21 November 2011

Persnickety Territorial Alliance

The PTA in my town makes my skin crawl. I should just let it go; instead I'm going to blather on to you, dear diary, because it's the best way I know of putting my demons to rest.

They hold their meetings at 9:30 in the morning. Yes. What this means is that any parent with a job is essentially excluded from the PTA meetings. When I wrote to the chairman of my child's elementary school's PTA, she emailed back to say:

Generally speaking, we have found that PTA meetings in the evening are less well attended then ones in the morning as juggling kids' schedules and finding childcare pose challenges. Having said that, the (town) PTA meetings are usually in the evenings... In addition, there is a Joint elementary PTA meeting on (date) at 7:30 at (school). We don't know the theme of that meeting yet but it is a good one to attend as it brings together parents from all 3 elementary schools.

She went on to say that there were evening and weekend volunteer activities - for the book fair and the Halloween fair.

My response was:

Thank you. Given that part of the stated mission of the PTA is "to bring into closer relation the home and the school, that parents and teachers may cooperate intelligently in the education of children and youth;" - which is a direct quote from the (local) PTA website as well as the State and National PTA websites - it would seem that meetings of (elementary school's) teachers and parents at a time when parents could attend would be a good thing. Of necessity, that ought to be on a school by school basis, or at the very least, in groups by school level (elementary - middle - high) - how else to have any reasonable or specific dialogue? I appreciate that there is a Joint elementary school PTA meeting in October and I will try and be there.

When I said I'd be interested in being a more active participant, I didn't mean as a volunteer at the book fair or the halloween party. While those may be fun activities, they really haven't anything to do with the education of our children.

Again, it is exclusionary to all of the working parents to hold PTA meetings in the morning - and even if only a small percentage of households have two working parents, that means you are excluding more than half of the parent body from the PTA meetings.

Talking to a brick wall. No response.

Sometime thereafter, I got the email announcement about the October "Joint elementary school PTA meeting" and I sputtered. It was to be a presentation on "Nutrition Basics For Kids with a focus on Quick Healthy Meals", by a dietician from the county's children's hospital. It went on:

Please send us a recipe for a quick healthy snack or meal that your kids love by noon tomorrow. We will compile these recipes and distribute recipe books to everyone at the event.

We also encourage you to bring with you a sample of your recipe for all to taste.

Tell me, dear readers, how does a nutrition lecture with recipe tasting and cookbook assembly help "parents and teachers ... cooperate intelligently in the education of children and youth" and how were the teachers involved?

I got all in a dander again when I got an email - which was sent to the entire K-12 school community - with the subject "What Are You? Red or Blue?" I don't know about you, but to me, these days, red or blue reads Republican or Democrat - and politics are not the purview of the PTA. Turns out they were requesting dues if not yet paid. We'd already paid our admittedly modest $15 dues, but the email felt like a shakedown, what with graphs and such, and the adjective "required" used in connection with dues. Since when are DUES required? Taxes are required. Death is unavoidable. Dues are not. The snarky missive I sent in response to that email? Ether, baby, ether. I've probably had my email address blacklisted.

Damn good thing I have a full-time job. At least I can gripe about the PTA with the people on the train who are similarly disenfranchised.


Liz Miller said...

That's awful. Gah!

The Library Lady said...

One of the lovelier things about the girls growing up was getting away from the elementary school PTA!

The PTA at the girls school was essentially a club for the SAHMs and the well to do working moms who have part time jobs and/or nannies. If you weren't someone who attended, you weren't in the school loop, but the sad fact was that I didn't give a damn about most of those families anyway.

Saddest thing of all is that the PTA COULD be a great deal of help into reaching out to families where the parents work/don't speak English well, etcetera.Drawing them into school routine and supporting them would have benefited the school tremendously, but since their main goal was to dance attendance on their kids and socialize, it didn't happen.

Once I realized this (truthfully, I'd realized it back when SC was in preschool, sadly enough) I felt guilt free about not doing a damn thing for the PTA. They want to run it and do all that, fine with me, I'd rather be home with my kids anyway!

Heide Estes said...

Have to say, the PTA at our school has been terrific in terms of fund-raising to cover activities slashed by budget cuts. They've been heavily involved in getting the school to serve healthier food at lunch. They organize once-monthly "breakfast with the principal" (at 8:30 a.m., right after school drop-off, so some but I realize not all parents will be able to attend, at least briefly, before going to work).

I also think the social events are important in terms of building community, though this may be a bigger issue for us given that kids come to my son's school from all over NYC so we don't have the neighborhood community. I'm grateful that there are parents (yes, mostly moms) who have the time and inclination to volunteer their time for what seem to me to be a variety of important projects and events.

