Dads Who Get Involved in School
When Rick Graw's first wife passed away unexpectedly several years ago, she left him with two young children to care for. They had just moved to a small town, and Graw wanted to give something back to the little community that had supported his family so wonderfully throughout a very difficult time. "I worked fulltime, but my hours were flexible, so I volunteered with my son's elementary school," says Graw, who has since remarried and moved to Lake Oswego, Ore. "The school was grateful for the help and said I could help out wherever I felt comfortable and there was a need."
Graw ended up in the computer lab, which suited him perfectly. It was only an hour and a half, one morning a week, but the results were worth it as he came to know the children he was working with. "It was very rewarding," he says. "Not only did I feel appreciated by the school, but I enjoyed watching the smile on my son's face when I was there and the hugs given to me by the kids."
Getting involved in the classroom is a wonderful way for fathers to become an integral part of their children's education. Traditionally, it has been mothers who populate the volunteer forces at the local schools. Not only are fathers usually at work during the day, but schools, especially elementary schools, tend to have a high ratio of women. Most of the teachers and administrators are female, and men often don't feel completely at home or welcome in that kind of environment.
Armin Brott, author of The Expectant Father: Facts, Tips and Advice for Dads-to-Be (Abbeville Press, 2001) and Father for Life: A Journey of Joy, Challenge and Change (Abbeville Press, 2003), believes that while father volunteers are becoming more common, it is still more difficult for fathers to become involved in their children's schools and education than it is for mothers. "Although it's getting a little more acceptable, it's still very hard for men to take off from work in the middle of the day to participate in a school event," he says. "And there's still a sense at many schools that there's something wrong with a father who's at his child's school during the day, or that he's unemployed." Brott says that dads have traditionally been more involved in the academic side of education – helping children with their homework, tutoring, test prep, exploring high school and college options, helping with applications and, of course, paying tuition.
Maureen O'Brian, developmental psychologist and author of the book Watch Me Grow: I'm One, Two, Three (Harper/Quill, 2002), believes that while the demographics show that 70 percent of mothers are now in the work force, there are still far more room mothers than room fathers. The new reality for families is that both parents work during school and after school hours. "The good news here is that there is more acceptance, even expectation, that both parents can and should play a role in their child's school life," she says.
Because it is a part of our job as parents to stay connected to the other influences in our children's lives, we should know who their peers are and what other adults are helping to shape their character. Many of those influences are in school.
Fathers, because of their busy work schedule, often have a tendency to connect with their children through fun events such as taking them to a ball game, fishing or even out to eat. It's fun, and it's less work. But in reality, the impact on your child's happiness and education depends more on the very thing that school involvement brings: knowing your child and being a part of their everyday lives. A child, like any person, wants to share their life with the people they love.
"Dads have the same agenda as moms," O'Briann says. "To have healthy, well-rounded, well-liked kids. Their children are more likely to turn out that way when they are surrounded by people who are involved in shaping their personalities."
O'Brian believes that in order for dads to have a positive impact on their children's education, they need to get involved early on and think outside the box. If their job doesn't permit them to come into the classroom regularly, they may be needed as a room parent who makes phone calls for no-school days or class events. The point is to be involved and let their child know why. "Once you are known to the school community as a parent who is involved, that translates to good feelings about your family, and in turn, your child," O'Brian says. "It may be as simple as offering to collate papers for the weekly parent handouts, but you'll be seen as a helpful resource."