Wanted: A better class of men

January 02, 2009 11:00 pm
With the Christmas break at an end, my daughter heads back to kindergarten Monday, and with that comes more opportunities for me to volunteer in the classroom.

Sadly, I'm one of only a few dads who volunteer at our local schools.

It's always an enjoyable experience and I encourage other men to do it – even if it's just once a year. You won't be disappointed – especially if you get an unexpected hug from a child you met for the first time that day.

If anything, volunteering provides first-hand evidence about just how hard our teachers and their assistants are working. Everyone has heard about how teachers are overworked and underpaid. It's true!

Crowd-control skills are a must. I often tell people that watching the teachers is like watching someone trying to herd cats. And any little bit of help they can get is much appreciated.

I'm more than happy to help out but, I'll admit, I do it more for the children and myself than for the teachers.

One day I spent an hour or so painting the tiny palms of the 20-plus students in Alia's kindergarten class. They were making Thanksgiving turkeys from their palm prints. There was no right or wrong way for the children to do it. It was fascinating to see that, while the instructions and supplies were the same, the end results were as unique as the students themselves.

Now I know what some of you are thinking. It's difficult to convince dads to take a day or even a few hours off work to volunteer at school. I don't think it is. And some men are already doing it.

There's something going on in this country – a paradigm shift – in which men do want to spend time with their children and others in school. They just need encouragement.

I remember the first day I volunteered (my wife was scheduled to do it, but was sick). I was nervous. I thought: "Most school volunteers are mothers, will I fit in? Will I be accepted? Will I make a mistake and ruin a child's life? "

It was silly, of course. The teachers were happy to have an extra hand that day and told me to go slap some paint on the kids' hands.

This I can handle.

Men in our community are a great untapped source for our struggling schools. I envision a day when a small troop of fathers, uncles and grandfathers spend a day or half a day at a school assisting in classrooms and helping out on the playground or in the lunchroom. It would show the children that fathers are more than just the guys who go off to work for 40-plus hours a week and come home tired and grumpy.

And I'm sure it helps those students who don't have a father at home.

I'm fortunate that I work for a company that allows me to volunteer at school during working hours. I bet there are other companies in town who would do likewise – if the men only asked.

You won't be sorry. So far, I've been able to teach students art, do a little singing and, yes, spend some extra time with my daughter.

It's a blast watching the students light up when I enter the room, or they learn that I will be helping out at craft time. And I light up when I see them respond positively to a kind word or word of encouragement.

The best part is when the students say, "Thank you, Mr. Graves!" and give me a big hug.

I can't wait to go back to school.