By Shelley Murphy
Parent Teacher Organization (PTO), Parent Teacher Fellowship (PTF), and Parent-Teacher Student Association (PTSA) are volunteer organizations similar to the national Parent Teacher Association (PTA); and like PTA, these familiar acronyms evoke a fight-or-flight response in many parents.
On Feb. 17, PTA members nationwide commemorate Founders’ Day by celebrating the legacy of its co-founders, Alice McLellan Birney and Phoebe Apperson Hearst, who 120 years ago shared the goal of eliminating threats that endangered children.
I wish I could claim my reasons for joining the PTA were entirely rooted in noble ideals such as becoming a role model for my kids and demonstrating the importance of volunteering in our community.
Although I don’t remember much about attending my first PTA meeting more than 15 years ago, I do remember my inspiration for joining the parent group: my boys.
I chose to become a stay-at-home mom to have a role in my kids’ day-to-day lives. When my boys started elementary school, their enrollment modified my job description and, fearing unemployment, I joined the PTA.
Signing up for the PTA put me on a slippery volunteer slope. Before I knew it, I found myself waging wars with copy machines, cutting reams of construction paper into colorful shapes and spending hours stapling and sorting flyers for backpacks.
Those gateway tasks led to taking on the job titles of room mom, committee chairperson and executive board member.
The mere mention of PTA causes parents of school-aged kids to react much like foodies respond to mayonnaise: they either love it or hate it. It’s my experience that most parents base their PTA opinions on personal experience or perpetuated stereotypes.
The 1968 chart-topping song “Harper Valley PTA” paved the way for poking fun at the PTA and its members. The movie Bad Moms and television show Big Little Lies each depict characters who choose to spend their time stirring the proverbial PTA pot.
Sure, there might be some overzealous PTA parents, but there are also many underappreciated PTA members quietly improving school communities and positively affecting change for children.
I’ve been on both sides of the great PTA divide. For years I championed the PTA. Then, when my older son entered middle school, I facilitated founding one of the first middle school educational foundations in our town because of my frustrations with the PTA.
I’m quite sure it’s not a coincidence that the day after National PTA Founders’ Day is National Drink Wine Day.
Today, most of our town’s schools rely on motivated and dedicated parents volunteering in both PTAs and educational foundations to enhance student education.
Whether it’s supporting from the sidelines or serving in the trenches, research shows that students with parents involved in their schools perform better academically and suffer fewer disciplinary problems.
One of the greatest rewards reaped from my years spent as a PTA parent are the surprising friendships I found spanning several school multipurpose rooms. As a young mom, I didn’t know it yet, but many of the strangers I’d meet at September’s new parent orientations would become my close friends before June’s year-end class parties.
Throughout the years, my boys outgrew many of their elementary and middle school friendships; but today, several of the smart, strong, energetic, empathic and funny moms I met through PTA are still among my most treasured girlfriends.
Overall, I have no regrets from my PTA past (well, maybe I’d take back agreeing to serve on the nominating committee). At times though, I do admit to questioning my sanity when family and friends would roll their eyes as I recounted the politics of the last PTA meeting I attended.
My days as a parent volunteer are in the past and I’m no longer front and center in my kids’ day-to-day lives. Today, more and more of my boys’ lives happen far away from me. My PTA career is over, but I still retain my favorite job title: mom.
Shelley Murphy has lived in San Clemente with her husband for the past 18 years, where she raised her two sons. She’s a freelance writer and has been a contributor to the San Clemente Times since 2006.