Non Sibi Sed Scholae

I used to hear people talk about “becoming involved” with their child’s school and all I could think of was Harper Valley PTA.  And those uncomfortable meetings I used to have with my parents and various school officials about my various aberrant characteristics.

Why would you want to become involved with school? School was something you were supposed to escape from, not look for additional reasons to become involved with.

And then two unexpected things happened.

First, I found that the teachers, principal and support staff at Prince Street School, where Oliver starts grade 3 on Tuesday are not jerks. 

I’d simply assumed they would be jerks.  Because I’d always thought of teachers as jerks. When you’re a frustrated kid in the 1970s, it’s hard not to thnk that way.

But, apparently, they are not. 

Today, for example, we had an hour long meeting with Oliver’s new teacher.  He listened to us talk about Oliver, we listened to him talk about grade 3, and we worked out plans for trying to make sure Oliver thrives this year like he did last year.

On the way out the door I popped my head in the principal’s office and he spent 30 minutes with us himself, patiently explaining some things we had questions about, giving no hint of the maelstrom of activity swirling hidden around him with 4 days to go until the school opens.

Here’s the key to understanding teachers and principals, I think: if you demonstrate to them that you want to work with them, not against them, and that you are passionate about your child’s learning, they will return the favour.

So as much as it surprises me, we’re involved now.  We’ve got the teacher’s email address and promise of an open door and a flexible approach.

The other unexpected thing that happened last year was getting involved in the Home and School. 

I am so not a joiner of things.  Especially things involving other parents. 

But last year in a fit of insanity I put my name down on the volunteer list, and ended up as Treasurer.

It turns out that other parents are also not jerks.

In fact the Home and School is the singularly most effective organization I’ve ever been a member of.  It’s all about the practical, with no political intrigue, theoretical sparring, or wasted effort.  The Home and School is more about “what do we need to do to be able to buy a new whiteboard for the grade 2 classroom” than about complaining about the school (which is what I’d assumed it was about). 

And when you spend a lot of your time working on very long-term, multi-year projects, working on doable projects with a timeframe of, say, “next Friday’s movie night,” is incredibly refreshing.

Also — and this is a bonus for those of you of the “too many ideas for your own good” inclination — as long as you’re willing to do the work, the Home and School will get behind almost any idea that’s good for kids and good for the school.  Want to organize a Tuesday night basketball league?  An after-school astronomy program?  Get the playground equipment repaired?  Get more art books into the library?  You’re in.

So here’s my suggestion: if you’re a parent, likely this week or next week or the week after that there will be a meeting at your child’s school.  Something like “meet the teacher” or “school open house.”


And meet the teacher: get to know them, and let them get to know you.  Ask what you can do to help out in the classroom.  Ask to see the classroom.  Get their email address.  Thank them for all the work they’re about to do.

And then on your way out the door stop by the Home and School table and, despite your better judgment telling you not to, put your name down.  Go to a meeting.  Volunteer for something.

All of this may feel vaguely alien at first.  But if my unexpected experiences are any guide, you will likely be surprised, your child will likely end up with a better education, and you’ll probably have some fun too.


Sandy's picture
Sandy on September 8, 2009 - 00:40

Thanks, Peter.
I feel like I should read this at our meet the teacher night and see if it helps us recruit some more volunteers.

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