As a parent, in fact as a human being, we get to wear a lot of different hats in our lives. I don’t mean actual hats of course but, oh crappit, the latest hat that I find myself wearing is one that I never, ever, in my wildest nightmares thought that I would ever, EVER wear.
I appear to have volunteered (yes I have brought it on myself people) to be the Chair of the school PTA. Shit (sorry but these desperate times demand the use of an expletive, apologies).
When we found ourselves in Switzerland (when I was wearing my Expat Wife hat) I found myself in a similar position and at the first parent/teacher get together. I found myself volunteering to be ‘Class Mom’. Why can’t I let the tumble weed moments pass? You know those awkward moments where a volunteer is called for and everyone stares at the floor, avoids eye contact and the air gets thick with ‘not bloody likely’ vibes oozing out of their pores. What weird reaction is there in my arm that causes it to shoot up and my vocal chords to form the words ‘I’ll do it’??? Why does this happen???
It’s not that I particularly object to the role, it will be fun, it will be hard work and it will be of massive support to the school (and therefore my children’s primary education). The problem is the stereotype of the PTA and its members.
I am most definitely NOT your stereotypical PTA mum. I don’t bake cakes all the time (maybe not ALL the time), I don’t hand sew World Book Day costumes the night before it’s required (oh, um, I might do that), I don’t volunteer to help out on school trips (ummmm, oh). I know I’ve got one, I’m not a Stay At Home Mum (that one day I work at SWALLOW officially throws me into the Working Mum club, phew). I know another one, I definitely don’t get all Alpha Female and guilt trip people into helping out at the latest school fundraiser, no, that one I definitely don’t do. The thing is I haven’t actually met a PTA mum that does do that. That’s the problem with stereotypes, most of the time they aren’t actually true.
The PTA parents (yes, it doesn’t always have to be mums) some are stay at home parents but not by any stretch are they all, and generally the stay at home one’s are the busiest of the lot. They are the volunteers and the doers. I have met PTA members who are unfailingly dynamic, interesting, funny, clever and most of all passionate about their children and the education that they are receiving. That is the whole point of the PTA after all. An organisation that allows parents (all parents) to work in conjunction with the teachers, supporting them through the provision of additional funding (which, let’s face it, is becoming more and more squeezed) to ensure that our children have an enriched learning experience. An education which is about more than grammar and times tables.
The beauty of the PTA is that it isn’t just about money and cakes. We have just completed a Playground Makeover, which would not have been possible without the PTA committee, but more importantly without the PTA committee persuading parents to give up half an hour of their time to paint a couple of fence posts or, in the case of several marvellous dads giving up their entire weekends to create a pallet kitchen, a storage unit and an outside blackboard.
Yes, sometimes this persuasion may lead to guilt, but what guilt? I ask you to examine what the true source of that guilt is. Don’t take your guilt out on the poor sod who has volunteered to run a project that improves your child’s education with snide comments, that poor sod is only trying to help. This Playground Makeover didn’t ask for a single penny from the parents, instead it asked for time and donations in kind (carpentry skills, the use of a van). Roughly a quarter of the school community was represented over four days of work. It was fantastic. Everyone who got involved enjoyed the experience and got to know other parents a little better, the kids all played brilliantly together whilst their parents got on with making the environment a more pleasurable one for them to spend time in. Do I begrudge the fact that almost three-quarters of the school community was NOT involved? No. Life happens. People are busy, people are going through their own stuff every single day of the year. Maybe next time some of that 75% will get involved.
The PTA run events that don’t just bring school communities together but entire village/town communities too. The PTA encourage parents that usually run a mile from any school involvement to become involved through events that don’t even involve the kids (wine tasting anyone?). For those that still don’t want to get involved do yourself, and the PTA rep, a favour and make a donation whilst telling the PTA that you will not be able (or should that actually be not be willing?) to get involved. Do you know something that is far better than getting a cold shoulder, or parents running in the opposite direction every time the PTA committee member walks into the playground.
PTA committee members (the mums and the dads) deserve a break, and I’m not just saying this because I’ve taken on the role of Chair at ours. They genuinely deserve the full and committed support of the parent, and teacher, community. I could start spouting sayings at you (the more the merrier, many hands make light work – oops I have) but giving our children the rounded education we all want to give does take effort and it does need individuals to come together to make it work. It shouldn’t just be the few, who are made to feel bad about asking Ben’s parents to provide a matchbox full of ‘stuff’ to raise a few quid, it should be the many because if we all pull together..? Imagine what could be achieved (beginning to sound like Nick Knowles, think I had better jump off my soap box).
So next time you get a letter, email, phone call from a member of the PTA please don’t roll your eyes and give them short shrift, give them a break and grab another hat off the rack.