The words were out of my mouth before I had a chance to stop them. It was as if I had been possessed by some sort of super keen, eager to please, alter ego. My hand shot up and I uttered the fateful words
“Yes, I’ll organise the Summer Fair, no problem”.
Screamed my inner self,
“You went into this committee meeting planning to stand down and you are coming out with the task of running the Summer Fair hanging over your head. For the love of God woman, what is the matter with you?”
A very, very good question.
In the eleven years that I have been the parent of a school age child I have sat on five different PTA committees at five different schools. Some have been fantastic, some have been dire and some hovered in the murky middle ground between the two. At the end of the next school year my PTA days will be over as the Tween joins the Teen at high school where there is no active committee. This is a good thing as
(a) I will feel no pressure to join up
(b) After many years of fairs, fetes, bingo nights, meetings, sub-meetings, quiz events, curry dos, summer balls and christmas parties; my energy, ideas and enthusiasm are on the wane.
It was in this frame of mind that I entered the most recent meeting, planning a graceful departure to make way for new blood. As you know, this did not go to plan, and as I am sitting here, ostensibly making lists and plans for the summer fair 2015, I feel the need to share my accumulated PTA knowledge. Here are my tips for surviving your school PTA:-
- Get to know your committee types for they will be present in every PTA…
- The teaching staff reps. Make no mistake, they do not want to be here. Either the Head Teacher made them or they drew the short straw in the staff room ballot. They have piles of marking, lessons to plan, homes to go to and little to no interest in fund-raising if it involves giving up their time out of working hours.
- The old timers. They have been sitting on the same committee since time began. Parents of large families, the time span between their oldest and youngest being at the school means that they qualify for the PTA long service award. They are jaded, bitter, know everything and will greet every suggestion with tutting and eye rolling before dragging up an incident a thousand years ago when they tried that idea and it was a disaster.
- The style over substance gang. Brimming with amazing ideas and suggestions this crowd go oddly silent when actual volunteers are actually needed to actually organise stuff.
- The why did you bother turning up brigade. They faithfully turn up to every meeting but wouldn’t say boo to a goose and spend the whole time being completely silent and avoiding all eye contact.
- The boardroom babes. They either gave up a high powered job to have a family or juggle their chidlren with their executive roles. They approach every event like a boardroom merger and would make excellent candiates on The Apprentice. They arrive late to every meeting just to make the point of how busy they are. Too busy, generally, to be of much physical use to anyone.
- The work horses. These are the ones who get the job done. They are the same faces who appear first and leave last at every event. They may dread every meeting and secretly fantasize about leaving but then the school buys something amazing with funds they have raised and it all somehow seems worthwhile. The work horses are often predisposed to a bit of martyrdom but everyone make allowances. You can’t afford to offend a work horse – who else would get the job done?
2. Don’t imagine that your children will be proud of your PTA committment. It is just further evidence of your continued mission to ruin their lives. As the Teen would say, total social suicide.
3. Accept that PTA committee meetings are 90 minutes of your life that you will never get back. People really can spend half an hour debating which colour raffle ticket to use. Try to breathe through it in a zen-like fashion. I find drawing little caricature doodles of other committee members helps pass the time.
4. Being on the PTA will not make you the teacher’s friend. They will be no kinder, friendlier, more or less lenient on your offspring just because you know how to fold a trestle table and can rustle up a tray of cup cakes at 20 minutes notice.
5. Think before you speak. On a personal level I could really benefit from this advice. Frustrating as it is when no-one steps up to take on a task, leaping into the void to volunteer may not always be the answer. Only take on what you can physically find time to do and remember that what sounds like a few little jobs will invariably amount to a whole lot of time and energy. Be selective and everyone will benefit.
6. Keep the faith. The PTA is a pretty thankless task. It is an endless round of trying to get people to do stuff – parents to help out at events, new members to join the committee, local business to give to raffle prizes, all your friends and family to buy the raffle tickets, pupils to bring in cakes/dress in red/wear their PJs to school. Some of the time (OK, a lot of the time) it may feel that pushing water up a hill with a broken sieve would be both easier and more satisfying. Don’t give up. When the whole school community is on the field in the sunshine for the summer fair, or when your child/ren are in the midst of a sweaty mass leaping around in the hall at the PTA disco, or when the Head Teacher takes possession of a brand new minibus that you helped raise money to buy – then it will be worth it.
Take a breath, enjoy the afterglow, and bottle that feeling for the next time you are about to pen your committee resignation letter. Oh, and make sure you don’t leave your doodled caricartures lying around the staff room. People don’t seem to see the funny side…