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luv2teach2017 05-09-2017 07:02 AM

Dealing with parent volunteers
I've had some uncomfortable experiences dealing with (elementary school) parent volunteers and would like to hear others' wisdom on this. There are a couple of "high-end" schools in this one district which seem to be overrun with parent volunteers. The problem is that these parents are volunteering in their child's classroom and seem to think their job is to run the class and the school (at least when I'm there).

The other morning, as I was welcoming 4th graders into the classroom, a woman rushed up to me, blurted out that she was a parent volunteer and that she had a form she wanted the kids to fill out. She didn't even stop, just tried to push past me into the classroom as if I were a ghost. When I stopped her and asked her to wait. She then started issuing instructions and handed the forms to her son who was standing in the classroom on the other side of me. All of this while I was still trying to welcome a line of kids into the room! I didn't know anything about this form she wanted to hand out. It wasn't in the teacher's notes (nor was there any mention of a parent volunteer), so I stopped her, said I was trying to get class started, explained that I wasn't comfortable authorizing something that wasn't in the teacher's instructions, and asked her to wait till the next day when the teacher would return.

In another class a while back, there was a parent volunteer whose son was special needs. There was a para assigned to her son, but the parent stayed in the classroom watching me like a hawk. At one point, she disrupted the class by yelling at me that her son had been raising his hand and I hadn't called on him yet (even though there was a para present to help him)!

I had another class where a parent volunteer stayed in class, acting like a student, interrupting me to ask questions and correct me.

It seems like a lot of these parents don't understand boundaries. I understand that the schools want to encourage parent involvement, but where do you draw the line? Parent volunteers are not district employees or education professionals. Aren't they given some kind of orientation or guidelines about how to conduct themselves in the classroom?

Tawaki 05-09-2017 07:27 AM

My DD school was crawling with parent volunteers until the new principal came and shut it down on the all the extra security after Sandy Hook.

The old principal would have let room mothers pass out flyers for parties etc without running it past anyone. The worse volunteers were the ones who kids' teachers were 22-30 years old and new. They'd steam roll right over the teacher.

I know three moms off the top of my head who would act this way. They have no problem bending the truth to do recon at the school, and telling everyone afterwards. One mom used her kid's very minor food allergy to show up as much as she could until the new principal shut her down.
One mom had a special needs kid and would show up every day because she was sure the school was abusing and mentally crippling her kid. I had deal this loon in the lunchroom She ran her big mouth on how the monitors where terrible. I was never so happy to see her barred from coming in anymore after new principal dropped the hammer.

It's the principal who sets the tone on this mess. Old principal was all waffle cones, ice cream and unicorns and never said NO to a crazy parent. The second did a 180, and almost no one is allowed in to volunteer with it first being cleared by him/her.

I voluteered a lot, and followed exactly what the teacher wanted me to do.

Pity those poor teachers....

luv2teach2017 05-09-2017 09:12 AM

Tawaki...I didn't realize it's up to the principal. The principals at the parent-driven schools seem to be afraid of the parents. But as I said, these schools are in high income areas, and apparently some of these parents freely hire lawyers to dispute every little thing. All the same, you'd think there'd be concerns about liability when you let the parents take control like that. I certainly wasn't going to let a parent distribute materials that no one in authority had checked or approved. I also had a situation where a child's mother had instructed him to put envelopes (supposedly party invitations) in the kids' cubbies before class. I didn't let him do it. I asked him to either hand them out after class or wait till the regular teacher returned the next day. I believe I did the right thing in each case. Unfortunately, some volunteer parents became angry with me because I wouldn't let them have their way. And I paid the price. I think some complained, and I got blocked from a couple of schools as a result.

mrsd5 05-10-2017 01:58 PM

In our district
Parent volunteers have to go through a background check. That deters many. Also, nobody gets into the school unless buzzed in and then registering their license. It's a small district, but very progressive when it comes to safety. Parents are escorted to rooms or their children are called down to the office. So teachers don't get much in the way of parental problems.