Anjali said...

Our PTA meetings are also in the mornings. What gets me, is the griping I hear about how hard it is to get parents to volunteer. Um, let's see. Perhaps if the PTA meetings were in the evenings, that would be a good start, wouldn't it? Also, just about everyone who doesn't work outside of the home, volunteers at the kids' elementary school. This should be a big hint that the reason there aren't enough volunteers is because EVERYONE ELSE IS WORKING AT A JOB. What do they expect?

leanne said...

My first OMG (out LOUD) occurred upon reading that meetings are at 9:30am. WTF. And isn't the T in PTA for Teacher? How can teachers attend a meeting when they are supposed to be teaching?

And as you can imagine, my thoughts went downhill from there. Dues?

I only recently started attending our school's PTA meetings, and it's been eye-opening. Learned some things that I never would have known otherwise -- things I'm kinda surprised aren't generally communicated. Also interesting watching the dynamics and feeling like I'm getting a better sense of why things have happened the way that they have. And have also learned a few useful tips and tidbits regarding my child's education.

Some times it feels like I'm observing a social experiment though.

Rabecca Larson said...

Attending meetings should be just one of the ways to be involved in your PTA. They should have a good website and/or e-mail system for communicating with everyone about what's going on. Can you send me a link to their website?

The morning vs. evening debate is an ongoing thing here. You generally need to go with the time when your key people are available--but this naturally excludes other people. You can't win. We do evening meetings and provide both pizza and childcare, which has allowed the greatest participation of all the options we've tried. The kids look forward to meetings and will drag their parents along.

"Requiring" dues is total BS. They should earn your damn dues by being responsive and serving the community.

The BIG job of PTA is to advocate for kids in the legislative arena, and you'd be fantastic at that. If your school doesn't have an advocacy or legislative rep, volunteer for that job. Generally, the people who love planning dances and class parties don't want anything to do with legislative issues.

PTAs tend to become fairly closed-minded over time, as the same people do the same thing over and over again and become bitter that nobody is helping. The problem is, they tend to make it difficult to help, for all kinds of reasons. Focusing on outreach and inclusion is really tough, but we've had some success at our school. Outreach is an all-day, every-day, throughout the year job. I have all kinds of tips for anyone who'll listen. I'm very proud of our PTA--we're not perfect, but we are doing good work.

Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

The woman in charge of fundraising at my kids' PTA runs one of the larger businesses in this town, so they run things in a working-parent-friendly way. They alternate daytime meetings and evening meetings.

Bibliomama said...

Wow. What a bunch of smug asshats. Unfortunately, this type of person tends to be impervious both to sensible suggestions and irritably ironic emails.

Unknown said...

i have so much i could say, but instead, will just say this:

don't get me started on the pta...

mayberry said...

Ugh. Just terrible. FTR, our school seems to have quite a lot of SAHMs, and the meetings are held in the evenings. And yeah - how do the teachers show up at 9:30 a.m.?

I feel very lucky that the parents at my school are generally fun to be around. And we hit the wine bar after every meeting. Can't do that at 10 a.m.!

Neil said...

Just out of curiosity, what did they mean by the red or blue statement?

Anonymous said...

GO MAGPIE. Please oh please can I send this around to our working women's group????I won't out you. I promise. Your HSBFF

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

This is a toughie--our Family Faculty Association really tried to have evening meetings, but people still wouldn't show up and it was a huge burden to the SAHM crowd that did show up faithfully. And honestly, teachers prefer to be silent partners for the most part (except when it comes to submitting wish lists) and we're certainly not up for be away from their own families for a 6:30 p.m meeting.

The principal did hold a coffee once a month at 7 a.m. so that working parents would have time before work to have input and make connections.

Being dismissive is certainly never okay.

V-Grrrl @ Compost Studios said...

I'm not much of a joiner but I do participate in PTA, not attending meetings but helping with things like the book fair or fundraisers. The PTA at my children's school helps fund teacher supplies and school supplies and books for kids who can't afford them. They also provide social events (movies and dances) so the kids can get together after school. I believe they also fund special events for goods who succeed--ice cream socials for outstanding readers and such. About half of our student body qualifies for the school lunch program. A lot of families are struggling. I think what the PTA does matters.

That said, I've been with PTAs at private schools that were social clubs for bored housewives. The kids were affluent and did not need the fundraising, there was a lot of in fighting and meddling in school affairs. Yes, they did some very nice things for the school (storytelling events with a professional story teller, a winter carnival, open house BBQ, scholarships, etc), but these primarily upper middle class kids who had tons of opportunities. The PTA existed more to keep their moms busy.