What I Learned in School

10 hard-earned lessons from almost a decade of volunteering.

by Sharron Kahn Luttrell


My daughter is in eighth grade now, which means I’ve been a student for nine years. While she and her younger brother have been learning math, science, history, and language arts, I’ve been getting an education in human behavior. Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned as a school volunteer:

About Teachers

1. Most teachers won’t recognize how extraordinary your child is. This was a difficult lesson for me, especially given all of the volunteer hours I spent that first year fishing for compliments. I kept expecting the teacher to pull me aside to ask about the aura of light my daughter radiated. The teacher never did. (And now that my daughter is a teenager, her halo has dimmed considerably.)

2. Over time, it becomes a good thing when teachers don’t pull you aside to talk about your child. (See above reference to dimming halo.)

3. The one teacher who does recognize how remarkable your child is will have come to the same conclusion about every other student in the class. My son’s first-grade teacher would email me long, enthusiastic accounts of his creative learning style. I thought I was the only one until I realized all of the other parents were strutting about, too, feeling pretty smug about their kids that year.

4. The ability to find something special in a child reveals less about the child than it does about the person who finds it.

About Kids

5. Some children will bend the truth into knots if doing so will get them an extra Hershey’s Kiss. After counting out five Kisses per child for a math game, several of them swore to me through chocolate-smeared mouths that I gave them only four. The next year, I used dried beans for the counting game. Not a single child asked for more beans.

6. Wrapped chocolate of any sort does not retain its shape when handled by kindergartners (another reason to switch to dried beans).

About Myself

7. It’s wrong to impose your fashion sense on a child—especially on picture day. If a kid wants to wear her eyeglasses, let her. If you try to wrestle them off her face, you’ll make her cry. Similarly, do not try to comb a child’s hair when he tells you his mom already combed his hair that morning. If you persist and lunge toward the kid’s head with the comb, you’ll make him cry.

8. I do something funny with my mouth when I’m addressing children. My son sidled up to me after I gave a presentation to his class and whispered, “Mommy. When you were talking to the kids, you kept doing this.” He opened his mouth halfway, pulled his lips back into a garish smile, and froze the expression on his face. That’s why the kids were so quiet and well-behaved. I’d scared them into silence.

About My Kids

9. Your child will attach herself to you when you volunteer in her classroom. Every time you look down, she will be smiling proudly up at you. In a few more years, that same child will not only have left your side; she also will pointedly ignore you. But that’s OK because...

10. You’ve been showing up at her school for the past nine years, which taught her a lesson she’ll carry with her forever.

Sharron Kahn Luttrell volunteers for parent groups at two schools in Mendon, Mass.


# T. A 2008-06-24 13:45
Great story. Its clear that you do have high expectations of your child, but reality is that their halos do dim somewhat and you can see that but it does not take away from the most important thing that you are saying without words.....education is important. Thanks for sharing. T. A.
# Kendrea Terrell 2008-06-24 15:39
I loved your humor about you and yoour child!! I believe we all have that admiration for our child...or at least we all should. Children buy what you are selling just like adults do!!! Keep selling her the halo and it will start to glow again... Keep up the great work and great stories. If we can't laugh at ourselves than what else is there to do :-):-) thanks again!! You sound like a Honest, Funny, and Proud Parent!! KT
# Kathie 2008-06-24 16:55
Wow! Like looking in a mirror!
I too have a child entering 9th grade (OMG- as they would say- High School!!!!).
Even though I will still remian involved in my child's school (through booster clubs and other parent groups) I know it is time to let him fly alone for a while. Much to my surprise I found out he would miss me being around school all the time. He actually was upset there was no PTSA at his school! I told him I would help him organize one, but I thought he needed to find his footing first. He agreed. So as he takes those steps toward adulthood I know my time in the classroom is done. But I also know my volunterring has done him some good- and hopefully he has learned how valuable it has been.
My most proud moment will be when he decides he needs to spend some hours volunteering at a school. It might not be this year or even next, but I now know he will do it in the future.
# Sandra 2010-01-12 14:15
Thanks for sharing your stories, I wish I could volunteer more at my daughter's school but I have 2 year old son and the school doesn't allow me to take him in if I want to volunteer and my son is like attached to me,I am looking forward for the time I could do it. But I think that's what is important for our children, to know we are there for them!!!
# Errand Girl 2010-06-01 21:54
I have been volunteering now for 8 years, my daughter will leave 7th grade in a couple more days. We live in a small town so our schools are k-8.

Next year my son will start kindergarten...so, by the time I am done volunteering in elementary school...I will have put in, if we dont repeat kindergarten....18 years!

I started volunteering because I knew one day...one of these lovely children will be dating my daughter...and I want them to know who THEY will be dealing with :-)

Also, I love being able to help out in her class when she wanted me around.....and be an embarrassment when she doesn't want me around :-) Tammy
# Lisa 2011-04-24 15:56
I have 3 kids, oldest is 24 and youngest is 5. Yes, the age range is correct, my middle one is 20. And this article is so true! And although I must be nuts, but as the article puts it...I'm going to "school" all over again!
And as they say "a Mother's Love does Not divide among her children, it Multiplies!" That is why my "3rd time in school" is already being enjoyed intensly that much more! And the fact that the ignoring part in #9 is true and then you have to cling to the theory of #10, which is true. Because I certainly remember that my mom Never did school stuff like other moms. She paid her PTA dues and that was it...never went to a meeting!...

Add comment

Security code

^ Top