Back To School: Is PTO For You?

Six months ago, when I started blogging, I started a list of potential topics on which to write.  This list is kept right on my WordPress account as drafts. Some potential posts, such as this one, have just a title, some are blog posts that I started but have yet to complete, and some were completed meanderings but not removed from the draft column because I started the post anew.  They are there to help me with finding a topic if I have a day when I do not know what to write about.  One of the very first on the list six months ago, was “Is PTO for you?” I have many things I want to write about but today, the topic of PTO is something I have to write about. This is because today, is your day.

I am a seasoned parent, meaning I have had children in our public school district for the last eighteen years! Wowza! That is a long time. During that time, I have held numerous “official” volunteer roles, and many (probably, more important) positions like classroom helper, or buyer of the playground chalk and sleds, that were still volunteer roles but more behind the scenes, taking place in a closed classroom, through the office staff, or just by writing a check.

Being a member or officer of any Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) is something you will have to consider if you have a child in school. I will not go into the difference between PTO and PTA, as that is up to your district to decide and define. However, having been a former PTO officer when I first started volunteering, and then functioning as a school volunteer in numerous roles outside a PTO role, I thought I would shed some light on this subject for those of you who need to consider the option of being involved in your school’s PTO. I will try to be unbiased, but very well expect not to be successful. Having spent three years on our PTO board and 15 years not involved in PTO, you can tell where my bias might be positioned.

What do PTO’s do?  

It depends. Parent Teacher Organizations meet to find and fulfill needs at a particular school, aid communication, and support the students, as well as the staff.  Teacher Wish Lists are compiled and fulfilled, fundraisers are decided upon and organized, and sometimes, concerns are brought forth. Although not all will admit it, there are politics involved in these associations and/or organizations.  I am not talking red/blue, Republican/Democrat, type politics, but politics all-the-same.  Attend a few meetings and you will see what I mean. There are those who are in charge, those who want to be in charge, and those who do not want to be in charge.  It seems that one person’s idea is always better than another’s. If you are lucky, a consensus will be taken and democracy will be upheld.  As the saying goes, it takes all kinds.  Basically, PTO is a big colander that functions to sift out volunteers for many of the activities and larger supplies that schools depend upon  – like fundraisers and playgrounds.  Parent Teach Organizations meet, discuss, deliberate, delegate, and define what will be done to help the school, staff, and student body.  Either you will agree with their agenda or you will not.  Fortunately, there is usually a lot going on at any one particular time in a school building, so you have a good chance of agreeing with some of what the agenda holds, even if you do not agree with the whole scheme.

How do they do it?

As a good friend recently found out, goals are not always outlined by a democratic vote. Again, it depends. When I served on PTO, it was a long time ago. However, there were definitely leaders and followers. Although I served two years as secretary (this might come as a shock to the newer/younger teachers), I was definitely a follower.  My ideas were never heard, mostly because I was too introverted at the time to speak out. Over the years, that changed for me. Still, the sometimes, “self-appointed” leaders, want their agenda and ideas pushed forward, and they definitely want the credit (especially, if it turns out well).   The leaders tell the followers what to do, whether it is under a guise of democratic process or not.  How your school’s PTO/PTA functions depends to a very large extent who it attending the meetings, and who is in charge of those meetings. The only way to tell will be to attend some of the meetings to get a feel of who is there, what the leadership is like, and whether or not you can live with the politics.

Who is on PTO?

You will find, as I did, that over the years the same parents attend the same school functions. PTO is no different. These groups definitely draw on those parents who want be involved, want to make a difference, and sometimes, unfortunately, want drama and/or credit.  It really all depends on who is at your school and who is attracted to membership in a group like PTO. When I served, I was new to our district. So new, that I was trying to get to know people, families, and find where I fit. While this worked to get me involved, it also associated me with a group of people I ended up not wanting to be associated with.  I remember our neighbor commenting to my husband when she found out I was going to serve as secretary for PTO. She bluntly stated, “Why would Carol want to be associated with those women?”  There were definitely some very strong personalities, and at the time, I was, as were my opinions, pretty easily manipulated.  It only took me a few years to realize that I truly did not belong to this group and made moves to break away.

What gets accomplished?

I am not saying that PTO does not accomplish positive things for the school it represents. It can and it does. We accomplished a lot. We started a basket raffle back in 2002 or 2003, that is still a major fundraiser today. We researched and ordered new playground equipment. Those are two things that the current PTO membership does not even know or remember, but are continuing or working on again.  I have been around long enough to know. It took hard work! I recognize their hard work. Teacher wish lists are fulfilled on a regular basis. Garden club was even a recipient of a small request for funds this year. PTOs do good work, the majority of the time. But, the answer is still …… it depends. What gets accomplished depends on the group, the members, the leadership, and the followers. Do you fit one of those roles?

All of the above need consideration. I currently know several moms who elect not to be involved in their schools’ parent teacher organizations.  I know they contribute in other ways. Contributing in other ways was the right fit for me.

