Parent volunteers are an invaluable resource, especially for elementary school teachers, and parent involvement benefits young students in many ways, from improved behavior to better grades.
But when you're already managing 26 kids, you don't need another person to monitor! You'll need to establish clear guidelines and boundaries, and choose the right parents for the job, to get the most out of your volunteers. I like distributing an information gathering sheet so parents can indicate how they want to volunteer, if they have potential field trip connections or a special skill that may relate to the curriculum, and any other relevant information. From there, it's easy to start planning how to put these helping hands to use.
Parents Can Be Useful Classroom Partners
Parent volunteers can be an enormous help with classroom activities like art projects, holiday celebrations, class fundraisers, and lessons where you could use an extra set of hands (or eyes). But don't let your parent volunteers just run around your classroom.
One year, I needed help with my class's expansive American Revolution project. I had kids making dioramas, writing skits, creating collages, and designing costumes for paper dolls. With so much going on, I asked some willing parent volunteers to come in. Each parent was assigned three different groups to monitor—to discourage distractions, I made sure they weren't working with their own child. They needed to make sure the kids were progressing, had the necessary materials, and could overcome any technical issues. The parents stayed with their group until the projects were completed, and they were given specific tasks so they weren't floating around the classroom aimlessly. When the kids finished, I thanked my volunteers and dismissed them (though they were welcome to help clean up!).
Many parents are also learning assets because they have specific skills they can share with students. To enhance our math curriculum, I once invited a parent who was a stockbroker to share a basic overview of how the financial markets work. The class then chose stocks and followed them for a month. The kids would come in, check their stocks, and mark them on their graphs.
Parents Can Handle Extraneous Field Trip Tasks
The same parameters for parent involvement in the classroom apply to field trips. Be specific, and remember that you're in charge. The parents are there to help make your job easier. Assign specific tasks, such as carrying snacks, checking in when you arrive at your destination, bringing the bus driver coffee and making sure he or she has the correct directions, finding out where the potential first bathroom stop is (always a good thing to know!), or walking with a certain group of children.
Parent volunteers must understand that they're not there to monitor behavior. If there's a management issue, you will deal with it. In fact, your duty as a teacher includes keeping an eye on your volunteers' behavior. If they're doing something inappropriate or making bad decisions, like constantly talking on their cell phones, step in. Say something like, "I can walk with this group now. Do you mind checking in with the other parents?"
Also, when a parent volunteers, it's not the time for an impromptu parent-teacher conference. Don't talk about their child, or any other kids, with them. If they bring it up, let them know you're happy to schedule a one-on-one conversation for another time.
Parents Can Get Engaged from Home
There are a number of ways for parents to help out from home. For example, I've always hated making the class contact list. So if I have permission from all parents to share their information, I delegate that job to a parent volunteer. I've had parents organize class fundraisers, make copies, organize supply drives—the list goes on. Parents may even have a contact for a potential field trip. One year, when studying the American government, we were able to interview a former U.S. senator because of a parental contact!
If you're lucky enough to have willing parents who are excited to participate, utilize it. After all, family participation increases a child's dedication to their classroom life. Families can be incredible resources as long as you know how to use them. Good luck!