Every classroom has one – the over-achieving parent who makes everyone else look bad. There's the mother who has every event organized before you can get your foot in the door, and the father who outbids you at fundraising auctions. While you're crunching numbers at work, they're staffing the school's book fair and coaching the soccer team. It can be enough to make you feel like you're back in junior high, competing with the popular kids – and losing.

First of all, relax. It's not a competition! Teachers have enough room in their hearts for every kid in the class, and they won't penalize anyone for having a parent who's less than perfect. Still, it's a good idea to get to know your children's teachers and to keep those lines of communication open.

The good news is that becoming the teacher's pet needn't be expensive or time-consuming. Take these tips and you'll feel like a valuable member of the team in no time.

  1. Ask your child's teachers what you can contribute to the classroom. Their answers may surprise you. Often, the things they need most won't cost you a penny: cardboard tubes, empty egg cartons, fabric scraps, and pieces of wrapping paper for art projects; empty plastic flower pots, clean jars, old towels for rainy days ... Plus, you'll be teaching your kids a valuable lesson about reusing materials and keeping them out of the landfill.
  2. Ask if the teachers could use an extra set of hands once in a while. Have a special skill? Maybe the kids would enjoy a lesson in baking bread or pressing flowers. Perhaps you once lived in a country they're studying or would be willing to photograph the class picnic. Be prepared to bring your own materials and clean up afterwards, and do take "no" for an answer if school regulations won't allow outside volunteers.
  3. Don't have time to volunteer during classroom hours? Maybe you could sew costumes for the talent show or drop off a batch of homemade muffins or store-bought bagels at the book sale. Perhaps you can plan a fundraiser or an after-school night. Ask what's possible after hours.

When it comes to dealing with your kid's teacher, just remember, teachers are human too. Take an extra minute to say hello and ask how they're doing when you see them. If your child shares something positive, make sure to pass it along ("Jason says you're the best teacher he's ever had!"). In showing that you appreciate who they are and not just what they can do for your child, you'll open up the lines of communication and make it easier for them to come to you with any concerns they may have. And you'll make a teacher's harried day a little more special.