What Teachers Don't Love About PTOs

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Despite the best of intentions, some of the things parent groups do can drive teachers crazy.

by Patti Ghezzi


It’s not that teachers don’t love parent groups. It’s not that they aren’t grateful for the money raised, the volunteer hours logged, and the awesome display of parent involvement. It’s just that some teachers wish their school’s parent group spent a little more time listening.

A few of them shared their thoughts with us, although they wouldn’t disclose their names or schools for fear of offending involved moms and dads. Here are some things that teachers told us frustrate them about parent groups, and how you can avoid becoming an offender.

Teachers long for communication.

You know how important it is to have good communication with teachers; perhaps you’ve been trying to recruit a teacher liaison for months. Even if your school’s teachers can’t be as involved as you’d like, it’s important to find ways to keep them in the loop.

“Sometimes decisions are made by the PTA in a vacuum,” says a former PTA vice president who is now an elementary school teacher. “These rarely work out.” The timing of an event may be bad, or it may not be related to the curriculum. “Like everything else in life, the answer is effective communication from all parties.”

Such effective communication doesn’t happen just through teachers attending meetings. “Unfortunately, that isn’t where the nitty-gritty details are worked out,” the leader-turned-teacher says. “Parents understandably want to get things done,...so it will take follow-up conversations. Usually it works out OK, but sometimes teachers are surprised.”

Teachers need a say in scheduling.

After putting hours into planning an enrichment program, it can be frustrating to hear teachers complain about the timing of the event. But despite your best intentions, you may have disrupted their already tight classroom schedules.

“I like it when [the] PTO organizes events for students, but I wish they would poll teachers first,” a longtime educator says. “We have had things planned for semester test week without much warning. There has to be a culture in the building of asking the stakeholders whether the event scheduled is worth it and if the timing is good. This has to be enforced by building administrators.”

Teachers want a voice in how money is spent.

Your parent group may be eager to put its hard-earned fundraising proceeds to work, but be careful not to spend the money on things that only parents want.

“PTAs must treat teachers as if they are partners,” says Gerald E. Gary, who teaches leadership in the education college at Walden University. “There is a perception by many parents that since they put on the fundraisers, they have the right to determine what supplies teachers can and cannot purchase for their classrooms with these funds....Teachers want to be asked what they need to do their jobs better, as opposed to being given items they have no desire in using and will not use.”

Teachers want less paperwork.

It drives teachers crazy to have to spend a lot of time doing paperwork for parent group activities. They might not mind passing out fundraising forms, for example, but they don’t want to have to sort and organize all the materials. The simpler you can make the work for them, the better. The attitude that the money is “for them” so they shouldn’t mind doing the work misses the fact that teachers have many other tasks to worry about. They are protective of valuable classroom time, and small interruptions can be frustrating.

Likewise, many parent groups award mini grants for teacher needs and projects, but teachers sometimes find the application process to be out of proportion to the size of the award. They would prefer a more streamlined process.

Teachers also dislike being penalized when it comes to money. For instance, offering grants only to teachers who attend a specific PTO meeting invites bad feelings. So does dividing fundraising money based on how much a class raises. “I ran into one parent-teacher council mom who said that if your class didn’t sell anything, then your class should not be able to use any of the money,” a teacher recalls. “Yikes!”

Says Gary: “PTAs must ensure that they are fair and consistent in how funds are given out to faculty. If there is even the appearance that funds are not being distributed fairly, it tears down morale and teachers lose any interest they had in helping the organization be more successful.”

Teachers want to feel welcome at meetings.

When teachers don’t show up at PTO meetings, it’s easy to put the blame squarely in their corner; however, faculty members who do come sometimes feel like guests, not members. They would prefer to be treated as participants and to be given a say in group issues.

A parent group with a core of organizers can be perceived as “exclusive and cliquish,” one middle school teacher says. Whether the label is deserved or not, this turns off parents and staff members alike, leading to diminished participation and effectiveness.

