Let’s Debate: Should every parent have to volunteer at school?

Classroom Volunteer - Kozzi 294 X 442Parenting Magazine asked readers if schools should make it mandatory for parents to volunteer. Only 36% were in favor of mandatory volunteering, while 64% gave the idea two thumbs down. To those results, I have one thing to say: No duh!

That poll was a while ago, September 2010 to be exact, but I’ve got to believe the numbers still hold true.

The case for mandatory volunteering is a shaky one

As absurd as I find the idea of forcing a parent to volunteer at their child’s school, I can’t completely dismiss those who see it differently. Here are a few arguments for mandatory volunteering:

  • Even a busy stay-at-home mom (or work-outside-the-home mom) can prep materials and send supplies for lessons
  • Parents inside the classroom show kids that education is important and that their parents care
  • All parents should share the burden instead of a small group of parent volunteers

I doubt many parents would balk at the idea of sending in materials for a class lesson. That’s just a couple of inches over from shopping for school supplies. But it’s such a slippery slope.

First it’s, “Can you put together a few science fair kits for the kids?” Then it’s, “I bet the kids would love to see your beans and cotton ball experiment in person. Can you come in?” As much as you might be willing, even honored, to share your brilliance with your child’s class, making such a thing mandatory is a bad move for all involved.

Parents inside the classroom may send kids a powerful message, but is that the only way to show your kids that education is important? Books before bedtime, help with homework, conversations about goals and how to achieve them–does that count for anything?

I agree that it’s unfortunate when a small number of parent volunteers, or volunteers in any situation, have to pull everyone else’s weight. The solution can’t be to force others to work in their place because…

Forced volunteers smell funny

I have nothing against high school students who volunteer to satisfy a school requirement. I was right there with my hour sheet a few years ago. Okay, more than a few years ago.

What’s not cool is the student who contributes little as a volunteer, counts the seconds until they leave, and gripes about it. Sadly, this kind of lackluster community service isn’t limited to kids.

I don’t want uninspired, unenthused people anywhere near my children. That goes for parents, teachers, and pumpkin eaters.

Don’t be a slave to the volunteer sign-up sheet

If you’ve decided to volunteer–let’s hope you still have a say in the matter–don’t think that you have to jump on whatever crumby assignment comes your way. Instead:

  • Ask your child’s teacher if there is something you can assist with on your lunch break
  • Volunteer your skills, talents, and interests. Are you a writer? Help the Science Club with flyers? Were you inspired by that article on recycling? Set up a station in the lunchroom to collect soda cans.
  • Use a vacation day from work to handle a big project at your child’s school.

Readers: Should every parent have to volunteer at school? How do you show your kids that education matters?

 Play nice: around here all opinions are respected, encouraged, and appreciated.

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About Nicole Robinson

Nicole Robinson is a Dallas-based freelance writer who specializes in college planning, parenting, women’s lifestyle, education, and self-help. But she's always hungry to munch on new topics. In addition to writing for The BookWormMama blog, Nicole provides content, copywriting and proofreading services for various publications.

Comments

Let’s Debate: Should every parent have to volunteer at school? — 32 Comments

  1. I love this debate! I am a stay at home mom. I love being involved with my daughters class. I was class mom for the past 2 years and got to be a part of all of the class parties and fun events held at the school. This is why I am home. I truly enjoy this.

    However, I don’t think it should be mandatory. The PTA sent out the volunteer sheet for September- June 3rd! I picked the events I know I will enjoy- like decorating the welcome bulletin board (I taught for 10 years & this was something I was great at). I don’t think parents who work should have to take off to volunteer but I do think if it’s a matter of putting things together at home- they can find some time.

    I would feel rather disconnected if I wasn’t involved at all.

  2. I think it is wonderful for parents to volunteer their time for their children’s schools. That said, there is a reason it’s called “volunteer” work. Some parents don’t have extra time in their day to work additional hours for their child’s school. And I agree with you. If you aren’t enthusiastic about volunteering, I don’t want you there. Also, parents who volunteer with their child’s extra curricular activities, such as coaching a soccer team, are already strapped for time. Great topic!
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    • Thanks, Heather. You bring up an interesting point about parents who help with extra curricular activities. You’re right, those parents are low on time. I would also think that they are contributing in a way that has as much impact as volunteering at their child’s school. Kids learn inside and outside of the classroom.

  3. I’m also torn on this one. As a mom who works outside the home I find it very difficult to actually get into the school and volunteer. My daughter’s school gives you options, you can either sign up to volunteer or pay $150 for the year. As much as I would love to be able to go in and help, I’m a teacher myself at another school so I work the same hours she’s in school making it impossible for me. It’s also one more thing for me to feel guilty about.

    However, as a teacher having parents who are involved (not overbearing) is a big help to me during field trips and celebrations.

    Stopping by from SITS
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  4. This is a great topic! As a Grandmother I love volunteering in the classroom and have done it a lot — don’t plan to stop either! It is so much fun when that also means 3 generations in the classroom because Mommy and/or Daddy are there, too! We are of the firm belief that this motivates her to excel and she has been on the Principal’s Honor Roll every trimester so far! I really am making it one of my personal goals to get more grandparents at her school to volunteer. The kids love it!

