I had a pleasant, though smelly, experience this afternoon. If you’ve ever spent any time in an elementary school classroom, you’ll have an idea what I mean. It’s been too cold for recess for several days so sweat wasn’t the likely culprit, but the 1st grade room I was permeated with unmistakable kid whiff.
It was my first day as a school volunteer. Way back in September, still reeling from sudden empty-ish nest syndrome, I realized I had way too much time on my hands. I started the process of signing up to volunteer, and it took until last week for the planets to align and for me to get my assignment.
My original thought, as I wrote in this post was to be a mentor at our kids’ former high school. I’d seen the need firsthand, and as an educator and a mom I felt I had something to offer. As much as I might like to, I’ll never save the world. But I figured I could make some kind of difference in the life of a high school kid who maybe didn’t have the same background of support that my kids had.
Well…best-laid-plans. My FBI background check took longer than normal to come back (probably it was that cream of mushroom soup smuggling ring I got involved in a few years back that held things up…or, more likely, it was the government shut-down). The volunteer coordinator wasn’t able to match me up at our high school at the times I’m available. She lost my email address. The holidays hit. Finally in early January we reconnected, she had a first grade teacher who was looking for a classroom helper, and there we were.
So today I showed up at my appointed time, no one was really expecting me, and it took forever for us to figure out where I was supposed to go. I expected that kind of confusion, actually. I know very well that everyone in a school is so focused on the kids, the teaching, the lessons, the schedule, the testing, the interventions, blah blah blah, that even something as appreciated as a volunteer gets shoved to the bottom of their consciousness. No worries. We got it worked out.
Today I worked with a couple of boys on math and made tons of copies of take-home reading primers. Both the teachers I worked with seemed concerned about what my expectations were, which I reassured them was the last thing they should worry about. I’m there to do anything I can to lighten their load, no matter how mundane or off-the cuff or odd it may be. If I can keep a teacher from having to stay late or take work home, or take some busywork off her hands so she can concentrate on her students, I feel like my time is well spent. Again, I may not be saving the world but I’m doing what I can to support something I believe in strongly – public education in general, and the school district that did so much for our kids in particular.
Having spent years teaching elementary school myself, I understand how much it means to a classroom teacher to have an extra set of hands available. But I’ve also learned a whole lot about the nature of volunteer work in the last 9 1/2 years I’ve spent in my current job. One of my biggest responsibilities is volunteer recruitment. coordination, management, and support. I’ve learned over the years that a good volunteer is worth his or her weight in dark chocolate. I’ve worked with too many volunteers who insist on stipulating when, where, and how they’ll assist. Yes, they can be helpful. But I will gladly kiss the feet of anyone who says, “Put me where you need me, and tell me what you want me to do.”
And so I’m looking forward to next Friday, when I’ll be back in the smelly 1st grade classroom again. I’m not looking to get my feet kissed, but it’s nice to know I’ll be making a difference in someone’s day.