Mary Dell writes: I survived my term as PTA president. Without a doubt, it was one of the hardest jobs I ever signed up for, including those I got paid to do. My family questioned my sanity, wondering what led me to jump into the deep end of parent volunteerism. I had my own doubts, too, often when I was on the recipient end of an unhappy mom’s rants.
In retrospect, I found great value in answering the PTA call for help and recommend it to others, if done for the right reasons. Here are 12 Most Mutually Beneficial Reasons for Joining the PTA.
1. Be a fly on the wall
Going to your children’s school to work as a volunteer gives you a fly on the wall perspective. You get an unscripted view of everyone from the principal to the custodian. It is fascinating to watch the kids who are practiced in ignoring parents on campus; seeing them in their element is priceless.
2. Pitch in, meet the players, make connections
Examine your motivations. Good reasons are to help shoulder the burden of work and to become acquainted with the school, teachers, and other parents, especially those who have kids the same age as yours.
3. Do not seek advantages for your kid
Bad reason: to curry favor with the teacher for your child.
4. All contributions matter
If you work full-time and can only help by sending in paper goods for the Thanksgiving feast, don’t feel apologetic for one second. There is no need to labor over sweet potatoes for a class of 25. (I have done both.) All help is appreciated so take a moment to acknowledge that your contribution mattered.
5. Your expertise will be noticed
Play to your strengths, so sign up for the bake sale if you love baking but offer to help with publicity if that is where your skill set is stronger. Volunteering will feel less burdensome and your natural talents will be noticed and appreciated.
6. Liking everyone is beside the point
You will not care for everyone you meet, which is a fact of life in any organization. Did you like everyone in high school or at each of your jobs? If someone is rubbing you the wrong way, others may find him difficult, too. Your good-natured approach to the work and other volunteers will help keep projects on track, something in which you can take pride.
7. Be a professional
If you committed to work a shift, take it seriously. You are needed and if you blow it off, you’re going to make someone’s life much more difficult that day. Approach each assignment with the same level of commitment you bring (or brought) to your paid work and you will add to the professionalism of the group.
8. Gain experience as a volunteer leader
If you are a committee leader or officer, remember that no one is compelled to work for you. Your encouragement of and gratitude for the work of each volunteer is key to your success. Managing a team of volunteers is a different experience than managing at work. Recognizing this puts you on the path to succeed as a leader.
9. This is not your mother’s PTA
Don’t make assumptions about your school’s PTA based on outdated stereotypes. The best PTA organizations strive to work efficiently and minimize wasted time. The internet has made Xeroxing and phone calls time-consuming activities of the past. Prepare to be impressed with and learn from volunteers who bring fresh ideas and technological know-how to the job. If you have suggestions to enhance productivity, speak up!
10. Your child and her school benefit
Look for the fruits of PTA labor around the school, including past years’ projects. PTAs fill financial holes and offer real tangible assets for the students and teachers. Your child and her classmates will directly benefit from the work you do.
11. Build your resume
You are expanding your contact base and polishing your leadership skills while volunteering. Working in the PTA is recognized by the job market as a legitimate and valuable way to spend your time. Don’t take it from us, but look at what the experts say.
12. Make a friend for life
Look around you. One of the moms next to you manning the concession stand might become your best buddy. You may not know it yet but don’t be surprised if it happens. Your kids could outgrow their friendship but it doesn’t mean you have to.
Was I happy to step down once twelve months came to a close? Absolutely! I felt liberated when I handed the symbolic gavel and real responsibilities to another parent. Was I sorry I became so involved at my kids’ school? I never regretted it and believed that my work, along with that of the others, helped the one place where our two children spent the bulk of their childhood. No other reason was necessary to convince me to sign on.
Have you spent time in the PTA trenches? Was it a positive experience or more trouble than it was worth?