Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Peer Pressure

The one very distinct way the twins' school differ from one another is the request for parent volunteers. One school mentioned it at orientation and hasn't really asked again. I am sure if I rang the school and offered to do something, they might get back to me. The other school runs an almost parallel programme for the kids purely on parent volunteers.

Before I go on, I do admit that the programmes the latter school offers are really good and they do make a great amount of difference to the kinds of learning the child gets. But it also drives home some more sobering truths; that access to opportunity does make education extremely unequal and that this opportunity that parent volunteers provide only can exist in a school where parents are middle-upper income, time is flexible or if one parent is not working.

I chose to volunteer; not in a big way but to be present in school half an hour, once a week. I thought the kid would get a big kick out of the fact that Mom was there. But that half an hour, once a week has opened myself and even Packrat up to requests and subtle pressure to do even more. There are ad-hoc committees to organise various special occasions in the school, there are other constant groups that create additional materials for and support academic teaching, there are also groups aimed at organising kids to take them through to out of school competitions.

As a teacher, I would have loved to teach in a school like that because it would mean that I could concentrate solely on the classroom teaching and offloaded from some of the other things.

As a parent, I am thankful that my kid is in a school that provides so many enriching opportunities for growth, exposure and experience.

But as a parent volunteer who works full time (albeit on a flexible schedule) with 3 kids in 3 different schools and is the principal tutor, driver and everything else for them, it is incredibly stressful. After listening to the briefing, I came to the conclusion that volunteering at this kid's school could easily amount to a full time job with zero pay. Yes, there is no price tag we can put on the satisfaction and all the potential bonding I will get to do with said kid and I would be helping out the school community. But where would I find the time in between work, my other primary school going child and Muffin? And all the volunteering that I would be doing, would my other school going child be upset that Mommy isn't there doing the same thing?

I advocate volunteering, I think it is a great way to serve. But when the message that emanates from this volunteer community is that 'you are only a good parent if you spend all your time volunteering at your kid's school,' it becomes stifling. It is difficult to not feel you are being judged when the first question you are asked when you meet fellow parents is 'what are you volunteering as?'. It is difficult not to feel guilty for saying no when you are told 'Your kid will be so thrilled to see you!'. It would be incomprehensible to even say somewhat flippantly that the reason why you are celebrating their being in school is just so that you could get away from those little pesks! I have fantasised about saying that, just to see their heads explode in front of me.

Then what of those parents who work regular hours, who cannot leave the office because the library needs them at 11 in the morning? Parents shouldn't be made to feel bad because they have to work and cannot be at their kids' school during school/ work hours.

Like I said earlier on, it is about opportunity and many of those who can volunteer have the opportunity and privilege of either not needing to work for that necessary income or being able to carve out time to do it. I have thought about that, moving things round and working round all the schedules to do this. But Packrat begs me to realise that I am already overstretched and an overstretched mom, like an overstretched rubber band, has a higher propensity of snapping. I am certain that there will be those who will say, 'but your kid benefits from the parents who do volunteer and you should help some other kid benefit too.' Yes, I am eternally grateful for those who can. But my point is that those who are unable to or perhaps do not wish to, should not be made to feel like they are less of a parent if they didn't do so.

I know of parents who react in the opposite way, that they are annoyed to be asked to help out in school. I'm not at that extreme either. I'll help in whatever capacity I can, when my schedule and my other kids' schedules permit me to do so. And while I do that, I will also attempt to grow a thicker hide because that is the only way I will survive another 6+ years.


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