To PTA or Not to PTA, That Is the Question


join the pta

When my daughter started elementary school, I was one of those bright-eyed parents who wanted to learn all they could to make my daughter’s school career amazing—for her and for me.  So, when the first PTA meeting of the year was held, I went. I did learn a lot, but I also learned that it was not for me. I appreciated all that they were doing for the school (assemblies, activities bus, teacher scholarships, movie nights, etc.) but they were not my “people.”  I helped where I could (becoming a member, donating items, some volunteering) but I didn’t go back to a meeting.

Never Say Never

Fast forward two years and I thought I would give it a try again. It was still not my thing, but I did find myself helping with the teacher appreciation events they had every month. Having been a teacher, I had a pretty good idea of what teachers wanted (and didn’t want) so I felt like I really had something to offer.

Occasionally, I would attend a meeting, but it was mostly to observe.  Fast-fast forward another 4 years and I found myself feeling major guilt because no one wanted to be the next PTA President, and if there wasn’t one, then PTA would no longer exist.  So, guess who put their hat in the ring? That’s right, me. Looking back, along with the guilt, I had seen the difference the PTA made at the school and some of the parents who had been in it had left. And personally, I think I was ready for the challenge.

I ended up being the PTA President for two years, attended two PTA state conferences in Virginia, and did the work to get the school a PTA School of Excellence label.  I also got a lot of personal satisfaction from it. We were a more inclusive group. Meetings were kept to one hour. Kids were invited to be there. We did fun things at the meetings. And if we didn’t have volunteers to run events, the events were cancelled. I know, cancelling an event! Well, I tell you what, it didn’t take more than one or two cancelled events before other parents started asking why and began showing up for meetings. None of us were going to kill ourselves to have events and feel unappreciated. We did not need that in our already busy lives. We were more aware of what we needed as parents in order to support the school.  

Part way through my first year as President, we had a member who began organizing PTA moms’ nights out.  No one was left out, even dad’s, but it was a time for us to be social and get to know each other so we could be better PTA members and better supporters of the school. It didn’t hurt that we had an AMAZING Principal.  That can make or break a PTA. In fact, she and several teachers would join us when we would go out. My husband bought me a VIP table at the Mount Vernon Wine Festival for my birthday one year and all 11 guests were part of the PTA.

Now, as the mother of a middle schooler and high schooler, PTA is not for me.  I tried. I went to my first PTA meeting and offered to help plan their major fund raiser and I never heard from anyone. Seriously? Someone offers to do this, and you don’t reach out? I may find myself giving it another shot, but I feel like I have paid my dues. This time, if I get involved it will not be out of guilt and I WILL NOT run for President.

My Advice

Learn the acronyms.

PTA (Parent Teacher Association) is not the same as PTO (Parent Teacher Organization) or PFC (Parent Faculty Club), PFSO (Parent Faculty Student Organization), or any of the other organizations that are out there. PTAs have to follow strict policies, regulations, national advocacy for school policies, and they have dues that are a part of the National PTA. Other organizations are typically individual non-profits and are uniquely tied to an individual school needs and mission.  It is important to learn what your school offers and why.

Become a member. 

This doesn’t mean attend every meeting, but when they are having a membership drive – sign up. You will be financially supporting their work and you will receive even more communication about what is going on at the school, especially if you feel out of the loop.

Attend at least one meeting.

Give it a try – see what it’s like, find out who the key players are, learn about what they do to support your child(ren). Make an educated decision whether to be a part of it rather than a decision based on preconceived notions.


If the PTA (or whatever it might be called) is asking for help at an event or looking for donations, do what you can when you can. Sometimes it might be donating snacks for teacher appreciation week or volunteering for an hour at an event.  It’s important to model volunteering and giving back for your child (ren). This does not mean for every event or ask – just when you can.

Parent organizations aren’t for everyone and that is okay. Keep an open mind and find the best way you can make a difference at your child’s school. And remember, that might change as their school career progresses. It should be a rewarding experience, not a regretful one.


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Tracy is the Director of Programming and Partnerships for Darkness to Light, a child sexual abuse prevention organization. She grew up in northeast Ohio, and has lived in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Arizona, and Northern Virginia and has worked in the arts, in education, in non-profits and in ed tech. Her husband's job brought them to the Bay Area and there's no looking back! Tracy is mom to two trans teens who are just beginning their journey. Self-care includes pedicures, reading, cooking, crafting, and just being with her family. She also serves as Chair of the Board for the Attachment and Trauma Network, a national non-profit.


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