It was the blog post heard ’round the teaching and parenting world: Jen Hatmaker’s “Worst End-of -School Year Mom Ever.” In May 2013, the piece went viral because Hatmaker’s lighthearted writing accurately conveyed the worn-out nature of parents at the end of the school year. She closed with a rallying cry to mothers:
“We were awesome back in October; don’t you forget that. We used to care, and that counts for something. Next year’s teachers will get a fresher version of us in August, and they won’t even know the levels of suckage we will succumb to by May.”
From classroom volunteering to homework: Keeping parents fresh year-round
No doubt Hatmaker and a cadre of excited and involved parents were lined up at Back to School Night, volunteering for classroom duty and asking important questions about the curriculum so they could supervise homework, but at some point in the school year something changed and even the best parents were too exhausted to help.
Right now, facing that newer, fresher fall version of parents, it is important for teachers to develop a strategy for handling classroom parents in a way that engages them without endangering burnout.
Lessening the fear factor: Early buy-in and simplified volunteer opportunities
Scholastic.com notes that parental involvement in the classroom benefits everyone — teachers get help, children of volunteers have a more positive relationship with learning and higher overall achievement, and parents have a better understanding of their child’s schoolwork and are thus more able to provide guidance at home. Achieving early parent buy-in for classroom volunteering pays off.
Encouraging parents to participate in the classroom early in the school year will expand the available list of volunteers, thus reducing the burden on any single classroom parent. While not every parent can volunteer in the classroom, one way of involving less available parents is to ask for help in simple tasks like cutting materials or off-hours bulletin board design.
Sometimes parents do not volunteer for classroom work because they are scared of the process or feel they might not be able to contribute. Early-school-year training and providing a brief list of volunteer opportunities and duties makes volunteering a much less intimidating process for classroom parents. PTO Today’s “10 Tips for Classroom Volunteers,” a brief but excellent, parent-targeted article on volunteering, can really help reduce stress and increase the number of available classroom volunteers.
Homework helpers: teacher feedback, flipped classrooms
Another unavoidable source of parental stress is dealing with their child’s homework. This is another area where early school-year buy-in from parents can help them push through that final month or two. The Harvard Family Research Project provides an excellent list of suggestions for involving parents in their child’s homework and highlights the importance of teacher guidance in educating and involving parents in their child’s work.
Just as students appreciate thanks and acknowledgement, feedback to parents can also be an essential part of maintaining their enthusiasm. They need to know that their hard work is noticed and serves an important purpose, so sometimes sharing studies and research on the effectiveness of assignments as learning tools can also help.
Recognizing the burden of homework on parents, some educators are moving toward the flipped classroom, a model which has students watching lectures or other educational presentations before class, usually at home, then using class time to discuss or complete activities that support what they learned. This reduces parental homework frustration, particularly in content knowledge.
Students, teachers and parents can share the load
Once parents and educators share a classroom team mentality, one final means of helping families through the final month or so can simply be with understanding and communication. Everyone is exhausted at the end of the school year — parents, students and teachers. With reduced volunteering burdens, unique homework solutions and a little understanding, moms and dads can wave goodbye in June feeling like great end-of-school year parents.
Monica Fuglei is a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Omaha and an adjunct faculty member of Arapahoe Community College in Colorado, where she teaches composition and creative writing.