunteers into the classrooms.

I bit my tongue so hard that I’m surprised it didn’t start bleeding. Not every parent makes a good tutor. Just because you know how to do something doesn’t mean you know how to teach it- there is a reason teachers have to take teaching methods classes in college. Now, some people can teach, but to assume every parent can just isn’t true. Add in there the parents who flatly admit they have not a clue how to do their children’s homework and I just didn’t see that as a solution. I’d rather have my child in a 1-22 ratio with his teacher, rather than 1-1 with someone who doesn’t know the assessments and doesn’t really want to be there.

The accusation seemed to hang in the air that parents who don’t already volunteer are slackers, since there are many valid reasons for not volunteering, including if you just don’t want to because it’s not your job.

And then there are those who want to help but don’t feel welcome, so they eventually give up.  I feel a bit like this with our PTO, when there are moms who have made it clear they’ve been volunteering for years and they have their friends already and why should they accept someone new. Now, I’m stubborn enough that I really don’t care and I’ll still do whatever I can to help, but I wouldn’t blame other moms for walking away.

Do you volunteer at your child’s school?

Most of the time, when I host Pour Your Heart Out, I share something heartfelt. But PYHO is also about sharing your opinions. After reading a great post over at These Little Waves about volunteering, I realized this is something I have a lot of opinions on, so I thought I’d share. Thanks to Galit for the inspiration!

Last Week’s Pour Your Heart Out Highlights

  • When It’s Too Personal to Blog from Single Mom in the South: we all spill so much on our blogs but what do you do when something is too personal to share?
  • The Day I Planned to Die from Jammie Girl: it’s about what you think. Angie is sharing what happened when she tried to end her life recently. She’ll be sharing her experience over the next few weeks, so please go show her some support.
  • Down, Down, Down from Embracing the Spectrum: sometimes you just want someone to throw you a liferaft.

Join in Pour Your Heart Out

pour your heart out Click if you want to find out more about Pour Your Heart Out. Remember, it’s about what you want to pour out: it’s personal, so there isn’t an assigned topic. It’s also about being supportive of others who are sharing: so visit other linkers and be kind with your comments. Linking up? Please visit at least two of the linkers and show them some support in the form of a comment or a share!


  1. says

    I’m definitely one of those who does not need to be volunteering in the classroom. I do work outside the home, and at home, but even more than that, I’m just not great with kids. I get impatient and frustrated with my own child at times and I just don’t need that in a volunteer setting. I “accidentally” volunteered for the nursery at church and now I feel a little stuck. I feel lost in there most of the time, but I stick it out because apparently the kids love me. 
    JanetGoingCrazy recently posted..The Shame and Guilt of Morbid ObesityMy Profile

    • Shell says

      Oh, I remember in our last church, there was this huge pressure to volunteer to teach Sunday school or to help in the nursery. At that time, my kids were so little and if I volunteered, it meant we were at church for twice as long as normal. I said no but was made to feel guilty for it every week.

      • says

        Can you believe that I even tried to back out after last year and was guilted back into it? My son is 6 and will not go to his Kindergarten Sunday school class because I “teach” the babies and he wants to help. I explained that to the director and she “gave” me a few months off, but it didn’t really help when it was my turn again. Ugh, frustrating!
        JanetGoingCrazy recently posted..The Shame and Guilt of Morbid ObesityMy Profile

  2. says

    I have volunteered at the elementary school. When my son was 4 I took him up with me a few times to read to my daughter’s class. He loved being included and since he behaved, her teacher didn’t mind. Since then I’ve helped with a few class parties. My son’s teachers this year don’t ask for many volunteers so I don’t offer because it would probably be awkward. But I’m also a PTA officer, so I help out in many other areas instead. I’m not sure I like the sound of your PTO, but I wish we had that problem with moms wanted to volunteer. I completely understand why some people can’t or don’t want to help, but sometimes it’s like pulling teeth to get those who are able to be there.
    Evonne recently posted..Being a Girl Doesn’t Mean She Can’tMy Profile

    • Shell says

      It’s possible that no other moms want to help… I don’t know, I just don’t get that welcoming vibe from the small group. But you know I’m awkward, so it could just be me!

