The Washington Post

The volunteer compromise

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Reading Jay Mathews’s Nov. 22 Education column, “Parents want to know more about schools. Why can’t they observe classes?”:

There is a useful compromise for the needs of parents and schools: Parents who want to observe classes should volunteer to help out at their children’s school. The parents would probably need to have a background check and submit to a couple of medical tests, but this should not deter parents who are truly interested in helping schools or their children.

Volunteeri­ng to help at a school would prove to parents that teachers are performing the work of nutritioni­sts, social workers, psychologi­sts, mentors and coaches as well as teaching. Of course, the parents would still be unaware of the lesson plans, nationwide or state tests and data reporting that teachers work on, but at least a parent volunteer would have some idea that teaching an entire classroom is quite different from teaching one child.

I work as a substitute teacher. Though I have only a small window into the world of teaching, I will tell you that you have to work as a teacher before you can critique a teacher as being “barely competent, albeit entertaini­ng,” as one parent did in Mr. Mathews’s column. I believe that Mr. Mathews sincerely wants to help students, but I think parents will see only what they want to see unless they actually experience the classroom as a volunteer.

Jerrold Cohen, Arlington

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