Once upon a time, we loved our teachers. They were pillars of the community and respected by all. These days, we underpay, undervalue and undermine them at every available opportunity. We tell them to raise our children for us and then bitch and moan when we don't like the outcome. We pay them diddly squat (as low as $44K a year in some states), deprive them of properly funded schools and then wonder why those schools are crumbling. We pass nonsensical laws to micromanage their jobs and then yell at them when they fail to do what cannot be done. And to top it all off, we now have a religious nut with zero experience in education in charge of running the nation's school system.
Our teachers work long hours, sometimes until after 7 PM. Sometimes they're even in the school on the weekends (I've personally seen several work on Sundays). They spend their own money to buy supplies for their students. They don't drive expensive cars or live the high life, contrary to what many of their ignorant critics say. Then they go home, keep working and listen to politicians demonize them all year long, even during their "summer vacation" that they either spend tutoring, teaching summer school, or preparing for the next school year.
Welcome to America where being a teacher sucks.
But while we're fighting to reinstate sanity in our public education system, there's something you can do to alleviate some of the pressure on our hardworking teachers: Join the PTA.
The Parent Teacher Association (or Organization in some areas) is a group of parents who want to make things better in their local school. There are as many ways to do this as there are schools in America. Some work directly with the school to craft the curriculum. Others strengthen the bonds within the community. Still others raise enormous amounts of money to replace entire playgrounds.
My PTA has much more modest goals but I'd like to think we've made a lasting impression. For several years, we didn't even have a PTA. Then, starting 8 years or so ago, the William Ramsay Elementary PTA popped back into existence but couldn't maintain any kind of continuity between one year and the next. My first year was three years ago and it was chaos. We just lurched from one project to the next and very little got done. Fundraising was nonexistent and we burned through most of our bank account. Then everyone quit except for my wife and I. We recruited one other mom we knew, took over the following year and got to work.
In the last two years, we've:
- Replaced the auditorium projection screen ($1000).
- Bought a laminating machine for the teachers ($900).
- Funded 4 field trips for the 4th grade to the tune of $2000
- Started a monthly Family Movie Night that draws in over 100 kids per showing.
- Got the auditorium speakers working properly. Now it sounds like a real movie theater.
- Started having an annual Winter Dance for grades k-3 and a Graduation Dance in the Spring for grades 4 and 5.
- Bought a die cut machine with three die sets ($900)
- Introduced our heavily immigrant community to "Trunk-or-Treat" with over 400 kids coming to our first one. We expect 600 or more this year.
- Added a second microwave to the two teacher's lounges.
- Installed a fresh water filter to one of the lounges that delivers hot and cold water.
- Turned Teacher Appreciation Week into a week of food and joy for the entire school staff (Well over $1000 including 60 pounds of Easter candy).
- Donated thousands of dollars to the school to cover activities they couldn't afford.
I'm sure there's a lot I'm forgetting but we did all of that with just three parents last year and five of us this year. I'm regularly told by teachers that have been at our school for years that morale has never been this high; that the teachers have never felt so appreciated by our community.
That's what the PTA can do for your school.
I am not a PTA savant. I had no training and I quite literally asked three years ago, "What the heck does a PTA do?" After our president quit halfway through the year, I literally made it up as I went along. I learned how to raise money, how to navigate the school system, and how to organize through trial and error. It's not rocket science and you don't need anything more than time and the will to do it. I won't lie: It's a lot of work but it's some of the most rewarding work you'll ever do.
Two weeks ago, my principal explained to a gathering of parent volunteers that every dollar we donate to the school for activities and every penny we spend replacing equipment frees up money that they can now use for after school tutoring or to hire a new teacher. He said that he's never had a PTA produce so many results in such a short amount of time and that the idea of us leaving when our kids do is making him panic. Not bad for a handful of untrained but enthusiastic parents.
I happen to be a stay at home parent with a part-time job that gives me all the flexibility I could possibly want. If you're also a stay at home with all of your kids in school, you really have no excuse. But even if you're a working parent, donating just two days a month at your child's school makes all the difference in the world. Your kids will love that you're an active part of their school life. Their teachers will love seeing their community get involved. You will feel more connected to your children and your community than you ever thought possible.
Our teachers bust their ass for our kids every single day. Go show your teachers they're appreciated. If your school doesn't have a PTA, be the PTA. You'll never regret it.