The totally worthless PTO

Our eldest child started kindergarten last week. It was an exciting time in our family and a big step for her. My husband took his last available vacation days to be able to see her off to school and be here to welcome her home for most of her first week. Kendall enjoyed every bit of this new experience and is already enthusiastic about everything related to school.

I am decidedly less enthusiastic with this experience so far. The car line during drop off as well as pick up is long and unorganized. Her teacher doesn’t believe in giving virtually any homework, leaving me at the mercy of my 5-year-old to enlighten me about what she’s done all day and how I can help reinforce her lessons at home. The little work I have seen seems silly and not challenging her skill level at all. But, I’m a former kindergarten teacher myself and I know that many of the things I am taking issue with will improve quickly as the school year progresses. But the PTO… they seem worthless with no hope of change.

My understanding of a Parent Teacher Organization was that it is an opportunity for the school faculty and administration to meet with a group of interested parents to make sure that everyone is working as a cohesive team so the children would be getting the most from this experience. The school could request needed volunteers, supplies, tutors, mentors and any other type of general help that parents could provide. Parents would have this opportunity to voice concerns about school policies, procedures and have general input about the goings on at the place our children now spend a majority of their time. That is not at all what this is.

First, I had to pay a membership fee to join the PTO. Pay?! For What?! Why should I pay to join an all volunteer organization that is mutually beneficial to both interested parties. The fee was minimal, only $12, but I was annoyed with it being required at all. What benefit am I, my child, or even this school getting from my husband’s hard earned $12?! Our family already provided all the supplies my daughter should need for the year, paid an annually assessed student fee and even bought a magnet for our car emblazoned with the school’s emblem which were being sold as a fundraiser. I read through some of the literature passed out at the school’s “Meet The Teacher Day” and learned that all the money would be going to the school for technology purchases and to build sun shades of the school’s playgrounds. I can get behind that. So I decided to pay.

I went to a membership drive the PTO was holding in the school’s cafeteria on the first day of classes. PTO members were easily identifiable by their matching shirts with the school’s logo, their name and their position on the PTO board embroidered on the chests. This was the one and only thing that would qualify these people as organized. They couldn’t be bothered to stop chatting amongst themselves to notice anyone had walked in the room. They forgot to bring membership forms and membership cards. They basically set up some juice, muffins and a cashbox with a woman who was more than happy to accept my check. Beyond that, no one gave a moment’s thought about that “membership drive.” It was laughable.

After paying the membership fee, I quickly left because the PTO members were quite wrapped up in their own conversations and didn’t seem interested in being welcoming at all. The minimal interactions I had with these women left me feeling like I was interrupting a private party.

So, what exactly is the point of this particular organization? Apparently, it is all about fundraising and event planning. From what I have learned from their literature and the school’s website, all they plan to do this year is organize a few after school events and raise money. I definitely agree that the school could use more money. School budgets in this country are ridiculous. Administration and faculty in our schools are generally asked to do so much with very little financial resources. I’m all about raising money to benefit my child’s school. After school events are a fabulous way to maintain a student’s enthusiasm and interest in school. But, is that really all this group of people can do?

By joining this type of organization, a parent is obviously stating that they are interested in being involved in their child’s school and education. So, why aren’t they doing anything that will actually help the school other than throwing money at it? Why are these PTO members in their crisp, matching shirts not standing outside in the car line ensuring that the line is moving efficiently and safely? Why weren’t they in the halls in the first week guiding frightened kindergarteners to their classroom in what, to them, must be a scary new world? Why was there no list of available volunteer opportunities in the cafeteria the morning of the membership drive to show the many ways we could really help this school do its terribly important work? I was baffled.

The more time I spend stewing over this issue the more I have come to the following conclusion: this group is, by all outward appearances, a totally worthless PTO. I have absolutely no desire to join a group of women more interested in creating a new social circle for themselves than they are in getting down to the business of work. This is going to be an issue for me. I lack the self control to not speak up at their meetings and blow those women right out of the water.

I worked in a school that had minimal parent involvement. There is no PTO at that school. Not because the parents don’t care, but instead because these families have, on average, a very low income. Families in that school generally consist of hard working parents who simply don’t have the time off of work, transportation or childcare available to commit to actively helping the school. They wouldn’t have the $12 to spare to join a PTO. Those families don’t pay a student fee and don’t get a school supply list. The principal  budgets the money needed to provide all necessary supplies for every student. Teachers and other staff bring their children’s old clothes and shoes to the school for the kids who arrive without a jacket or wearing ill fitting shoes, a common problem in my former school. I feel honored to have worked there, but I can definitely think of numerous ways that a few well placed volunteers could have helped to make our school better, our days smoother and improve their children’s education.

I am annoyed that my daughter’s school is content to have this group do little more than raise money. I am appalled that these parents are using this (terribly unorganized) organization as nothing more than their own opportunity to socialize. They are not going to be happy to have taken my money and invited me to their meetings. I cannot wait to find out when we will all be rolling up our sleeves to actually work to make this school even better. If they’re not interested in actually doing work to help this school, I’m going to make sure they’re at least forced to acknowledge it out loud.

Join the PTO? I’d be happy to! Where do I sign up?



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