MaineSub 05-11-2017 03:56 AM

Balancing act...
We're pretty lucky... most of our parent volunteers are reasonable and present only minor problems--usually because they are too focused on their own child. Some are a little rough with the kids, but not over the top.

My comment is that as subs we can't change school policy and culture in our occasional appearances. If the behavior we encounter is the "norm" we do well to remember one of the fundamental rules of classroom management: "choose your battles carefully."


where do you draw the line
A couple of examples:
  • I do not leave students alone with a parent volunteer.
  • I do not allow parent volunteers to address behavior issues with another child.
  • I do not allow parent volunteers to provide any form of "first aid" to a student.
  • If necessary, I make it clear to the parent volunteer that I am in charge and responsible--even for her child. One of the ways I do this is by explaining to the kids that we're "lucky to have Mrs. Parent with us" but the kids need to talk to me when they need help or want permission to..."

In addition to "choose your battles" a little CYA goes a long way... I might, for example, ask the parent to wait to pass out forms until I check with the office. If that doesn't work I would advise the office of what happened and leave it in the note for the regular teacher.

My guess is that in many districts/schools volunteers are not given a lot of guidance, just given a background check. As others have pointed out, the principal usually sets the tone for how volunteers are managed.

Sublime 05-11-2017 08:07 AM

Original poster: This sounds just awful! The parent volunteers I have had have mostly been pleasant and helpful. Recently I had 3 moms in doing an art project. Of course the students were more animated that day since their teacher wasn't there and one of the moms lectured them about their behavior and how they wouldn't be acting this way "if their teacher was there" - my most hated phrase. I just stood in the back of the room and listened. Only good thing was that she stretched out the lesson for a very long time and she had students come up and describe their art. I thought that was a great idea.

When my kids were young, we were not allowed to bring treats for their birthdays or hand them out at the end of class. However another district I work in (a wealthier neighborhood) allows this, which I have no problem with, if it's at the end of the day. BUT, a mom brought in cupcakes on a cupcake stand, let the kids choose the flavor they wanted, handed out party favors and dragged this thing out for so long that I didn't think we would have time to finish our work. And then I understood why my kids' school didn't want to get involved with birthdays.

luv2teach2017 05-11-2017 04:15 PM

Good point, Mainesub...the best thing to do is tell the parent I will need to get the item approved before it can be distributed. I do make it clear that I'm the one who's responsible for the students in the regular teacher's absence. I have also often had issues with parent volunteers yelling at other kids in the class. I always ask them to leave the behavior management to me. In one case, a parent volunteer yelled at some kids and then assured me that she sometimes worked as a sub. I reminded her that that particular class was MY assignment and my responsibility, and asked her to let me handle the class (you'd think she'd have the sense to realize that without my telling her).

I also saw the parents bring tons of birthday treats (usually fresh bakery doughnuts) at the wealthy schools. But fortunately, it was up to the teacher to decide when to pass them out. I thanked the parent and told them the kids would have them at the end of the day. A couple of times, the parents actually returned to collect the leftovers! That seemed kind of tacky, but oh well.

Sirsubalot 05-11-2017 08:03 PM

Extremely rare for me.

I am not sure if I have even had three parent volunteers in 20 years that have stayed more than thirty minutes.

MaineSub 05-12-2017 01:25 AM

I would be tempted...
Luv2teach2017, I'd be tempted to handle food the same way... "I need to clearance from the office, we may have food allergy issues." I once had a kid freak out because a volunteer put a cracker on his desk that wasn't gluten-free. I think it makes sense to be gentle and subtle at first but also make it clear you're the boss.

Another subtle technique... when I have someone in the room who is prone to "yelling" at the kids I will suggest that it confuses the kids to have two bosses, we need to make sure the kids understand who is their teacher. That way it's not about what the parent is doing. (I practice what I preach--if I'm in a room and the regular teacher is there I keep my mouth shut and, if asked, refer the kid to the teacher.)

Sometimes it takes a little creativity to avoid a confrontation or power schedule, but it's worth it if you can get that parent on your team.

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