After five years of serving on the PTA executive board at our elementary school, I quit. But not for the reasons you might think from watching movies that portray certain kinds of “PTA moms.” I didn’t get into a power struggle with other moms, it’s not that I didn’t get my way in a vote, and it doesn’t have to do with social drama. I quit because I love my PTA and my school that much.
When my oldest child started kindergarten, I was thrust into the PTA. My neighbors, who were also parents at the school, convinced me to take a position on the board. They did it in that way that we always do when we’re desperate for someone to fill a volunteer position. They promised it would be so easy! I would get lots of help! I can do it all from home! And with a new kindergartner, a 3-year-old, and a newborn, I needed to be assured of all those things in order to agree.
For some reason, I said yes to being the volunteer coordinator. I had never volunteered at the school, I did not know what the volunteer opportunities were, and I only knew a few parents at the school. I was obviously perfect for the job.
I spent the next five years on the board, two as the volunteer coordinator, and three as treasurer. As unprepared as I was for these responsibilities, I loved it. (Insert plug for serving as your school’s treasurer. It is the best kept secret in PTA!) And now, here I am, starting my sixth year as a parent at this school, and I have stepped down from all of my PTA responsibilities.
When I came onto the board as a new kinder mom, I figured out why I was heavily recruited. Almost the entire PTA board from the previous year had left the school. Some had graduated out with their kids, and some left the school because they all transferred to a new charter school. It left our PTA with a volunteer void. The parents that remained had to scrape together an entirely new group and make plans from scratch. Everyone was unprepared and navigating the newness together. It taught me how important it is to take turns with leadership so that institutional knowledge isn’t hoarded among a small group of parents. Because when they leave the school, their experiences leave with them.
My kids’ elementary school is a “Lighthouse” school, meaning that it instills values of leadership into all aspects of their school experience. PTA provides parents with the opportunity to model that kind of leadership too. And by stepping down from my position on the board, I am sharing a leadership opportunity. If I hoarded that opportunity, I could certainly continue to serve and further deepen my relationship with the principal, staff, and teachers. But at that point, who am I doing it for?
Good leadership is about service, not about self-promotion or power. I don’t want to control the school, or make sure everything is done the way I’d do it. I serve in leadership for my kids and their classmates. And it’s better for them to have more than just a few parents they see around the halls.
So I decided that my job this year was to step down and give someone else a turn, while being available to help with a smooth transition so the next treasurer doesn’t feel overwhelmed.
There is another reason I quit this year. All three of my kids are at one school for one year. I’ve been looking forward to this precious year since my youngest was born and I did the math. One school drop off and pick up, one PTA, one fundraiser, one cafeteria to visit for lunches. I had long ago decided that this would be my year to drop the PTA board and spend my volunteer time really investing in each of their classrooms.
Enter 2020, and add my perfect plan to its long list of casualties. Instead of finally having all my kids in school all day…they are home with me. And instead of volunteering in their classes when I have time, I’m managing their Google Classrooms and their three uncoordinated schedules, while working full-time for the first time in my life. And when the kids get to go to school in person, I’m sure there will not be any volunteering in their classrooms or eating lunch with them in the cafeteria.
Education experts have told us over and over that parent involvement makes a good school great. So I’m still a member of PTA, and I’ll be there to help and support in whatever ways I can. Because this, to me, is one of the most important things I can do to help my kids become successful learners and leaders.
Now, not every school has the luxury of parents lining up for PTA positions. (In reality, almost every PTA has to beg people to serve!) But if you are presented with the opportunity, and you can give the time, take the leap. You don’t have to do it for five years, or even two or three. It’s ok, and even sometimes the right thing, to step down and let someone else have a turn. You will know that the time you invest in your kids’ education by doing tedious volunteer work and event planning and check writing and report giving…it actually really matters. It takes the burden off of teachers to provide the “extras.” It helps bring the fun into school, which makes kids want to be there.
My favorite thing about being a PTA parent: walking down the hall and a child I barely know recognizes me and says, “Hi Finley’s mom!” They smile at you, and their eyes light up, because they associate you with the good things about their school. Those are the moments that keep you coming back. I may have quit PTA this year, but that doesn’t mean I’m out for good.