On Being a PTA Parent

I was a teacher long before I became a parent. I taught in a small, private preschool that catered to suburban families looking for an early childhood experience rather than simply babysitting for their preschoolers. Every family was required to volunteer 25 hours of their time, or pay a $250 fee. 

There were plenty of families who opted to pay the fee and simply drop off and pick up their children at the appointed times. Fast forward a few years, and I now have one child in a local public school, and one in a private preschool. The private preschool has that 25 volunteer hours requirement, the public school simply has a voluntary list-serve you can sign up for if you’d like to know about volunteer opportunities.

In the private school, I’ve dabbled in a few projects for the school, and am nearly done with my 25 hours of time for the school year (which is good, because there are only 11 days of school left). In the public school, I’ve committed myself to volunteering in the school library twice a week, re-shelving books. My husband has committed to volunteering in the school supply store twice per month, and tends to sign up for events rather than a recurring gig. We both work and we both have other obligations, but we’ve decided to make volunteering at the kids’ schools a priority.

Why? It’s not because I miss teaching. It’s not because I need to make grown-up friends. It’s because it’s the right thing to do and because research shows that it (parental involvement) increases school achievement in children.

Even with our erratic schedules, we’ve found that volunteering is easy once you make it a habit. If helping teachers with take home work, manning the student store and re-shelving library books improves my daughter’s school experience, then I’m all for it. As an added bonus, the school administrators know me by name. I’ve met many of the teachers in the school, and I’ve met most of my daughter’s classmates. What’s interesting though, is that I’ve only met about five other parents. Either we’re volunteering at other times, or they’re not volunteering.

This article from the NEA details many of the reasons why parents don’t walk through the school doors with their children. Shift work, language barriers, and feelings of inadequacy can all play a role. As someone who has recently been appointed (I would say elected, but no one was vying for the job) an officer of the my daughter’s school’s PTA, it’s an article I’m taking to heart.

Were your parents involved in your education? Did they volunteer? What kind of school volunteer opportunities would be interesting to you?

14 replies on “On Being a PTA Parent”

My mom was my girl scout leader, which isn’t quite school related, but was a big part of my childhood. When I was in high school she joined the school’s Mom’s Club (which was almost like a PTA, but not really and only women. There was a separate Dad’s Club, but it was more of a booster club than anything, lol Catholic all girls school logic). I loved that, because she came home with the best gossip about the administration. It is also through her that I found out that Sister Mary Principal thought my name was my mother’s and that my mother had my name, right up until she signed my diploma. Apparently my name is old fashioned while my mother’s name is young. Who knew?

Dad was always working crazy hours, so he had less available time to volunteer for things. I do remember one very awesome field trip in the seventh grade that he was a chaperon for. We went to the zoo, which is one of my favorite places to this day. It was a period in time when I was getting bullied a lot too, but no one would mess with me when my dad was right there. So I got to spend the day in one of my favorite places with my dad and feeling safer than I normally did when with my classmates. It was a good day.

My mom was a ‘read-mom’ and part of events (always in a suit, she terrified me once in a bear suit and giving me a huge hug without informing it was her).

I think it’s a very good idea. Not only to lighten the load from teachers, but show kids the parents care, to let the parents show the ‘daily’ life of school and so on.

My parents were very involved. We went to Catholic schools that are integrated into the state school system- so we got money from the Gov for the actual teachers and teaching, but any capital improvement had to be paid by the Diocese. Not long before my youngest sister started  primary school, my parents found out the roll was about to be capped and my sister wouldn’t be able to attend. However she could attend if they got another classroom, so they swung into gear. Dad was the chair of the fundraising committee and Mum actually designed the classroom (she’s an architectural drafter). She also did all the graphic design for the fundraising. They got the classroom built and my sister got to go to the same school as her sisters.  They were just one of many parents who helped make sure that their kids could go to a school they thought was the best place for their kids.

After that, Dad spent quite a long time as the chair of the Board of Trustees- the body that governs the school. He started as chair when I was there, and he was still being the chair after my sister left.

My parents weren’t quite as involved with my high school, probably because they were still heavily involved with the primary school. It definitely instilled in us that we should provide service to the community and give back.

My mom volunteered for EVERYTHING when I was in elementary school- classroom parties at holidays, running the book fair, organizing (and making snow cones) at our fun fair, fundraisers, etc. I really liked it, especially because it gave me a lot of experience being behind-the-scenes for fun things and I got to know my teachers better outside the classroom. I would love to be able to do the same thing for my kids, but my mom was only able to do it because she wasn’t working, and I don’t ever want to be a full-time stay at home mom.


I haven’t yet read the article you linked to, but in my experience there’s definitely a link between parent involvement and school performance. My friends whose parents volunteered were more proud of their school and their schoolwork. Having your parent show you that your school is important to them, not just a place to pack you off to for the day, makes kids value it more themselves.

I think that’s the challenge in parent organization’s today- the full-time school volunteers are few and far between. All of the PTA officers at my daughter’s school (including me) work part-time or full-time, as do probably 80% of all of the families in the school. Communicating the message that even 20 minutes is a valuable contribution when you can mangage it is something school’s have to do.

Perhaps inappropriate question which you can feel free to ignore:  why is one kid in private school and one kid in public school?  I’m almost certain we’ll go the public school route when we hit that age, but I’m interested in hearing about your choice to do both.

My parents did not volunteer, much if at all.  They had 9 kids, and by the time I was in school, the older kids were causing all sorts of trouble for my parents, and there was no time.

Which is one of the reasons why I don’t want to have 9 kids.  Well, not that specifically.  But I really look forward to being able to be a part of Sofia’s life in those ways.  Also, I am a busybody and want to be able to look over her shoulder all the time.

The link in the fourth paragraph isn’t showing up for me, for some reason. Since my first thought there was “wait – causation, or correlation?” I’m dying to read it.

And I’m not volunteering at my kid’s school right now because I have too fucking much on my plate. Volunteering is a thing you do when you keep your own head above water. At which point I will, and gladly; I agree it’s important. But there are a bunch of things I think are important and frankly, can’t manage all of them.

My mom always volunteered on field trips and donated her art skills to make backdrops for our school plays. I loved having her around as a kid. She even was a substitute teacher on some days. She was also a stay at home mom, so I think it was easier for her than if she had worked.

It’s not exactly volunteering, but I went and spoke to MiniB’s class for career day today. I was almost as nervous about talking to a roomful of seven-year-olds as I was when I had to talk to a group of my glassworking peers. It went surprisingly well, and if I lost the kids’ attention after about twenty minutes (They asked me to talk for a half-hour!) I had some fun answering the teachers’ questions for the last ten. It was totally worth it, and I liked being a part of the class for a while.

that’s awesome! As I started writing this, I realized I didn’t really flesh out the difference between volunteering and parent involvement- I think they are two different things, both equally awesome. Unless they paid you to talk, you volunteered! (I’m thinking involvement is more along the line of attending performances & meet the teacher night sort of things)

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