  3. says

    I am one of those moms that learned that volunteering is not for me. There are many reasons for this. It isn’t in my personality to lead other people’s children first and foremost. I would rather spend what little energy I have on my own family at home. I am more than happy to contribute to the classroom/school in other ways. But spending time there is not one of them. I also had a horrible experience volunteering. So I just prefer for the sake of my sanity and the happiness of my family not to do so anymore. You can read about my experience in my most recent post. By the way, I am glad that there are people out there who don’t judge someone on whether they do or don’t volunteer at their child’s school. 
    Lanie recently posted..Monday Musings… Coming out of hibernationMy Profile

    • Shell says

      It definitely isn’t for everyone. I hate that I felt judged for not being able to volunteer until this year, due to work and having kids at home. Also, when I was on the teaching side of things, I only had a handful of parent volunteers, so I never looked at it as something that all parents do. Off to read your post!

  4. says

    I’m so happy you wrote out your thoughts! Your passion (and thoughtfulness) shine through and I LOVE that!

    I think you’re right about the importance of making sure it works for the kid/parent combo and that the volunteer wants to be there and is willing to kern what the teacher wants/needs!

    On a side note, I spend a lot of time biting my lip, too! Hazard of our old trade, yes?

    Such a great post, Shell!
    Galit Breen recently posted..ForgetfulMy Profile

    • Shell says

      Your post came at the right time- I’d been wanting to write about this for a while and your post helped me organize my thoughts.

      SO much lip biting. SO much.

  5. says

    When my older son started kindergarten I tried REALLY hard to get involved with the PTO and to volunteer in the school library because books are kind of my thing, but his school sees volunteers as sort of… disruptive, I guess?  That was the impression I got.  And as for the PTO, I signed up for every possible opportunity to help but things were so disorganized that I just couldn’t deal with it, so I gave up.  I may try again next year when my younger son starts school.  I’ve helped with a few classroom events and parties, but I’m definitely one of those people who knows I have absolutely no business trying to do one on one instruction with someone else’s kid.  
    MJ recently posted..Someone brought a gun to my kid’s school, but I’m not really upset about it.My Profile

    • Shell says

      Some schools aren’t that welcoming- they’d rather just make due with their regular staff. I do think they are missing out on an opportunity, but I wouldn’t fight that, either.

  6. says

    I have too many other kids to volunteer at this point.
    When my now 16 year old was in 2nd grade, his teacher REQUIRED parent volunteers for certain days of the year. She had a list and told you what day you had to be there. I thought that was crazy- I mean, people work! I think I was on the list only 2-3 times, but still… I had to find a sitter, or Aaron had to take off work to watch the other kids.
    Jayme recently posted..Wordless Wednesday: FancyPantsMy Profile

    • Shell says

      When it’s “volunteering” like that, it makes me think of the Hunger Games and their “volunteer” tributes. LOL I had a once a month required volunteering schedule with one of my boys’ preschools, but that was something that we knew when we signed him up, that it was a cooperative preschool and that was how they ran things.

  7. Cynedra says

    You have received from very interesting posts to your volunteering post. And I have to keep this short because, well, I have to leave in a ten minutes to get my boys to before school computer lab and volunteering. Apparently, I do okay at it because I was stopped in the hall a few weeks ago and a K teacher begged me to come to her class too. On Tuesdays, I do my first graders classroom. I work in there for two hours and leave when they go to PE so there aren’t any issues. I check homework, tear the pages of the books so that the ripout pages are ready for the children, and review reading word lists with the children. On Thursdays, I volunteer for the math coach and can end up doing just about anything. If I have some spare time, I work in the media center. And today I will help out in the K class. I’m also on SAC, and several other committees. This is the first year that our school has really been open for volunteers. They always claimed they were, but they weren’t really. We finally have a principal that is determined to get parents truly involved. So I understand MJ when she says that they wouldn’t really let her do it. There are definitely different cultures about volunteering. I completely agree that it isn’t for everyone. That being said, if a school is open to it, there is something for everyone to do even if it just staffing the once a year book sale.

