Emily Buckley, editor in chief

Volunteering in your children’s classroom is a wonderful opportunity for parents to serve, get involved with their child, and get to know his or her teacher and peers. Whether you are a first-time classroom helper, or a seasoned veteran, these ideas, collected from five local elementary teachers with decades of combined experience, will help you make the most of your service:

  1. Be punctual and consistent. Some parents don’t realize how tight a teacher’s schedule is. Even five minutes can disrupt the entire day’s schedule. If you say you are coming, please come. Teachers plan their days depending on who will be coming to help. Your help is appreciated! “I truly value the time parents and grandparents take out of their day to give to children,” one teacher said. “Even if they can only volunteer one day a week for a few minutes, it is appreciated.”
  2. Be there for all of the students. It is hard not to focus on your own child, but if you are coming to help in the classroom it is important to share the attention and love with all the students you work with. One teacher said, “I love observing parents who celebrate their child’s and other children’s successes.”
  3. Save the chitchat (and other distractions) for later. When you come to help, go right to work without interrupting class. Teachers appreciate parents’ help, but it is hard when they want to chitchat with the teacher or other parent helpers. It is also very distracting for everyone when a parent helper is on the phone. Save the visiting for other times.
  4. You don’t have to be a mom or dad. Grandparents also make fantastic classroom helpers. So if you or your spouse can’t make it, consider inviting a grandparent.
  5. Be an active listener to children. “Whether you are helping with schoolwork or just having a conversion, being present and engaged in meaningful dialogue can make such a difference,” one teacher said.
  6. Remember you are there to help the teacher, not be the teacher. Do what you the teacher asks you to do, even if it seems simple or doesn’t use all of your skills.
  7. Be enthusiastic about school with your child. One teacher said, “Parent attitudes influence kids so much.”
  8. What should you gift a teacher? More than anything, teachers appreciate heartfelt notes of appreciation. “When people take the time to bring in a hand-written note — not just an email, it really means a lot,” one teacher said.

If you want to give a gift beyond a thank-you note, some of these teachers’ favorites include:

  • Gift cards. Think small amounts for a drink or smoothie or generic cards to Amazon, Walmart, iTunes, or Target.
  • Fancy hand soap. But not lotion — everyone washes their hands, but who needs 30 bottles of lotion?
  • Classroom supplies. You may not realize it since you likely just spent a small fortune on classroom supplies to send with your children as they went back to school, but teachers spend a lot of their own money on refurnishing those supplies throughout the year. You could ask what they are low on and bring it in.
  • Something not school related. Yes, this contradicts the previous item, but it can be really thoughtful to give the teacher something that relates to something they enjoy doing besides teaching. Find out their hobbies or interests — they’ll appreciate it.