Because I am mostly a stay-at-home mom, I am lucky enough to be able to volunteer in my kids' school classes. This is nice because I get to spy on them at the same time that they think I am there just because I love them.
I started volunteering when my kids were in a cooperative preschool and part of the deal was that I had to help in the classroom two or three days a month. It was a pretty easy gig, mostly involving reading to kids, cutting apples for snacks, and trying to be out of the room when someone in the 2-year-old class needed a diaper change.
Once I started volunteering at elementary school, the teachers would tell me what to do and I would do it. Sometimes I would help kids at reading centers while the teacher taught small groups. Sometimes I would work on math with a couple of kids who needed a little extra help. Sometimes teachers would ask me to file or staple papers, which I was awesome at. I've been involved in creating Word Walls and helping kids find books at the library.
There was one time when a teacher sent me to the office with a stack of large pieces of colored paper to use the giant paper cutter in preparation for an art project. That assignment I actually messed up pretty badly. I managed to salvage it without anyone knowing after I walked in little stress circles for a few minutes to calm down and get my act together.
Those giant paper cutters are more stressful than you might think. Also, imagine how embarrassing it would have been to have to go back and ask for more paper because I screwed up on the easiest job ever.
This year, a couple of teachers in my youngest child's grade have somehow gotten the impression that I am a writer. Those teachers asked me to help them teach writing lessons to the kids. The goal is to get them excited about writing.
I think I did actually get them excited about writing on one of the first couple of weeks I visited the classroom when I read something I wrote, but had to stop and ask the teacher, "Is it okay to say 'butt' in here?" Then all the kids were excited to write about butts.
Since then, I have honed my lesson plans a little more carefully. I learned this fancy new word: "curriculum." Evidently there are actual guidelines for what teachers are supposed to present to their students.
Currently the kids are working on researching and writing about animals, which, as it turns out, is a lot of fun. I know this because I am doing the same thing. Last week I learned all about giraffes. This week I've assigned myself the platypus. I'm pretty excited for this week.
Even better, by all reports, the kids are really excited too. I watch them when the teacher tells them they're out of time and they want to keep writing. I see them all want to share what they wrote with the class. I love to write. It is pretty neat to be able to watch that same love grow in these students.
I know that I am so lucky to have the time to be able to volunteer. I also know that I am incredibly lucky to have teachers who welcome parents into the classroom. I think it is a sign of an excellent and confident teacher to want other people in the classroom while they are teaching your children.
My youngest is in second grade this year and I've noticed that once kids hit third grade, teachers are less excited to have you in the classroom, and actually, your kids probably are too. At that point, it is mainly a matter of volunteering to go on field trips (field trips being a whole other topic altogether) and hoping you get to go to the theater with the fifth grade and not on the boat ride with the fourth.
My experience has shown me that this might be my last year of weekly in-classroom volunteering. I plan to make the most of it that I can. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go do some research on platypuses.
Jean, a.k.a. Stimey, writes a personal blog at Stimeyland; an autism-events website for Montgomery County, Maryland, at AutMont; and a column called Autism Unexpected in the Washington Times Communities. You can find her on Twitter as @Stimey.