The Fate of PTO: Are all Parent Teacher Organizations the Same?

Last night I went to a TEAM meeting at the school where I serve as Garden Club Advisor. TEAM is their version of the PTO association. I do not know and could not find what that  acronym stands for. I went to the meeting to introduce myself to the parents and briefly explain what we do in garden club. The principal and I felt it would be a good way to “advertise” the club and increase awareness of our lessons.

Upon arriving there were eight to ten people already gathered around a table. The principal and TEAM president were involved in an animated discussion.  Immediately, I was transported back to my days of being a PTO board member or meeting attendee myself. There was a small group of parents (4-5) and teachers (4) and the principal, who all seemed to know each other well. I was considered a guest; thankfully, introductions were made. But, then there continued to be a sense of deja vu. The talk turned to recruiting and electing officers for the next school year. Reluctance filled the air. It became evident that the people currently holding those positions were stepping down, looking for new parents or staff to step up.  Ballots were passed around.  Several minutes were spent discussing the difficulty of finding willing replacements to even run for an office.

Is this scenario common to your school?  It seemed so common to my own experience with PTO, over 18 years ago, that I could have been sitting in a different school with different people and have the same meeting be conducted.  It seems the same small group of parents and teachers attend these meetings, no matter what the school or where it is located.  The principal reassured the group that what they were experiencing (reluctance to run for a TEAM office or even come to meetings) was what her colleagues reported experiencing at other schools in their district. Do PTO, PTA, PTG, TEAM or any other such parent-teacher groups similarly exist in other countries? Or is this self-imposed bureaucracy an American thing?

People burn out, that’s a fact. When a small group of dedicated parents and staff do all the work and do it for years, it makes one tired and, I am sorry to say – resentful.  This group did not appear to be so. They were concerned. Concerned that they would not be able to offer their student body all the good things that come from PTO (or TEAM) funding or organizational skills.  No solutions were reached other than one teacher suggesting the kids from each grade level thank attendees at spring concerts and assemblies for their time, money, and talents, asking for their continued (or new) involvement.  I hope that idea goes forward, there seemed to be a lot of support for it.

Fortunately, my time on PTO was finished a long time ago done. Although it was something I truly did not want to do or a role I got any enjoyment from, I served as a board member for 2 years and chaired several committees after that. Honestly, there are probably very few people who remember me in that volunteer role, as it was nearly 18 years ago now. PTO turned out not to be a great place for me to spend my time. I found other ways to contribute to the school – ways that were also needed, satisfying, and more meaningful to me. But, sitting in that meeting last night, I couldn’t help but wonder – Are all PTO’s the same?


Although I blog daily, my Tuesday blog posts are shared with those who post in the Slice of Life: Tuesday writing community hosted by the TwoWritingTeachers blog. Thank you for helping us connect to other writers each week through this forum.


12 Thoughts

  1. I’ve shared at a few parent meetings for schools where I conduct PD. I’ve seen some very active parent organizations offering resources to the community, e.g., sponsoring the school gym being open on Sat. mornings, parent “classes” for GED preparation… and the ones during the day are held at the campus with a provision for pre-school children while moms attend and work on skills. Some have special evening events for parent/student to do a project or explore a learning. Some have an extensive volunteer group who are important in the daily function of the school, engaging with students. At the meetings where I’ve shared, there were at least 40 or more parents attending. Some had their children with them and the meeting had a portion to involve the students. I think these PTO (or whatever their name) are successful because the school is a vital part of the community, a center of activity for the community it serves… not just a place their kids go during the school day.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Alice! You make some very good points. While the PTO I was involved in was small and energetic, we were able to provide some nice community events as well. They supported (and still do) teacher wish lists and school needs not funded by the budget. Childcare has also been provided but students rarely, if ever, are involved in the meeting itself. But, what I read between your lines is more outreach – I think we all want PTO’s as successful as the ones you describe. It is just getting there that is part of the difficulty. I think the make up of the group might determine how connected parents are and whether they make the time to invest or not. I agree sense of community and integration of the school with community is a large factor. In fact the school, whose meeting I described last night, is a school of choice, not a neighborhood school. Many children are not from the immediate environment around the school This might be a factor.


      1. Good points. And perhaps the PTO needs to identify the “needs” of the school community adults as well as the school and students to bring them in. I think that is what the ones I wrote of have done.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. It’s very interesting you bring that up. I am working on writing a needs assessment for the adults involved in this school (parents and teachers – two separate assessments). I will run this idea by someone, too! Thanks!

        Liked by 1 person

    1. I think you are right. We talked about that last night as well – that people continue because they feel they have to due to others not stepping up to help out. One teacher suggested they (this group) put out a warning saying they will not have a PTO unless they get some new people to take offices. It will be interesting to see what happens. Thanks for your comments.


  2. This scenario sounds a lot like the PTO at our school- the same small group of parents shouldering the load for years. Some heave a heavy sigh of relief when their youngest child move on to middle school, releasing them from the chains of service. To be fair, most begin with enthusiasm, but then feel trapped when no other parents share the duties. Also, there are times when overzealous parents make events more and more elaborate so that they themselves make it difficult for subsequent parents to maintain them. Also, a group of teachers created a video of students thanking parent volunteers at the end of the year about 2 years ago. It was very meaningful to and rewarding for our volunteers. I hope your TEAM follows through with the idea you mentioned above.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for sharing these perspectives. They are all very similar and familiar. I am glad you thought the video/student involvement sounded like a viable, even positive, plan of action. I might pass that on to the school administrator. Thanks.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Your post made me appreciate the “Paw Parents,” my school’s version of a PTO (our mascot is the wildcat), even more than I already did. I think that we have a good mix of parents and guardians who have been involved for awhile along with new parents (kindergarteners and new students at other grade levels who transfer) who join. Our Paw Parents are pretty active and work well with the principal and teachers. They do everything from provide funds for out-of-town field trips (Jamestown and Williamsburg, Washington, D.C) to provide goodies for teachers on special occasions.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Your comment made me wonder if I left the wrong impression. Both PTO’s – the one I was a member of so long ago and the (TEAM) meeting I witnessed at the school where I am now the garden club advisor do wonderful things – both run community events, both provide supplies not covered in the budgets, both provide teacher appreciation goodies. The trick is not having your wonderful volunteers burn out. It is great if you have a new/old mix. For years, at my “old” school there were not many new faces – I became a really old one as I had children of my own in that school for 13 consecutive years (my boys are spaced apart widely – not necessarily by choice – just the way it happened). When I think of the fact I stuck around volunteering in that same building four years past when my youngest had left – It is amazing AND tells you I felt it was a special place. I was part of one building’s volunteers for 17 years! No wonder I finally decided I needed a change. Mind you, I was not on PTO more than the first 3 years my oldest was in school. It was not a good fit for me. But, I saw many dedicated moms become burned out because of being overused and overworked. Your Paws Parents (I love the name) sounds like a wonderful group. You must be very thankful you find yourself in such a great place! Thanks for your comments!


    1. Ha! That was it for me exactly….there is a lot of politics involved. I was the same, I found other ways to help out – in the classrooms, at events, and even starting a few of my own groups! PTO is not for everyone, that’s for sure!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s