    Having said all of that I have to agree completely that it should be a truly voluntary thing not required. Some people don’t have the time or the inclination and that is OK too!
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    • I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again–Amara is one lucky girl to have Grandma Kc. I agree, having parents and grandparents in the classroom can really motivate kids. As you point out, it should be those parents and grandparents who genuinely want and are able to be there. Forced volunteers smell funny.

  5. My kids aren’t in grade school yet, so I can’t really comment yet. Like Melissa, my niece and nephew go to a school that provides the parents an option: volunteer a certain number of hours or pay an extra fee. This at least gives the parents a choice in the matter – however unsavory. It might be nice to at least allow parents the ability to show that it could cause undue hardship to take time off from work.
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    • Thank you for stopping by, Leslie. That’s fascinating that so many schools request an extra fee in place of volunteer work. It’s nice that parents get an option, but I wonder how they come up with the dollar figure.

  6. We (as the parent teacher organization) struggled to get volunteers at my son’s elementary school. Some parents loved bringing their kids to our events but wouldn’t volunteer for anything. They would find something to complain about during the event. If you had taken time to volunteer then things could’ve been done your way. I feel that if you don’t volunteer you have no right to complain about how things are run.
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  7. I think forcing parents to volunteer would be a little too much and create so much resentment. Honestly, I think most parents want to help at their child’s school in some capacity but I see nothing wrong with it if they don’t want to volunteer. It is not my place to judge how someone else chooses to use their time. I also think when and how much you are able to volunteer heavily depends on what stage of life you might be in. I didn’t volunteer very much when I had a kindergartener and a 2 year old at home because my focus was more on spending time with my child at home and no way was I going to juggle a toddler with elementary school volunteering duties. When I had both boys in elementary school, I volunteered a lot more. Now that I have one entering the “big kid” stage of being a third grader and a middle school student, I’m ready to step back and let others do more of the volunteering.
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  8. As I started reading this post I was in favor of mandatory volunteer hours. But after reading the whole post and the comments, I agree that making it mandatory is probably way too heavy handed. While I feel that everyone should share the load, I agree that having volunteers who resent being present is probably not so great for the educational environment. In a perfect world, everyone would pitch in as they are able. In the absence of that, I guess the “volunteer or pay” plans are the way to go.
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  9. I do not think that anyone should be forced to volunteer in their child’s school, especially if they are uncomfortable with it. But I do think they could make it more integrated into parent’s lives.

    I can’t remember a time when I was even asked to volunteer for anything or help with a school project. I think if they made it an expectation that ALL parents were encouraged to volunteer and not just the little group of “PTA Mamas”, they’d probably get a higher percentage to come and help out.

    Maybe if they put out a weekly bulletin of needs and then put out a list of the parents who WERE volunteering, it would encourage the other parents to become involved – particularly Dads. I work full-time plus I had a side business, so I was never available to do a whole lot, but the few times I took a vacation day and helped with a field trip, or stopped in for an hour in the morning, were actually pretty good experiences. I probably would have done more if I’d had more encouragement.
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  10. I don’t volunteer at my children’s schools and have no plans to ever. I love my kids but I can’t stand to be around other kids. Now if I was asked to cut out some shapes, send in supplies, I’m 100% on board. But there’s no way I’m stepping foot in a school full of kids.
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  11. When my children were in school, I was a divorced mother of three. I had to work to provide for my kids. I didn’t have time to volunteer, but if I had had time I would have. However, the very nature of and meaning of the word “volunteer” means that you do something for someone else because you want to. I would not want anyone who was “forced” to volunteer at the school to be near the kids at all. Negative people oooze negativity, and you sure don’t want that in the classroom with your kids.

    There are lots of ways, though, to help out though that wouldn’t get you near a classroom. Things that could only take a few minutes to do while you are out running errands of your own. Every minute you save that teacher is a mintue she can spend with the children. or with her own after work.

  12. NO NO NO NO NO!! I’m a stay at home mom, and although I DO volunteer at my girls school I do not think it should be mandatory for parents to do so.

    I’m the room mom for my best friends 1st grade class (also the class both my girls were in) and am the PTO president. I do it because I LOVE doing it! We have very little volunteers in our school, usually it’s just a handful of us (or less like 2 of us) doing all the work for the year. Is it fair? No! All I hear is complaints about how we should do more, however no one wants to help.

    I don’t want parents having to come in and help who don’t want to be there, those parents would make me loose my mind and I’d probably stop volunteering.

    I wish more parents would get involved in their child’s school/educational life, but let’s face it, most parents today use the school as some sort of day care and time to get away from their kids rather than embracing the time and using it to find out more about their kids. It’s sad!
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  13. Great post. First off, if it becomes mandatory, you can’t call it volunteering anymore. ;)

    But I agree with you. It’s wonderful that parents do take the time to volunteer at their kids’ schools but no way should it be mandatory. We already pay taxes to support the public schools and give our kids an education. If we volunteer, do our taxes go down a bit?

    The second you force someone to do something it automatically gives it a slight negative connotation. Let those who want to volunteer, volunteer. But don’t force it.
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  14. Personally, I like to volunteer, but no one should be forced. Some parents work more than one job or have elderly parents to take care of. I would feel awful pressuring someone to help out if it was a hardship.

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