    • Shell says

      I think it’s awesome that you do so much! Volunteers like you really help schools. I do think that any parent who wants to help out can always find some way to be helpful at school- whether it’s in the classroom or something more clerical. I just don’t think any parent should be made to feel bad if they can’t for whatever reason.

      • Cynedra says

        I’m back from volunteering. Today was an enlightening experience about how quickly my own children learn and how not everyone is like that. I would never purposely try to make someone feel guilty about not volunteering. There are some parents I am grateful don’t volunteer. (Not very nice to say, but true none the less.) If I was working at outside employment I wouldn’t be able to do it and I couldn’t do it until Thing 2 started school as well. It is amazing though that I find it easier to be patient with the other children in the classroom than I do my own.

        • Shell says

          Ha! There are some that I’m glad don’t volunteer, too- at least, ones that I’m glad don’t help out directly with my children. I also find it’s easier to have patience with other people’s kids than with my own.

  8. says

    Since I worked full-time when my boys were young (and NO CHILD wants their mom to be in the classroom once they hit middle school) I never had much of a chance to volunteer. The couple of times I took a vacation day and helped out on fieldtrips were complete failures, though. I lost a kindergartener at the pumpkin patch (quickly found again) and pulled my group of 8th grade girls aside for a lecture on manners at an art museum where they were being snotty to the docent. Maybe I’ll chill as I get older and I’ll be one of those grandmothers who volunteer??
    Angie recently posted..Realizing I Failed at SuicideMy Profile

    • Shell says

      I’m not a big fan of chaperoning field trips. When I went on field trips with my middle son it was because he needed a 1-on-1 person for something outside of the school building back then. I think I could volunteer with my third grader’s class for that now b/c I know the kids- but I think it’s hard to do when you don’t know them.

  9. says

    I volunteered in my oldest’s kindergarten class last year because I had Monday’s off of work and I was able to do it. I enjoyed it much more than I thought I would, but mostly because it made my son so happy to see me there. My schedule (and distance to work) don’t make it remotely feasible for me to do so this year. Plus, I’ve noticed from wanting to help out with school parties that they have more volunteers than they have work for so I’ve never been chosen in the “lottery” to help out with the Valentine’s Day or Halloween parties which I would have taken off of work for. I don’t think that parents should be EXPECTED to volunteer, after all that defeats the purpose of what it means to VOLUNTEER!
    Marta recently posted..The Emotional Side of Dieting.My Profile

    • Shell says

      That seems to happen in kindergarten- so many want to help- and then it wanes as the years go by.
      Agreed on the definition of volunteer- no one should feel like they have to.

  10. says

    My work schedule doesn’t allow me the time to volunteer in the classroom. And, frankly, I have no interest in helping out in a classroom of 36 7-and-6-year-old children. I have barely enough patience for just my kid. I know this about myself and I accept it, so I don’t volunteer. I probably wouldn’t if I had the time. I do, however, think it’s great that there seems to be other parents who really get a kick out of volunteering when the teachers need them. Everyone is different and that’s OKAY. There will always be those that want to help out. When the teachers ask for supplies, like paper towel holders or whatever, I help out in that way. I chosen not to be a teacher (after originally thinking that would be my career path) for a reason. I leave it to those who really enjoy it.
    Roxanne recently posted..On reading {Just Write/PYHO}My Profile

    • Shell says

      There are so many other ways to help out(like sending in supplies), I don’t think anyone should feel like they have to go in to volunteer. Though I find that I have more patience with the kids I work with than I have with my own kids!

