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The Great Volunteer Debate

By Megan Hook

My kids aren’t the only ones headed back to school. I am too. And as excited as I am to add some structure and routine back in our lives, I’ll be honest: the early morning chaos, the “I can’t find one of my shoes!” daily drama, the lies—LIES!—about not having homework, all of it weighs heavily on my summertime heart. But of all the things I’ll miss most about summertime, it’s that radio silence from the PTA moms who—for just those two-and-a-half months—have ceased to nag me for a donation or my time.

Yep. I said it. I am the anti-PTA mom.

PTA parents work hard, they volunteer their time, but that doesn’t mean I’m any less of a parent if I don’t.

Now I’m not against the PTA. They’re a fantastic bunch of dedicated people and without them our schools would be in even worse shape than they are now—that’s a fact. What has me a little less than fangirl over them is their tactics. They don't need to guilt me into volunteering and donating money by dangling a pizza party in front of my kids if I do my part.

Why don’t we keep this between us, ladies?

And yes, PTA parents work hard, they volunteer their time, they get up there at Back to School Night and talk about how hard they work, but that doesn’t mean I’m any less of a parent because I don’t. And it’s not just that I simply don’t want to volunteer my time—it’s that I can’t.

My other full-time job aside from being a parent, the one that pays me so I can donate to the PTA, is several cities away and requires a hellish morning and evening commute, which doesn’t allow me to be super volunteer mom too. The occasions I can’t make a play at 1 in the afternoon or an ice cream social right after school weigh guiltily on me as it is; I don’t need the judgmental eye of the moms who can, especially that alpha mom who also just-so-happens-to-be PTA President, not to mention the moms I see at drop-off in the morning prim and proper, make-up and hair perfectly in place, ready to take on the educational system while I’m just praying there’s a short line at Starbucks so I can get to work on time. As a single divorced working mom, I get enough side-eye glances as it is—I don’t need theirs too.

Can’t we just agree to disagree, Madam PTA President, that what works for you is great for you, and that’s fantastic, but I have to do what works best for me—which does not include attending board meetings at night or overseeing computer lab time during daytime hours I don’t have.

I’m happy to donate money and supplies, and I do. I will give you the kudos you deserve for going the extra mile for kids that aren’t yours—and I do. But when it comes to me, my time with my boys is precious and limited and reserved for my kids, and my kids alone. Don’t judge me for that.

Here are 12 ways busy moms can volunteer in the classroom:

The Great Volunteer Debate: Part 2

By Daphne Brogdon

I am one of the 15. You know the parents: In every school there are about 15 to 20 moms and dads who carry the load. We ask you to volunteer and donate. We are the most familiar faces at meetings. On Sunday when the school needs to painted or someone has to run the rummage sale, we are there. And, you know, I do resent those parents who don’t step up. It really pisses me off. The ones who don’t show when they say they will, don’t donate and don’t even bother to answer my emails. Yes, I judge these people.

With no parent support to champion the school, it died. That’s why I’m the head of the landscape committee at my daughter's school ... and that’s why I was a room parent this past year.

My daughter goes to a well-regarded California public school. That means it is underfunded. Like all public schools in this state our school is constantly under the threat of greater cutbacks. We don't have our own building, and we rent space from other entities. We have to fundraise to maintain our great teacher-student ratio and to pay the salaries of our PE, music and art teachers.

Do I love writing emails and calling parents to help? No. Do I look forward to the summer and want the whole parent body to vanish from every corner of my life till Labor Day? Yes, yes I do. I have work, friends and yoga classes I’d like to go to. I have the same participation fatigue as everyone else. I also think, "I can’t weed and mulch on Christmas break. I can’t bring canned goods for the Thanksgiving drive. I can’t shake people’s ankles for a few dollars so that we have art supplies."

However, I know that education in the public realm has to be fought for. I went to one of the first alternative schools in Los Angeles. We were on the vanguard. Creativity was encouraged. But the Los Angeles Unified School District (I compare it to the Death Star) was unsympathetic to our goals. With no parent support to champion the school, it died.

That’s why I’m the head of the landscape committee at my daughter's school (and by "committee," I mean it’s me and one other mom who helps me out sometimes). That’s why I was a room parent this past year. That’s why I help sort the detritus we sell once a year at the garage sale. That’s why I donate every month automatically from our account. That’s why I’m cutting, pasting and laminating on the weekends to help the teacher.

Volunteering at your child’s school is a part-time job. You don’t have to be there for everything. Find the balance that works best between donating and volunteering.

My stepson went to a good private school that was very expensive. My husband was still asked to fundraise and volunteer. He always said yes. When we looked at schools for our younger children we knew, financially, two tuitions would be difficult, if not impossible, for us. But, we also felt that if we were to donate and volunteer we wanted to do it for a school that not only benefits our own children, but other children in the community who need to be raised up.

Our school is 40 percent Title I, Which means those kids qualify for free or reduced cost lunches. I know parents who can’t give much money, but get involved on the weekend to fix things at the school. I know well-off parents who donate big things. I don’t see a difference between means and involvement. I see a commitment from a parent.

Volunteering at your child’s school is a part-time job. You don’t have to be there for everything. Find the balance that works best between donating and volunteering. But, once in a while respond to your pleading room parent. Even the response is just a “wish I could, but I'm swamped right now.” Because it’s exhausting to feel you are the only one that cares.

Here are 12 ways busy moms can volunteer in the classroom:

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