PTA, does it stand for People to Avoid? Or is joining your school's PTA the most important thing you can do for your child's school? Read this open letter from a former PTA President to find out.
When you hear PTA, what emotions do you feel?
Are you in this camp?
If you are, I hope you'll read this open letter from me, a former 2 year PTA President.
I have been the PTA President at my children's school for the past 2 years and it has honestly been a life changing experience.
Below are some common misconceptions that I have run into over the past few years as an active member of my school's PTA.
(Oh and I promise, no fundraising will happen in this post. Fundraising is the smallest part of PTA for me! )
I am not judging you because you don't volunteer as much as me.
This is something I hear OFTEN.
Not to my face, but indirectly.
One time, I was reading to my daughter's class. We were supposed to discuss how we were a leader with the class, and it made perfect sense to me to talk about my leadership role within the school. After I talked about being PTA President, several of the kids raised their hands to tell me WHY their parents weren't able to volunteer.
It made me sad, because I knew something must have sparked that conversation at home to make the parent feel they had to justify their lack of presence volunteering in the school to their child.
Please don't feel guilty if you can't volunteer in the school.
Look, I am a blogger who works from home. I have a flexible schedule and I have the TIME and ability to be their for OUR kids. So I will. If you need to go to your 9-5 to raise good kids, then that is exactly what you need to be doing.
We are all just charged to do OUR best to make OUR kids awesome. It looks a bit different for everyone and that's okay.
Another thing I hear often is that so and so is intimidated by me because they don't have time/can't help at the school.
Oh please, don't!
I am the least intimidating person on the planet.
Most likely, we won't even talk about PTA unless you bring it up.
I'm a human being with interests that are not limited to my involvement in my child's school.
Finally, you are assuming I keep track of anybody else's involvement in the school. I truly do not. Nobody has time for that, least of all me!
More than anything, I just really want you to be a paying member
As a PTA president, one of the most exciting and productive parts of the job is advocating! I have advocated on the local level, the district level and I have even gone to Austin Texas to help advocate on the state level! You know what helps PTA advocate? Our numbers.
The PTA is the LARGEST and oldest child advocacy group in America!
From National PTA:
Today, the issues that affect our children extend beyond their individual schools. The PTA’s nationwide network provides parents with the forum and tools to collectively influence the decisions that affect children not only at their schools, but also throughout their districts, within their states, and across the nation. This mission is unique to the PTA.
Many of the benefits our children receive today, such as universal kindergarten, the National School Lunch Program, and a juvenile justice system, were accomplished as a result of the PTA mission.
With Today’s PTA, families also have access to important benefits, including:
- Dozens of national programs, experts, and turnkey resources
- Regular updates and advice in the form of e-newsletters, PTA.org, Our Children magazine, and a robust Back-to-School kit of resources
- Leadership development through webinars and e-learning courses
- Millions of dollars in grants to help build PTA capacity and skills
- Prestigious national awards
- Cost savings from national retailers and other PTA partners
- Invitations to PTA conventions as well as our conferences for emerging minority leaders, male mentors, and advocates
- Support services and staff to help establish and manage your PTA
Wow! When I stand alone, my opinion doesn't matter much.
When I stand with hundreds of other parent members of my school advocating for change?
Whether you are there in flesh and blood or just investing in our children with your PTA membership dues...you are making a difference!
Your membership MATTERS!
I have very little power
Done correctly, your PTA president should have even less power than YOU do as a general member of the PTA. For real!
My job as PTA president was to preside over meetings primarily. Otherwise, the work of the PTA is truly done in committees and by it's membership.
Here is how an ideal PTA runs:
You have an executive board that includes elected officers and standing committee chairs.
The vast majority of "work" is done by your standing committee chairs. The work is done in each individual committee and those committees should be comprised of a wide variety of parent (and if you are lucky! student) members.
The committees come back to the membership to report how things are going, propose changes to established rules/guidelines/budgets/etc.
The MEMBERSHIP (that's YOU!) says yay or nay.
Now it is true, if you attend a PTA meeting that is run correctly (you should be using Roberts Rules of Order), it will seem like all decisions have been made. Or at least that the discussion is minimal. PTA meetings are not generally "idea" meetings.
