On the PTA Precipice

I’ve done it.  I’ve gone and volunteered for the PTA (equivalent) at my boys’ school (or, as my sister-in-law would say, my school).  Amusingly, I am the Volunteer Coordinator, the second last job to be taken up.  Why did I choose it?  I didn’t really – I just asked where the help was most needed.

My boys attend a public alternative school, and this school’s mandate states upfront that there is a greater expectation of voluntarism among parents than at regular schools.  Still, and maybe inevitably, there are needs that go unmet, and I suppose it would be helpful for someone dedicated to this issue.

I’m more introvert than extrovert, and I don’t relish being the Volunteer Policemom in the soccer field that no one makes eye contact with.  But I’m doing it anyway.  The truth is I’ve been kind of waiting for the opportunity to be more involved in the workings of my boys’ school.  Last year with a newborn and two boys five and three, I couldn’t do it, but now my baby’s sleeping more and so am I.  Don’t get me wrong; it’s still not convenient.  I’m not exactly lolling about in blankets of extra time with three kids six and under.  Volunteering in this way is also kind of expensive:  since my husband works nights, I have to book sitters for the frequent council meetings.  But even so, I’m looking forward to it.

The bottom line is that I’m really grateful for the holistic education this school offers.  I’ve been entirely satisfied with it so far, and since I plan to spend many years here (recall afore-mentioned baby), I’d like to make a more meaningful contribution than the occasional classroom volunteering I’ve done so far.

I’ve heard the stories of never-ending PTA demands and volunteer burnout and maternal guilting.  But I remain optimistic.  I admire the people who desired an alternative for their children’s education, and then had the wherewithal to make it happen.  I want to be part of the body that makes this huge project go, and to be participate in the organization that makes important decisions that directly impact my kids.  And I’d like to get to know other people who feel the same way.

Just wait, you may be saying silently to yourself, she doesn’t know what she’s getting herself into.  I can hardly argue with that, but I’ll soon  find out.  My first meeting’s tomorrow, and there is one thing we can probably all agree on:  I’m in for an education myself.


Volunteering at Kindergarten Class

Last fall, I volunteered twice in my older son Sam’s kindergarten classroom.  Because I’m able to drop off and pick Sam up from school sometimes, I had a sense of his teacher and his school surroundings, but still felt like it might be nice to be more involved.

The first time I volunteered was on a class trip (to the lovely musical A Year with Frog and Toad ) – this required taking a day off work. There were 17 parent volunteers for the 40 kindergarteners!  As a newbie parent, I noticed that I was assigned just to Sam and no other kids, while the more seasoned parents got up to four kids to watch.  So it was just Sam and me, which turned out to be helpful in the play, because when Sam was frightened by the ghost story scene, he could just turn in my lap and bury himself in my neck.

The second time was just a regular day in the class, although I noticed Sam’s teacher kind of self-consciously told me that in fact it wasn’t a regular day as the kids were kind of celebrating the holidays.  I served even less of a purpose this time, as the kids were either engaged in either free play or in activities directed by the teacher which required no assistance.  However, I did sharpen all the stubby pencil crayons at the art centre.  Oh, and when Sam didn’t want to watch the Grinch video, he didn’t have to, and we played (with gusto) in the sand table (filled with cornmeal) instead.

What did I learn from these volunteer activities?  Well, not a whole lot, in some ways.  Certainly I gained no Insight into Sam’s overall learning process.  And sharpening those pencil crayons, I could think of a few other things I’d rather have been doing.

Still, I’m not sorry I went.  I got to know his teacher even better.  I have a greater sense of who Sam’s schoolmates are and how they play together.  On the school trip, I met a number of the children’s parents, many of whom have older children at the school, and I learned more about the school community.  I felt a little more a part of things.

Amongst the best reasons for being there was Sam’s obvious pleasure and comfort that I had come.  He doesn’t assign a value to my presence based on my ability to make some tangible contribution: he just likes having me in his world.  It’s kind of refreshing.

Just last week, Sam asked me if I could volunteer in his classroom again.  Pencil crayon stubs floated before my eyes, and I hesitated.  But I know I will.  Of course I will.