Oh, the Parent Teacher Association. We hear those words and immediately envision town hall-style meetings with home-made refreshments and a warm, comfortable bonhomie. We see in our mind’s eye a cheerful and effortless rapport among parents, teachers, coaches, support staff, and school administrators alike. We imagine all of the participants eagerly rolling up their sleeves with a smile and doing whatever needs to be done to improve their children’s schools.
It’s good to have fantasies.
At the risk of thousands of PTA members marching on my house with fiery torches, I’m going to come right out and say that the PTA – as awesome as we might imagine it to be – is not for everyone. I didn’t say it’s not for anyone. But it’s definitely not for everyone.
What exactly do I mean? Read on, and you’ll find four reasons why you may want to reconsider joining the PTA. And before you tell me I don’t know what I’m talking about, I’m speaking from three years PTA officer experience. Three years — but no more.
Reason #1: Before you immediately jump to the defense of the esteemed, timeless organization that is the PTA, be aware that your school’s parent-teacher organization is most likely not even affiliated with the “real” PTA. According to Wikipedia, only about 25% of parent-teacher organizations are affiliated with the National Parent Teacher Association, and the rest are considered “independent.”
This is why the PTA at your child’s school is probably not even called the PTA but rather the PTO, or the HSA, or the HASA, or any of Lord knows how many acronyms that almost no one understands. Witness:
Person: So what are you doing tonight?
Me: I have a HASA meeting.
Person: *blank stare*
Me: I mean a PTA meeting.
Person: Well, have “fun.”
Reason #2: Too many people get involved with the PTA for the absolute 100% wrong reasons – and by this, I mean any reasons that aren’t “wanting to volunteer one’s time and effort to improve the school for the sake of the children.”
These reasons are diverse and many, and can range from “I need to fill some kind of inexplicable void in my life” to “I am a narcissistic Type-A control freak who has to have my nose in every aspect of my kid’s business” to “I WANT TO MAKE LOTS OF NEW FRIENDS AND BE SUPER POPULAR!!! WHEE!!!” All that these reasons have in common is a marked lack of real, selfless interest in actually helping the school.
Now. If you’re the kind of person who *does* have a real, selfless interest in actually helping the school, and if you’re not in the least dissuaded by the thought of joining an organization made up largely of helicopter moms, attention seekers, overachievers, and stay-at-home parents who feel they have to prove their worth to their working spouses, please. Join the PTA. We need people like you to level the playing field.
I mean it.
Reason #3: Joining the PTA may honestly seem like a good idea at first. It’s probably the start of a new school year and you’re all “Yes We Can” and “We Can Do It!” and wanting to do your part. Undoubtedly, the PTA seems like just the robust and traditional organization to hitch your wagon to, with lots of regular participants doing lots of good work.
That’s at the BEGINNING of the school year.
Over the course of the year, however, attendance will start to wane significantly. After about February, the only people getting their asses to the PTA meetings are the officers, a couple of room parents, and that one chick who NOBODY LIKES but VOLUNTEERS FOR EVERYTHING. Which means that the work that at one point was divvied up among a goodly number of people is now divvied up among you and about six others. Depending on the size of the school, it might be even less.
Basically, it’s a hell of a commitment, the extent of which you might not truly understand until later on in the school year. So beware.
Reason #4: The PTA can get more than a little Mean Girls. Don’t ask me why. But it can and often does. Cliques form, people become snobbish and patronizing, and there’s even a metaphorical “cool kids table” that everyone wants to sit at – but have no delusions, chairs are limited. If you’re not
Regina George the PTA President or one of his or her lackeys, there is no space for the likes of you.
Sadly, when this happens, one of the unfortunate outcomes is that people with unpopular opinions become Not Welcome. Decisions get made without their input, they are excluded from email threads and phone conversations, and they are bullied into voting the “party line” (if they’re even allowed to vote at all.) Not exactly a democracy, the PTA.
Not exactly a place conducive to a warm, comfortable bonhomie, in my opinion.
All of this said, I do want to stipulate that I am in no way against parent volunteer efforts. In fact, I believe that parent volunteer work is absolutely necessary for a school to be successful and offer the best education it possibly can. I just also happen to believe that there are other – and in some cases, better – ways besides the PTA that parents can offer up their time and talents.
Almost every facet of a school needs help and if you don’t want to be stuck in a somewhat archaic parent-teacher organization shouldering more work than you can handle while rubbing shoulders with a bunch of people that might not be your cup of tea, I would suggest looking into more targeted options. Got a kid who loves sports? Be a sports booster, or try your hand at assistant coaching. Got a kid who loves reading? Ask the school librarian or Battle of the Books coordinator if you can be of any help there. Got a kid who plays an instrument? Marching band and pep band can always use extra support.
My point is this: the PTA may work for some people. It might be perfect for some people. But if it isn’t perfect for you, don’t despair and just slog your way through it, or worse, give up on volunteering altogether. There are other ways to help your child’s school and to participate in his or her education. Trust me — your kid will be delighted to find out that *you* were the one in the school mascot costume. You know the one — hot, stifling, and smelling strongly of mothballs. And is that a hint of urine?