Actually, one of the other issues you need to consider is your ability to provide gratitude and your ability to function without it.  When I was part of PTO, not a lot of “thank yous” were spread around. The president and a few other select parents took the glory. The rest of us were un-thanked donkeys, doing the work but never held up for all to see. Can you deal with that? I thought I could, and I did deal with it for a while. But, when you give, and give, and give, and are never thanked, it becomes a problem.  Basically, it becomes unmotivating to continue to give of yourself and your time. And then, resentment sets in.

A friend of mine has a husband that contributes a great deal to our high school and the community.  His adage is that whether or not you believe someone has been thanked, thank them again, especially if they have not been thanked by you, personally.   It is that important!  Say, thank you, and then say it, again! I am trying to live by that idea now. I know how it feels to be on the other end.  A thank you is needed, no matter what anyone tells you. This is something better done, than left undone.

What do you need to do?

Self examination. Do you “play well” with others?  Can you state your case without being overly emotional? Can you be quiet during meetings and just listen if plans do not seem to be going the way you personally want? If you cannot be quiet, can you state your side of the coin calmly and rationally. Do you, yourself, have an agenda? Most people do have an agenda that attend PTO, even if they do not think they do. Sure, it usually comes down to wanting to help the school or students in some way, but is it THE way you want to help?

I found out, early on, through serving two years on the PTO board at our local elementary school as secretary (2001-2003, or there about) that PTO was NOT a good fit for me. (My presence on the PTO board might come as a shock to those who are too new  or too young to know that I was part of PTO, a long time ago.)  I left the organization and never looked back. But, I did not leave the school!

No! I did not leave! Instead, I found other ways to contribute. These “other ways” turned out to be important ways to contribute and that is where I spent my volunteer role for the last 17 years! Yes!  The idea list that follows took place primarily in one building, and in one district; it or not is not all-inclusive, but highlights what can be done!

2000- Room Parent. We made some awesome ice cream in a can with kindergarteners! Did we not, Mrs. T-M?

2001 & 2002- Room Parent for Multi-age. Organized books, held a book club, and helped with anything the teachers wanted, such as spelling tests or the spring social studies project on Native Americans.

2003 – Classroom assistant for TAG students in 3rd grade.

2004 – Started a garden club for 2nd through 5th grade that met after school, once a month for the last 13 years! No kidding!

2005 – Kindergarten center helper. Ran “centers” once a week for kindergarten classroom. Garden Club continued.

2006 – Helped with reading in first grade room. Garden Club continued. Converted old perennial bed to a butterfly garden, fuelled by student research.

2007 – Guided reading group assistant in second grade room, once a week. Kindergarten center helper (again). Started to substitute teach.  Set up fundraiser for garden club.

2008 – Classroom helper, first and third grade room. Started a book club for first graders that were above “benchmark”. Helped with special events, field trips in third grade. Certified butterfly garden as Monarch Way Station.

2009 – Classroom helper in second grade room, once a week. Continued first grade book club for similar group of students (yet, this time, none were my own).  Fundraiser for garden club. Planted tree on school grounds.

2010 – Classroom helper in third grade  classroom. Started writer’s circle for above benchmark third grade writers.  Continued book club for 1st grade.  Started district wide – Talented and Gifted Parent Support Group, meeting monthly for 3 years. High school band trip chaperone to Florida. Garden Club continues.

2011 – At our elementary school 3 days a week to help with reading in fourth grade room, first grade book club, and third grade writer’s circle, in addition to holding garden club once a month.  At middle school one day a week to assist with ELA classroom activities. TAG Parent Group continues. Garden Club continues.

2012 –  First grade book club, third grade writer’s circle, TAG Parent group, and garden club all continue.

2013 – Chaperone to NYC for high school band. Garden Club continues. Writer’s Circle continues.  Book Club ends with the retirement of the first grade teacher.  Assist with Art Fundraiser.

2014 – Writer’s Circle continues. Garden Club continues. Return to middle school ELA classroom to assist with students one day a week. Assist with Art Fundraiser.

2015 – Writer’s Circle Continues, Garden Club continues. Return to middle school ELA classroom to assist with students one day a week.

2016 – Writer’s Circle Continues, Garden Club continues until June of 2017.

As you can see, there an innumerable ways to contribute, other than being on PTO/PTA. .

To quote the famous song lyrics by Steve Winwood, “While you see a chance, take it” – indeed, do! Times are changing for me.  Garden club has ended. Most of my volunteering for our district has ended. But, the point of this post is YOU! YOU can make a contribution!  Even more, you need to make a contribution, your child’s school needs you! Find something you love to do and contribute your time.

So, maybe you go to a PTO meeting, and for whatever reason, you decide it is not for you. Maybe you are like me, and just do not feel like you “fit” with the group. Maybe, the personalities do not match yours. Maybe, the meeting times are just not convenient for you and it is as simple as that.  So, strike out on your own. Investigate other ways, ways that are right for you (and your child) to contribute.

You can still make a powerful contribution to your child’s school. They need you. Your child needs you. Be involved! Within this post, I have given you many examples of what you could do!  The contribution of time is one of the greatest gifts one can give. You will not be sorry. I promise you.





One thought

  1. I appreciate the thoroughness of this post. My son is out of K-12 school and yet I think the post also speaks nonetheless beyond schools. I think about the line you quoted by Steve Winwood and think how taking a chance, being open to possibilities changes lives.

    Liked by 1 person

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