When you think of volunteering, you probably think of devoting time to help out a charity. But a really great way to volunteer in your community that a lot of people don't think about is to volunteer at schools, since they can often be understaffed or just really busy. If you're interested but your schedule doesn't allow you to regularly volunteer in the classroom, most schools have committees and events that need volunteers, too.
In honor of National Volunteer Week this week, we wanted to talk with a parent volunteer. Tanshelda Amos is a Stand member and a volunteer at her son's school in Chicago. Read on for how her role helps her, her son, and the school.
Stand: How long have you been a member of Stand for Children?
Tanshelda: I’ve been a member for 3 or 4 years. We were one of the first classes in Illinois.
Stand: In what activities at Stand have you participated?
Tanshelda: I volunteer in the polls during election times and canvassing and all that.
Stand: And how long have you been volunteering at your child’s school?
Tanshelda: I’ve been volunteering at my son’s school for 3 and a half years.
Stand: And when you volunteer there, what do you do?
Tanshelda: Well, I started when he was in kindergarten, and then did the first grade class. I don’t volunteer in his class any longer because he’s in second grade now, and I’m in the K-1 classroom with the teacher that he had for the last 2 years.
I help that teacher out - I do lots of things. I make copies, get homework together, check homework folders. Lots of other stuff. Take kids to the bathroom. I’m there the whole day; on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I do the Soccer Urban Initiative, so I have to be there from 7:30 to the end of the day, and then the other days I’m there 8:15/8:30 till end of the day, which is 3:30.
Stand: Have you noticed a difference in the classroom since you started volunteering? Has your presence changed anything?
Tanshelda: The kids have gotten so used to me that when the sub comes in, they don’t even call the sub’s name, they call my name. They’re so used to me being there.
Stand: How about a difference in yourself?
Tanshelda: I’m more understanding of what the teachers are going through, so I approach them differently if there’s a problem or something. I’m more understanding of what they go through with the kids. I’m also getting a better understanding about current education, too.
Stand: In what way?
Tanshelda: Well, they have the Common Core math, which is different from the way we learned everything. The learning is so different, so I am learning new things also, along with the kids. Being in the classroom helps me so that when my son comes home with his homework, I can better help him.
I’ve always thought education is important, even more so now that I am in the classroom. It’s always been a priority of mine, for my kids.
Stand: Have you noticed a difference with your child since you started volunteering at his school?
Tanshelda: Being in the school makes a WHOLE LOT of difference. Because when you’re not there, your child could be more likely to act out or not want to do their work, and I can tell that if I miss a few days of being there, I get a report from the teachers of what he did. But when I’m in the building, it’s totally different! Even now that I’m not in his classroom, my being there makes a big difference.
That’s why more parents should volunteer if they can, because when your children know you’re there, it’s like a whole 180.
He’s a smart kid, and he has an excellent teacher, so she knows if something’s out of the ordinary or he’s not doing what he normally does, she’ll call me. So his work is even better, too.
Stand: Do you find yourself forming bonds with the other children and see them maybe looking to you for guidance?
Tanshelda: I do, I do! I’ve got kids coming and talking to me about everything. And when they have a sub, they call my name before the sub. I’ve formed a bond with a lot of the kids since they’re so used to seeing me. Some of them – you know, when kids bring a gift for the teacher – some of them bring me something, too.
Stand: Are there other parents who volunteer with you?
Tanshelda: I’m the only parent in this classroom, and at the school, parent volunteering is VERY low. I’ve been trying to see how we can get more parents involved at the school.
Stand: What made you decide to start?
Tanshelda: When my son started kindergarten, he was coming home not with homework or anything, and I said “what’s going on?” and he said his teacher left in the middle of the day, then he’d go 4 or 5 days in a row with no teacher and just a bunch of subs. So I went up there to see what was going on, and it turned out that the teacher he did have left. So in his first year of school, you know – they start in August – he didn’t have a regular teacher till February.
So before the regular teacher started, I was there in the classroom trying to help out and make things smoother so the kids could have structure. It was all over the place, and I was trying to bring it all together. Every day they were seeing different people, and everyone had their own set of rules.
Stand: What are the benefits to the school to having you there as a parent volunteer?
Tanshelda: Since I’ve been there, I’ve been doing the LSC and the PAC – the Local School Council and the Parent Action Committee. With the LSC, we kind of govern the school and do the budget and things like that, and the PAC is to bring info to the parents to help educate them and try to get more parent involvement.
Stand: What do you consider the benefits to yourself?
Tanshelda: Definitely learning the new math and gaining knowledge about how a classroom is run. I actually, on my own, took a class that was about 50 credit hours to learn about working in a classroom. I pay attention when the teacher’s doing a lesson, so if the teacher’s not there and they have a sub, I can fill the sub in on the routine.
It makes me feel like I am giving back, and it actually made me want to go back to school. And with my son, we work together very closely, and I help him with his homework. I’ve just learned so much about what goes on in the school – I mean, education is for me.
Stand: Yeah, not a lot of parents get that kind of familiarity.
Tanshelda: You should have that communication with the school – the staff, the principal, the teachers.
Stand: What kind of advice do you have for others who want to volunteer?
Tanshelda: Go to the school and find out their volunteer policy. There isn’t anything extra hard that you have to do to volunteer – if you need a physical or a TB check, you know, do it. You’ll get more out of volunteering than sitting at home waiting to get a phone call from the teacher. You get hands on. It’s a firsthand account of what’s going on in the school – you’ll get the real story.
Stand: What’s your favorite moment or story from volunteering at the school?
Tanshelda: It’s all been fun for me. When they had the end of the end of the school year celebration, the teacher acknowledged me. That really helps. We grew a bond – she came in in the middle of a school year, and I helped her get to know the kids. I’ve been with her since she came in.