Question: No question - Reflections On My PTO Service

Stepping up on my soap box… I was familiar with the “80/20 Principle” or Pareto’s Law, which basically states that 80% of an outcome comes from 20% of the effort. For this particular rant, I’m talking about volunteering and service. I have been a volunteer my entire life. While I can be pessimistic about many things, I refuse to believe people don’t care and aren’t capable of amazing acts of kindness. Naive? Possibly. But what is the alternative? While I am not currently working for a non-profit, something I hope to return to one day, I am still a “public servant.” Surprisingly the bureaucracy of the Federal government doesn’t leave me with a warm and tingly feeling, so I have to get my service fix elsewhere. I volunteer for several organizations that I am passionate about, lobby/petition for important causes, and donate money as often as I can. I do this for several reasons, but primarily to show my children that caring for others is our duty as human beings. Plus, I challenge ANYONE to say that helping others is not personally rewarding. And while that feeling of service is amazing, and it really is, I find myself struggling lately. The cause? The Parent Teacher Organization. Yes. The PTO has made me question my passion for service. We are not from this state and have only lived here a few years. My son is a kindergartener in a public school, in a town with underperforming schools, underpaid teachers, and signs of separatism long thought to have been eradicated in the 60s. But I am a firm believer in public education, good teachers, and involved parents. I started this school year wide-eyed and ready to serve…and was quickly hit with an unpleasant reality check. The 80/20 rule was alive and well in the school AND in the PTO. I often struggle with different views and philosophies, but pride myself on trying to understand the opposing side with patience and grace. It is ok that we all don’t believe in the same things! My motto has always been, “as long as you aren’t hurting anyone else or yourself, believe what you want.” But trying to comprehend why more parents are not involved in their child’s education or not supporting their child’s school is mind-boggling. I understand many families are not as lucky as ours. We have very good educations and jobs, we have a clean house and full refrigerator, we can pay for extra-curricular activities (or private school), and I can pick my children up from school instead of paying for a sitter or aftercare. But I don’t think being civic-minded requires those things. Having the will to serve is all that one needs. We are all capable of contributing in some way with our different talents, ideas, and community connections. It just requires being present. I once heard a coworker say they were tired of being guilt-tripped into giving money or time to organizations; that they worked hard for what they had. I’ve also heard other parents say they are too busy to attend school functions or be active in the PTO. It is impossible to give time, energy, and money to every cause that needs it. But what is more important than our children or grandchildren...or future? In an era of the 80 hour work week, over-scheduled and over-tested children, and reduced school budgets, organizations like the PTO can help reward students and teachers, repair/replace worn out and dangerous facilities, upgrade technology, purchase much needed supplies for teachers, read to classrooms, and show students the results of service. Why parents and communities are not embracing our schools and PTO is beyond my comprehension. Is this a local phenomenon? Am I just an outsider that doesn’t understand “the way things have always been done?” Or is this a nation-wide issue? Gauging our national education achievement statistics, I tend to believe the latter. I may not have made a good case for why more parents, community members, or businesses should support public schools during this little tirade. And I may either be “preaching to the choir” or alienating others. The latter was certainly not my intention. My goal was, well, to vent. But as I continued to type, I really realized it was to testify. Will I continue to serve in the PTO? You bet. Because despite the frustration with 20% of the parents doing 80% of the work, the look on my child’s face when he sees me at school, or the warm smile from his teacher and principal when they see me hurriedly walking the halls with some new idea, is worth it. Stepping off my soap box to go count Box Tops for Education and enter MyCoke Rewards...

Asked by Anonymous



Community Advice

gjcoram writes:
I read a statistic recently about how the average American watches some 30 hours of TV per week (according to Nielsen). I can't wrap my head around that: 5 hours per day? What if people spent just half of that volunteering?

Community Advice

mum24kids writes:
Amen. I've been volunteering at the same school for the last 10 years, and there is has been an astounding decrease in the number of people willing to spend any time volunteering. In a school with 1600+ potential parent volunteers, I could not find 15 parents willing to work a one time, 2 hour shift for an event a few days ago. Thank heavens for high school students who need volunteer hours!

I get that I'm not the average parent, and I love volunteering at school and am willing to spend huge numbers of hours on it. But really--you can't come in and help at one event during the whole school year?

Community Advice

deipurple writes:
I totally relate to your "rant." I feel the 80/20 principal was true at the younger grades (K - 2nd) now it seems to be more like 80/10 (3rd-4th) and seems to be worse in the middle school. But I am starting to understand that the few that are willing to volunteer are being treated in such a way that any and all enthusiasm for it is sucked right out of them. The atmosphere at our schools is so negative from the teachers and the parents. It is quite sad.

Community Advice

CVSDvolunteer writes:
Its EVERYWHERE!! Schools, churches, civic organizations, etc. You name it and the 80/20 rule exists. Usually people with the most to give, tend to give the least. People tend to be 'self-serving' meaning, if it doesn't serve them personally, they won't bother. At our meeting in January, we will send out a TOP TEN flyer to our parents, naming the 'TOP TEN THINGS YOU DIDN'T KNOW ABOUT YOUR PTO'. We will specifically name the things we raise money for like field trips assemblies, etc. including things people thought their district tax dollars paid for. We pay for so much for our students and do so much for them, that its time our parents (whether they decide to engage or not) be made aware of all that goes on behind the scenes. Its time they know that our group is not a 'Coffee Club' but that we have a purpose, mission statement, and meaning as to why we exist. We'll see if that gets us anymore volunteers (fingers crossed).

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