Mandatory Volunteering

by nide zimemo stannard

The volunteering system at my son’s school is mandatory. His class is a combination of  two grades. There are twelve students in the third grade, which my son is in, and exactly twelve students in the second grade and these two grades share one classroom. This Combined Grades strategy works because in the classroom there is always a teacher, a teacher’s aide and a parent, sometimes two parents, at all times. The stipulation is that we volunteer a minimum of forty hours throughout the school year. This is where my mandatory volunteering begins to be mandatory, or is it volunteering mandatory?

I am in the classroom, it’s 8:15 am, I lean slightly by a bookshelf at the very back of the classroom with the teacher’s aide as we chit-chat softly.  The teacher quizzes the kids with math questions timed at 3 minutes for second graders while the third graders get 2 minutes. As the kids bend over and start calculating their math questions there is a wonderful silence yet buzzing sound in the classroom. The teacher comes and joins us by the bookshelf. She starts sharing details about how her teenage daughter is now doing driving lessons and how her daughter is afraid of driving out of the mountain roads and getting on the freeway. This happens in the very same sequence every single Monday I am there. The teacher will then forget the timing watch until it starts beeping. This is the signal that the kids are done, pencils on the desk.

After a few minutes of kids shuffling around, they go to their respective group tables. The second graders are my favorite group (they come in a group of six). I start handing them their tablets to log in at their online math program called Aleks, this is where my mandatory helping comes in. I help them log in with their passwords, assist in navigating the program and help  solve their math questions. Some of these questions are not math related at times: “Mrs Stannard, which one of my five fingers am I not suppose to put up when the other four are bent down?” As stumped as I was by this second grader ‘s question, another one calmly responds “It’s the middle finger, the middle finger is a bad word” continues the other second grader who seems to be very knowledgeable of finger communication. These second graders are so soft spoken, calm and mostly polite. When I am done with the two groups of second graders I always feel like I have really made a difference in a child’s life and that is a good feeling. Enter third graders.

My heart starts pumping faster and beats a tad louder. My armpits start to sweat up a little bit. I’m not scared of them, I’m scared that my sudden tourettes syndrome may over come me and I might end up popping one of them in the mouth, then I imagine police will be summoned,then they will have to book me and give me a charge, I’ll claim 51/50, and probably won’t be released the same day  and I would hate to  miss my Modern Family episode tonight–whoosah!–

The first half of third graders is the one with my son in it. They are pretty independent in this group and know what they are doing. The problem with my son’s group is that they talk too much. They don’t know how to just sit for fifteen minutes and focus. The second graders have them beat on this is one. These third graders have identified their rights. You cannot deny them a bathroom break.  They incorporate every video game sound of shooting every time they tap their little fingers on a tablet screen. You tell them to stop humming and they continue with a new different sound. A few of the girls are  mini teacher-volunteer-wannabe’s  when another kid has their hand, sit down Reese Witherspoon, this is why I am here, I got this!. I offer them scrap paper to help them solve ‘extensive’ math questions, “No thanks, I can do it in my head” says one kid, “How about you take the scrap paper just in case you need it”, “No thank-you!” Saved by my son who has raised his hand up because I don’t understand how this student plans to solve long math equations without chicken scratches. Reese Witherspoon gets up from her chair to go help my son. “Please get back to your own seat and do your own work on your own tablet”, I say calmly and softly, she boldly responds,  “My teacher says…” “Sit down Reese, I’m the volunteer here to help answer question you are the student.” I go over to help my son out as I do with all the kids…who know how to put their hands up and wait for me as I finish up with another kid.

At the end of the last half of third graders I will normally ask my son, sometimes other kids, to help me place the tablets back on the teacher’s table. This time, one kid was having a hard time logging off. This is also time for recess so the rest of the other kids in the classroom are already running around the class and grabbing their snacks, the boys shooting imaginary guns at each other and the girls talking about Frozen. Still, throughout this commotion, this one kid was just not logging off from the tablet. He said he was having a hard time shutting it down. My son is forced to wait on this kid to log off before he can leave for recess. My son says: “You know, you don’t have to shut it down…” He hadn’t even finished his sentence when a group of third grader boys,in unison, screamed “YOU HAVE TO, IT HAS TO CHARGE!!!” I immediately felt like my son and I were under attack and i had to react quick. I flip my super hero mom cape. I have to defend my kid from these monster third graders. Now don’t get me wrong, these kids are one hundred percent correct about shutting down the computers at the end of the lesson so that they can be charged. “Hey! listen! there is a difference between logging of and shutting down. Log off, yes, big difference!!” Shit, I didn’t know what the hell I was saying but I had to say something to these ballsy kids, they can’t punk my son in front of me. They didn’t know what to say to me after that, they just dispersed, all the while glancing back at me.

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