Parent “helper”

Last week I volunteered in my son’s second grade classroom for the “one-room schoolhouse event.” Since September, they have been learning about life in the Pioneer days- think Little House on the Prairie, covered wagons, and no electricity or running water. That day, the entire second grade pod was transformed. The teachers wore long skirts, white aprons and bonnets. The children were asked to dress up as well and bring their non-processed lunches in brown paper bags, baskets, or wrapped in napkins. The lights were off and they weren’t allowed to use the water fountain. Each classroom became a one-room schoolhouse, with multiple grades of students in each room. L. wasn’t too thrilled about being demoted to first-grade for the morning, but he made the most of it. It was impressive and very, very organized! It was obvious that the four teachers had worked long and hard to transform their classrooms so the students could go back in time. And you know, actually learn something.

I arrived early and waited outside my son’s classroom for my assignment. As I was standing there, several other parents arrived. I was stunned to observe how loud and disruptive they were. I have a natural awe of and deference toward teachers that when I see such overt disregard for their work, I am stunned speechless. It’s totally fine and completely natural to want to chit-chat with your fellow mom-friends and parents of your child’s peers. I actually crave that time. It makes me feel normal and not so isolated.

Usually, people are aware enough to keep it to a slow murmur. Not that day. There were three grown women standing right outside a classroom door, talking and laughing at full pitch. One of the teachers came out and closed her door. That should have been the first clue. Then, one of the teachers whose door was already closed, came out, and spoke with them. She asked them very politely to please keep it down. She said something to the effect of: “We have a lot to get through and it would be helpful if you could keep it down out here. Then, we I am ready I will come out to explain the rotations to all the parent helpers.”

That didn’t go over very well. As soon as that door closed the Chatty Cathys reamed her. They absolutely ripped into her. And they weren’t even trying to be quiet about it. They started twittering and making faces and rolling their eyes. Kind of like a second-grader would. Then, right after that a fourth mother arrived and shouted at them from the other end of the hallway, across all four classrooms: “Hey, why aren’t you all dressed up, too?” The three who had just been scolded, said something like, “Shhhhh! We just got yelled at for talking!” I wish I could write how high-pitched and nasaly they sounded. Then they walked down the hall laughing and snickering. (I am assuming they came back eventually to help, but I honestly don’t know.)

Seriously? Who does that?

I wish I were making this up. It felt like a bad dream from grade school.

I understand the desire to chat with other moms. But, these women were there, in theory, to be parent helpers. After multiple messages went out from all four teachers indicating how much help they needed to make the day happen for the kids. (80 second graders, rotating through 4 stations of 30 minutes each) Chatting outside a classroom door is not helpful. And, that teacher had every right to say something to protect her time with her students, her lesson, and the learning environment that all four of them were trying to create.

If Chatty Cathy wants to be social, do it in the parking lot, or in your car, or at lunch after you are done volunteering. As a parent helper, I believe it is my role to be there to be helpful. I am perfectly wiling to be bossed around by teachers who are either younger than me, or old enough to be my mother. It’s not social hour. It is precious time that I get a window into my sons’ classrooms, where they spend more time every day than they do at home. I get to observe the teacher in action. How does she interact with the children? How do my son’s respond to her? Are they helpful, good listeners? Are they focused on the lessons and working hard? Are they struggling? And if so, where? Who are their friends?

Maybe those women were having a bad day. Maybe I am over-sensitive. Maybe these women are the exception and most parents don’t act like second-graders. I am not so sure. I have been on enough field trips to have witnessed some interesting cell phone usage.

Maybe I am right, though. Isn’t this where our children get it? If parents don’t have at least a modicum of respect for teachers, why should their children? Teachers work too long and too hard to have to battle parents, too.

The good news is that the kids are fine. They really are. They are kind, helpful, smart, energetic, messy (oh boy! The boys, my son included, were all a hot mess!), funny, eager, and wanting to be loved, by their teachers and by us.

3 thoughts on “Parent “helper”

  1. Hi Monica, We have a mutual friend, Kim Peterson. We work together at Ford and thru her I learned of your son’s journey with Kyle. I started reading your blog and haven’t stopped. You so eloquently put my thoughts on paper. You’re right that the parents set the example for their children of respect. Please keep blogging and getting your message out. You inspire me to think about what I do and say. I hope I have been a good example to my kids who are now 24 and 27. Thank you for speaking up.


  2. Hi, Monica,
    I have just this a.m. discovered your blog! I don’t know why I didn’t know about it before but at least I know now!
    Your commentary about the parents’ behavior outside your son’s classroom hit home……since I am a teacher and so much of what you wrote is SO familiar!
    It is so true that it isn’t hard to figure out how and why children act as they do today when you see or hear their parent’s actions.
    It is amazing to me how parents will just stop a teacher in the hall to say, ” Can I talk to you for a second?” When you answer that you are on your way to a morning duty or some other responsibility, it doesn’t even register with them. They continue talking about whatever it is that they feel is urgent, ignoring that you have just told them you actually don’t have a minute to spare! And then we wonder where little Johnny gets it from!?.
    Teaching has become very different over the years, because the parents have become so different. Kids are the same. But SOME of today’s “new-age” parents as I call them are going to have some very difficult teenagers on their hands in a few years. And they will have only themselves to thank for that.
    I thank parents like yourself who value a teacher’s time and effort. And who view the people that you entrust your children with as professionals!
    Happy New Year!
    Barbara Alden, Math Teacher, Learning Differences Program, St John the a Evangelist School, Severna Park, Maryland


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