Working in a primary school, there are often lots of parent helpers wandering around. It seems, on first looking, that we have a good relationship with our parents. However, when you look more closely, there is a definite trend emerging. Most of these parents seem to help in Reception and Key Stage 1, with very few helping further through the school.
So why is this?
Are the parents less willing to help as the children get older? Are more of the parents returning to work? Or are us Key Stage 2 teachers less keen to engage with them?
I think all three are true. Having parent helpers in the classroom opens us up to scrutiny of what is going on. We all know that the odd one or two parents will offer to come in, just to have a nose around at what goes on, and to see how their child is getting on. I have never been keen on having people in the classroom, watching me and talking about what they see on the playground (although I’m sure that is just paranoia – I bet they have far more important things to discuss on the playground than my maths lesson, or what So-And-So said to What’s-Her-Name while I was doing the register!) But on the other hand, most of the parents come in because they know that there aren’t enough hours in the day for us to hear everyone read, that we have a million and one sheets and photos that need sticking into books, and that they have skills they can offer the children.
Before Christmas, my teaching partner and I opened the doors to our classrooms. As we were undertaking a mass sewing session (with needles and thread and sewing machines!), we very quickly realised that we needed all the help we could get. Especially with my rather inferior sewing skills. So, when we sent out a plea to the parents, an army of mums, sisters and grandmas offered to come in to help. They loved it. The children loved it. And, to my enormous surprise, I loved it too. The atmosphere was brilliant: there were sewing machines humming in every corner, every group had an adult helping them, they chatted to each other, but most importantly, they sewed. And, on top of that, I learned that my sewing skills weren’t anywhere near as bad as I thought – I knew far more than a lot of them about how to use a sewing machine. Mrs Eaton, my secondary textiles teacher, had taught me well! We all achieved together, in just two afternoons, what it would have taken weeks for us to do on our own. And we all came out of it with far fewer grey hairs than we would have done without our parent army. We are desperately searching through our topic plans to find another opportunity to invite them all back in.
Since then, some of those have offered to come in to work with the children on a regular basis. They have, in turn, “invited” others along. So, all of a sudden, those children who never read at home are having extra reading sessions at least twice a week. Those children whose handwriting needs improvement are having time to sit down and practise. Simple interventions which have been put to the bottom of the priority pile for the TAs have time to be undertaken. And my classroom doors, which have for so long been closed to “outside help”, have been flung open for the parents to come in and join us.