When people hear I am part of my kids’ school parent teacher organizations, they often roll their eyes and say something like, “Bless your heart,” the southern euphemism for “you have made a really bad choice, girl!” These organizations (known as PTA, PTSA, PTO, PTSO, etc.) often get a bad rap as super clique-y, stay-at-home-moms-only organizations. And, yes, they can be that way. But that has not stopped me from joining up. For the most part, I have not been sorry nor has it been a bad choice. Take it from me, as I am not a big joiner or hang-out-with-girlfriends type of person. That is so not my personality. Many people are super surprised to hear that I am total introvert who would rather stay home with my husband and a good book than go out anywhere. But being a part of the PTA is not bad at all and actually has some great benefits.
First confession, I homeschooled my oldest until second grade because I am not a big believer in the factory-setting mentality of the school system. However, I did eventually enroll my kids in traditional school. They loved it, so we stuck with it, and I ended up sticking with a commitment to volunteer there. Another admission: I did not volunteer with the school that first year. I was just like many other parents. I really did not see the point. But after my second child’s amazing Kindergarten teacher solicited me as a classroom volunteer, I quickly figured out that spending some time at the school might be a good idea.
One of the best reasons to volunteer at your child’s school is that your child sees you volunteering. You are a role model for your child, and commitment to the community is an important activity to model. Where better to do that than where your children spend every day all day?
Schools need all the volunteers they can get, whether you volunteer directly with the school or through the PTA. Seriously, they do. Why else would they deal with the personalities and the background checks and all the extra work these volunteers involve? Plus, there are families who can’t or won’t ever give time to the school, and you make a difference for their kids as well, which, in turn, helps your community at large.
Spending time in the classroom let me see different teachers’ instruction methods as well as the special programs the school offered. Since we are a military family and have moved five times since my kids were school aged, this became a great way to feel out the school and see how things worked there. I worked with small groups of kids on math, reading, and art. I helped with those silly computerized reading tests that prove a kid read some library book. I volunteered when the art cart went around. I volunteered to be a hallway monitor during testing (are second graders really going to cheat on a standardized test?). I have sold prom tickets and distributed textbooks. All little things that help the school function—and I did them even when I may have thought they were silly because they helped the school and the kids.
After the first school volunteering experience (and a move), I realized that volunteering for the PTA is a good way to meet other parents, especially for me. As previously mentioned, I’m super introverted. I do not make random small talk. After years of moving, I figured out that meeting people in an environment with a common goal and purpose is a less stressful way to make friends. Otherwise, I never would leave my house if I did not have to go to work or the grocery store. Joining the PTA meant I could meet other parents in a low-key way. It became a quick way to integrate into my new community. I have continued to do it even at the high school level and, in fact, PTA or a booster club might be the only way to be involved at this stage, when the students are (and should be) so much more independent.
Here’s a big secret that probably many people don’t know about the PTA: teachers and administration attend the board meetings. It is not just a bunch of parents gabbing about the school in a vacuum. The PTA actually cares what the school needs and wants as long as it meets the mission of the PTA. I have had countless opportunities to ask questions and learn important things about the school. It is a great way to have your voice heard in a laid-back environment. Joining allows you to get to know the school, the administration, and certain members of the school very well, like the nurse, librarian, lunchroom staff, office staff, and teachers who are sponsors of activities. The teachers, staff, and administration do recognize and appreciate your time and energy if you are a good volunteer. You never know when your connections might come in helpful!
I mention being a good volunteer because you might as well be a good one when you show up for the job. Some keys to being a good school volunteer:
- Actually show up. Believe it or not, some people sign up to do something and don’t do it.
- Do a good job at whatever you say you are going to do, including completing the task and staying on budget.
- Don’t take advantage of your access to the school and its people. For example, don’t hog the meeting asking ridiculous questions of the principal or other administrators.
- Realize that people are depending on you, both the school and your fellow volunteers.
- Show up for the meetings as much as possible. It took me a few years of board positions before I realized that the quorum at meetings was actually an important thing. Even if you don’t have a report to give, your presence is important if you are a member of a board.
Finally, you don’t have to be president or the main chair of the big fundraiser. There are always small positions to fill that maybe only require work for one week or for a few hours a month, or you can simply volunteer for a committee or an event. Often, you can work full-time and volunteer. Many PTAs have all of their meetings in the evening, and many of the tasks can be done mostly at home (e.g., treasurer, website, newsletter, etc.).
Take advantage of the opportunity to get involved at your child’s school and see what a difference you can make. Those PTA parents are a pretty amazing group of people!