DeFrates column: A helping hand goes a long way to support teachers |

DeFrates column: A helping hand goes a long way to support teachers

Lindsay DeFrates

I am the best example of the worst kind of parent for a kindergarten classroom. We support learning in the home, and read all the time, but as my oldest started at Sopris Elementary last year, I found myself constantly avoiding eye contact whenever there was a general call for volunteers.

Of course, without anyone to watch his two younger siblings, I could have volunteered, but would have been adding a 1- and 3-year-old to the amount of chaos already provided by 19 5- and 6-year-olds. At least, that is how I justified it.

Either way, at least I paid my fees, and in return had the benefit of a veteran teacher, who opened up the world of reading to my son and loved him through a challenging year. Retire in peace, Mrs. Reynolds!

Although students won’t return until Aug. 19 in the Roaring Fork School District, every teacher has already been at work for several days, at least — or, more realistically, several weeks.

While it is pleasant for parents to picture teachers decorating their classroom, label-making and quietly planning weeks worth of lessons, the reality is that most of them will spend less than half of their paid time this week in their actual classroom.

Instead, teachers will be in hours of meetings, or planning extra-curricular field trips and ways to strengthen community in the building. Many teachers will have to rebuild their classroom from scratch after deep cleaning required them to empty it last spring. They will likely do their actual lesson planning and label-making on their own time.

Some readers may remember reading about the raises and bonus last year for the teachers of the Roaring Fork School District. Won’t that extra money help?

The short answer is yes, but it’s not extra money. The 7% raise and $1,200 bonus will do much to catch up salaries to recent inflation, but not to provide pay equal to a teacher’s level of experience and degree when compared to other professions.

Teachers in Colorado remain underpaid and overworked.

Which brings me back to why I was a bad kindergarten parent. We can’t, right now, do much about underpaid, but we can do a lot about the overworked part. We can show up in any way we can.

Unfortunately, we live in a culture which pays a lot of money to make us believe that when something is broken, you should throw it away and find a newer, shinier option. Right now, this consumerism mentality is playing out in school districts across our valley, state and country.

Parents, rightfully concerned about the state of public education, are looking for alternatives rather than staying to fix what they see as the problem.

Charter schools are the immediate solution in the minds of many. Funded publicly, billed as “school choice,” charter schools offer a newer, less-mandated version of education to parents frustrated with the public school model.

There are passionate arguments both for and against charter schools, and I’m not here to address those in this column.

Unfortunately, the reality is that, for whatever reason, parents with the most ability to make a difference in their kid’s school are walking away from public schools, putting aside the supposedly broken in favor of the new.

What I believe, and what I’d like my readers to hear, is that if we all found a way to fully support our schools, to help them in whatever ways we can, what could this school district actually look like?

Yes, teachers are overwhelmed with tasks and lots of little faces (or larger, sarcastic faces), but what if they had another adult in the classroom to cover the clerical tasks?

What if parents concerned about curriculum stifling innovation attended the school board meetings when curriculum was being discussed?

What if they volunteered in the library to make media resources more available, organized one pizza/movie night fundraiser, or connected with struggling students for literacy support?

From five years of personal classroom experience, even an unexpected gift of baked goods, tamales or a coffee card can turn around a day for your child’s teacher.

Young children, tight budgets, two careers, and a lack of support network? Yeah, me too. But I have personally seen what a difference it makes, for a school, teachers, and your own children, when parents stay. You don’t have to pretend you’re happy with everything, but stay and share your voice in ways that make a difference.

Showing your child what it means to work hard to make a difference instead of teaching them that it’s OK to leave the “mess” for someone else to live with is far more important than ensuring that they get the “right” style of instruction in second grade.

What matters the most for healthy, happy children happens at home anyway. So love them, feed them, for God’s sakes read to them, and show up for your public school teachers in any way you can this fall. I promise to volunteer for … something, too.

Lindsay DeFrates is a freelance writer living in Glenwood Springs. She can be reached at

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