  11. says

    My husband and I have both volunteered a LITTLE over the years. I don’t drive, so getting to a school is an issue. I did it when the school was within walking distance. Now, neither of my kids’ schools are. My husband went a couple of times for the special dads volunteering program, but with all his health problems, he’s spotty as well. I have always told teachers that I’d be happy to do grunt work at home if they want to send it with my kids, and they have a couple of times. Other than that, I don’t worry about it. We do what we can.
    Jennifer Hall recently posted..What is a Caregiver?My Profile

  12. says

    I don’t volunteer at my kids’ schools…one reason is I don’t have the time. I can barely keep up with life as it is! But the main reason is because I don’t think I have the patience…I catch myself getting easily frustrated just doing homework with my kids.
    Stacey recently posted..FrayedMy Profile

  13. says

    I was co-room mom for my son’s Kindergarten class last year and this year I’m on the school auxiliary (like the PTA) and I work in my son’s classroom during “center time” every other Thursday for 1.5 hours. I enjoy every minute of it but am so thankful I don’t have to do it full time. A classroom of first graders is exhausting! Busy, busy, busy! But the kids are so eager to learn and they always have questions. It’s helpful to have a parent there to help out.
    Coreen recently posted..Comment on Pour Your Heart Out: Beyond Salvage by GingerbreadmamaMy Profile

    • Shell says

      I do love what I do, too. I was in today and there’s a group of girls that I work with who are just so sweet. They have a male teacher who is a great teacher but he’s not warm and fuzzy- I think they like getting that from me.

    • Shell says

      It seems like the volunteers start strong in kindergarten and then taper off as the years go by. I didn’t have any when I taught 5th and middle school, and just a few when I taught 3rd.

  14. says

    I could never join the PTO. It just not my cup of tea and I hear about the drama and I wouldn’t have the patience. I’d probably be kicked out because I wouldn’t put up with any nonsense anyway.

    I DO volunteer to help out with class parties and field trips. I also will bring in extra supplies if they are needed. 
    Amber recently posted..Do I Have To Share My Shamrock Shake?My Profile

    • Shell says

      This is the first year we’ve had a PTO at our school. I try to help b/c their main focus is raising money for the school- ours is so underfunded, they don’t even have textbook money any more. But I feel awkward. Then again, I am awkward. 😉

  15. says

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!!! I used to have ridiculous amounts of guilt over not volunteering in my children’s classroom. But you know what? It was terribly impractical for me for years because I had so many little ones at home. It’s getting better, but I’m not a great teacher. That’s why I pay my daughter’s tutor to help her with reading twice a week. Now, I can tell a good story and have done so on a couple of occasions, but I no longer feel any guilt over  not volunteering!
    Stacey recently posted..On being June Cleaver…or not.My Profile

  16. says

    I have been helping one day a week in Lucas and Alex’s classroom and I have come to learn I am great at helping with first grade projects, making art projects, testing them on site words, etc.. but answering questions for 3rd grade math, yea let’s just say it makes sense in my head but I am not a good teacher.   So I am more than happy to help out with the little things but tutoring, not for me.  
    Emmy recently posted..Friday 5: Ka-BrellasMy Profile

  17. says

    I adore this post. Seriously, sometimes I think you must be my sister or something you and I think alike in lots of ways….(you know, that I read on your blog!) I like to volunteer at my kids school but I only go once a week for about 2 hours. I have the time (or could make it) to be up there all the time all day long. But I simply don’t like doing it all the time. And I feel so bad sometimes because I use “work” as my excuse to not be available which is only sometimes true. It’s not that I don’t like kids, but I’m an introvert so I really enjoy my time each day at home without the kids. No I do not lay around not doing anything but sometimes I feel like that’s what others think I do. Last year I subbed and I hated it. I loved the kids but I am not cut out to be in charge of a large group of kids that aren’t my own.

    Thank you for helping me to know that it’s ok if volunteering (or subbing) isn’t me.
    Anna Hettick recently posted..We don’t know what we want!My Profile