Teachers also wish parents understood that they might miss night meetings because they are attending a meeting at their own child’s school or have some other commitment. Their inability to attend a meeting should not be perceived as apathy.

Teachers need parents to be reasonable.

The involved parent who wants special treatment can leave a teacher exasperated. “Just because you are an officer of the PTO, that does not mean your child gets special consideration,” says a science teacher at a rural elementary school. “All students are treated fairly and equally.”

The teacher adds: “Please do not come into my class to chat and think it’s OK since you are already in the building on PTO business.”

And here’s another don’t-let-this-be-you story from a Georgia teacher who reports that she had only positive experiences with PTOs until last year. “These PTO moms were in the school building every day volunteering and fundraising, which is great,” she says. “But they also wanted grades changed and for their children not to be disciplined or face the consequences if they broke a rule. If a teacher tried to stand her ground, these PTO moms would make school life miserable.”

Teachers want to work together with you.

With every complaint, teachers reiterate how wonderful their parent group is. Teachers and parent groups have much more common ground than divisions, they say. Most of their concerns can be addressed through more open communication. “If PTAs would simply send out a survey to teachers asking them how they could be more supportive,” Gary says, “it would open the door to some great dialogue that would create a win-win for both parties.”


# michelle white 2008-10-15 02:10
At the end of the year, we give the teachers a check for a certain amount of money to be used as they wish for their classrooms. Also around November, we give the teachers wishes for their rooms. These wishes are posted on a giving tree inside the school. When parents come to their conference's, they pick a wish off the tree and purchase that item. This ensures the teachers get the items they want for their rooms. Also don't forget the school nurse ,physical ed, and all other instructors at the school.
# Stacey Raisanen 2008-10-16 18:34
I liked the article. I remember falling into several of the "traps" that were mentioned in this article. After about a year or two of being a PTO officer, I remembered to check on scheduling, etc. Most of the things we did were for the families to come spend time with their children at no cost for the event. This made the school seem friendlier and allowed parents to be at school for something fun and not when kids were in trouble for something. I know it sounds strange, but some parents are only there if there is something wrong.
We also gave teachers books from Book Fairs, supplies for class, and if a curriculum related event came to town, we would spring for the field trip costs as it was not in the budget. I do like the wish tree for the rooms mentioned in the comments by Michelle. I will pass it on!
# Elizabeth Renfroe 2008-11-06 14:29
The best thing our principal did for me as a new PTO president was invite me to the first leadership team meeting (made up of teachers from every department and grade level.). When I saw and heard how much is involved in their must do day to day activities, I was amazed. I really had no idea. Now I'm very careful to think of what is best for the teachers and students anytime a new idea is brought up or mentioned.

Everything has gone smoothly and I find that the teachers are much more supportive of the special things we want to do and the PTO is much more supportive of what is best for the classes in general.

Communication and common sense go a long way in PTO relationships.
# lynn 2008-11-12 02:10
We have a PTO at our school however our teacher's do not attend our meetings. We provide many great assets to our school but have found it extremely difficult to get the teacher's to attend the meetings. Any ideas? Our organization is profitable and we have provided surveys and not rec'd any negative feedback.
# Kim 2008-11-12 03:36
Contact the President of the teacher's union/organization (if there is one) to have a one on one to answer your questions. That will provide you the direct feedback you are looking for as well as a great foundation for future dialog. I have found this to be quite effective at my school.
# Lori 2008-11-12 22:43
What questions did you ask the teacher union?
# Lisa 2008-11-13 15:02
One thing I have made a habit of since I first took office is to speak to the teachers at their staff meetings. I ask the Principal for 5-10 minutes of time at the start of their meetings and usually speak 3 times during the year (Sept, Jan, June). It's a great communication tool where I introduce myself, extend my hand and keep them informed on main topics (latest fundraiser, etc). We've had better teacher participation at our PTO meetings and better communication between us. Like they say, if the mountain can't come to Mohamed....

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