That work is done on the committee level. But the power and the ultimate say so rests with YOU, the average member.
What is the PTA president doing during this important decision making process? Making sure that everything is done according to procedure! They even have a back up (the Parliamentarian) to help them out with this.
Not only that, they have to stay neutral far more than they would otherwise to be sure that they are not swaying the discussion towards their own will.
The power rests in the MEMBERSHIP in a well run PTA.
Is it possible to have a PTA President on a power trip? Absolutely. Unfortunately, the stereotype does have a basis in reality. However, if things are not going by the book, get involved and start forcing it. The only way to take back a PTA from a power hungry president/board is to dive deeper into your own involvement.
I am not keeping track of how much money you have donated, how much time you have spent working in the school store and/or if you contributed to the teacher class gift.
Not much to say on this one. I honestly have NO clue how much money you have donated. I don't know when you came to eat lunch with your kid and I'm sorry that I don't remember that you sent in all of the oreos for our Halloween craft.
My brain is on constant overload (hence the "My Brain Has Too Many Tabs Open" cup that you can get here) and I'm just trying to keep my head above water (I have posted about my struggles with ADHD here) .
I try my best to thank everyone for their involvement, donations, etc...but I don't typically even notice a LACK of of those things.
(Okay, teacher gift might be the one exception. If I am room mom, I am keeping track of who has given so that there is accountability for me handling all that money. But if you don't donate? I am not judging you. My thought process will typically go straight to, oh they must be doing something to thank their teacher on their own. That's it!)
There is drama, but so what?
Most of the time, your active PTA members will be women. Not always. We have some very active dads in our school and I LOVE it. However, yeah...mostly women. What happens when you get a group of women together working in sometimes high stress situations?
This is not unique to PTA. This is life.
Sometimes I think it's a bit more elevated when you are working in a volunteer capacity because nobody is being paid to "make nice".
However, it is there and even if it's minimal, it can be frustrating/off putting.
So what though? What is the mission of your PTA? Is it to be besties with the moms in the school?
The mission of PTA is to make every child’s potential a reality by engaging and empowering families and communities to advocate for all children.
That is why you are there.
I find, when I go back to the mission, it gets my head right back where it belongs.
I will work with ANYONE (even people who I might otherwise stay far away from) to help complete the mission.
My paycheck comes in the forms of the hugs and smiles of the kids who are benefiting and being given a more equal playing field in life because of OUR involvement.
Drama happens? Take a deep breath. Check your own motivations. If they are good, proceed.
**In some cases, you might have to go higher up. This is why I am such an advocate for a PTA over a PTO. PTA's hierarchy can help in situations like these! You are not alone. If things are really wrong and really messy, you can seek help.
I have learned SO MUCH.
The secret to a good PTA?
The secret to a GREAT PTA?
A well trained board can make a HUGE difference! This is the only situation where the benefits start at the top and trickle down. Your president SHOULD BE the most well trained person on your board. Your elected officers should be next. Followed by your standing committee chairs.
Some of your parent programs should involve parent training for your membership.
We are all better when we learn how to be better.
(Another reason to love PTA over PTO IMO)
Go to the trainings. Invest in training your board. Set aside money to send your people to conferences. Take advantage of district training. Take advantage of programs offered for free (Texas PTA offers some GREAT free programs!).
Most problems I have witnessed in PTA is a lack of training. Most drama can be avoided if PTA's are trained and mission focused. If your PTA does not currently have a budget for training, make that your mission for this year!
All this to say, do you have questions?
Please come ask me!
Do you have concerns?
I want to hear them!
I have been trained for this purpose. I am here to communicate with you.
Transparency and willingness to engage with the membership are two of the most important things that a good PTA President can charge his or herself with. My job is a job of service. Service to the membership and most importantly, service to the children!
If you have been on the fence about joining your local PTA, I hope you will.
If things are not good in your PTA, I hope that you will reach out and try to make things better.
If you think all PTA presidents are like the Bad Mom's PTA President, I hope you have learned something from what I have shared today.
Finally, I love your children. I might not know them (I probably don't!), but I love them and I want what is best for them. I truly feel that joining your local PTA (even as a paying member and NOTHING else) is so important and if we ALL commit to joining, our world will start becoming a more friendly and empowering place for our children.