WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW BEFORE YOU JOIN THE PTA

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By Marcela Ferreira

So, your child is starting school for the first time.  You are excited, nervous, happy and worried all at the same time.

And then, however prepared you thought you were, you find yourself thrown into the choppy waters of Primary School, waist deep in uniforms, school trips, name tags, PE kits, nits, late slips, breakfast clubs and endless birthday parties.

Then you suddenly receive your first correspondence from the Parent Teacher Association – aka the PTA.

What do you do?

Do you take a deep breath and dive in head first even though you won’t know a single person there or do you shake your head and paddle away, secure in the knowledge that it just isn’t ‘your kind of thing?’ 

I know how intimidating a first meeting with the PTA can be.  Standing around watching the veterans laugh.  Listening to well-rehearsed banter covering years of shared events and private jokes, whilst you are alone reading the three bullet point agenda again and again, willing the meeting to start. Trust me, I’ve been there.

But the truth is, most of us worry about the same thing.  Is the PTA full of over-achievers, party-types, tee-totallers, sporty parents, single-parents, stay at home parents, thespian-types, yummy mummies, slummy mummies, people like you and me? Most probably. 

PTAs are usually made up of a mix of very different people, and that is exactly what makes it so powerful.  Some you will like and others you might not.  But you will all get along because of one single shared goal: influencing the experience your child has school for the better.  And that is always a worthy cause. 

I was committee chair of my children’s pre-school for four years and what we achieved there made a big difference to them, and to me.  Which brings me to the surprising bi-product of what can come out of your involvement with the PTA:  improved self-confidence!  Especially if you have opted to be a stay at home parent. No matter how confident you are, baby company can (and often does) chip away at it.  That was certainly the case for me – until I had to write emails, make calls, chair meetings, fundraise and help run events.  And though it was difficult and often stressful, it paved the way for bigger things later on.

I know that if you are looking in from the outside, PTAs can seem cliquey and exclusive, but that has not been my experience.  Once you are in, you will be too busy helping organise events with tight schedules, few volunteers and zero budget to be worrying about much else. 

But being part of it can be a lot of fun too.  The shared sense of achievement, of working together, of making positive changes is pretty great. And you will forge new friendships – some more important than you could have expected. 

So, should you join your PTA? 

First, get the facts.  Ask the school about the PTA, check if they have a website or are active on social media.  Talk to current members - what are their plans? What do they need? What does the school need? What do you think it needs?  Could you help them, and if so how? What else could you bring to the table? Just make sure you are realistic about how much you could or want to do - there is no point in over promising.

Like everything, PTAs aren’t perfect. There is a lot of compromise, hard work and frustration, but a lot of reward too.  And if you are still on the fence consider this: at my children’s school, the PTA raises between 30-40K a year, and that has meant new books, playground equipment, Forest School, iPads, author visits, school trips and more recently a defibrillator! All which have played their part in enhancing the curriculum and the experience.

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And if joining really isn’t your thing, or if you just haven’t got the time, there are still other ways that you might be able to support them without committing too many evenings to the cause.  Raffle sales, minding a stand at the summer fair, taking part in a fun run – it all helps, and they will be forever grateful for your support.

If I haven’t convinced you to give it a go, then let me leave you with this. The PTA might not be your cup of tea, but the fact they volunteer their time (with zero pay) to support your child in school means they at least deserve your respect.