PTA politics

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Our PTA is falling apart. The core group of mums are burned out from icing one too many proverbial cakes. After years of service, the chair and much of the committee are stepping down and no one has come forward to claim the post. The scuttlebutt on the playground is that it is too clique-y.

Which got me thinking (amazing, I know): What is a clique and how do they form? Why do some mums feel left out, while others are “in”. Is it intentional? Are slights perceived when not meant? Is it easier to justify non-involvement by writing the PTA off as being for “another type of mum”.

Everyone loves to attend the PTA events, but the fact is that if you want them to happen, someone has to do the grunt work (and much of it is). I have skin of steel and don’t pay attention to politics — just blindly plod forward with my own agenda. To me, the PTA is about adding to my child’s school experience — by organising fun events and raising funds for the extras. Last year our PTA added several new play structures throughout the school grounds (which, by the way, are in constant use).

Is it clique-y? Not intentionally. Is it a lot of hard work? Yes (but it would be less if more were involved). It is a commitment, and in my mind, a worthy one.

Photo credit: angegreen

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  1. Vivica
    15/11/2009 / 16:20

    I was foolish enough not to head for the hills when I was nominated and seconded by the Chair and Treasurer to serve on the PTA this year. I thought my role was clearly delineated (there was an existing constitution) but I quickly learned that there is an inner clique. I ‘m not one to join any club that’d have me as a member (thank you Mr Marx) but I did think that my experience and can do attitude would get me through. I’m burned out after one term! This clique don’t treat meetings as meetings – more an extension of their coffee mornings (to which I’m not privy)- I’ve been criticised for trying to act as though the PTA is a business- with a turnover in excess of £40k per year it is- they don’t ‘get’ the need for licences, insurance or sticking to their legal obligations. I don’t want the school itself to be damaged by the possible repercussions of their ignorance, so I’m going to put the paperwork in order and get the hell out.I can’t take any more malign criticism or the assumption that I’ll take up the slack- and stupidly, I have done just to get stuff done. No more stressing about it or sleepless nights for me!
    It could be great if they actually did what they were supposed to do; lots of really sound parents won’t get involved and there’s a regular turnover of volunteers who don’t want to repeat their experience at the hands of these mavens. DONE VENTING!

  2. 01/10/2009 / 13:25

    Agreed that the PTA does a vital job – ours is brilliant at liaising with the school over such things as collating mobile phone numbers for school shutdowns (when there’s too much snow, for example). However, there is often a little too much clipboard action going on, and some mothers use the PTA as an excuse to be even more of an uber-mother. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a big commitment, but you did choose to get involved. Or did you – our new Desperate PTA Rep column made me think about the reasons why people sign up to join the PTA…

  3. 26/09/2009 / 11:26

    I”m not in PTA but I was asked to be room mother by the primary director. I said sure because I thought it meant that no one else was volunteering for the duty, but it turns out that the teacher hadn’t even put out the word for a room mother yet, whoops!
    So now I am nervous that I will be the object of necessary jealousy over my “status” as non-elected room mother.

  4. 16/09/2009 / 11:00

    If you think it is cliquey when you are a mum, try being a stay at home dad…

  5. 15/09/2009 / 10:10

    Jen — Yes, that’s part of it, but my main motivator is making our (state) school more fun for our girls…

  6. 15/09/2009 / 08:32

    I think the reason a lot of PTA’s are clique-y is because people are motivated to join them for the feeling of appreciation or validation. It’s a normal human feeling: wanted to be noticed for your hard work. It’s when the competitive element kicks in that it can turn off as many people as it turns on. We have class reps at my daughter’s school and they are all so cool and welcoming, although at first I was afraid they would be the PTA witches I remember from America.

  7. 13/09/2009 / 16:14

    Linda — you actually said it better than I did.
    Geeky — some dads would certainly change the dynamics!

  8. 13/09/2009 / 06:08

    It seems that despite being parent teacher associations they do seem to be 90% women. I’m on the parent steering Commitee at our daycare, and this is closer to 50:50. probably since by the very fact of it being daycare, all the parents work fulltime, and some of the kids are from two dad families-” I’ll plan on being active in a PTA when my kids are in school, and hopefully my husband will be welcome too. Maybe a few men, gay or straight, is what your PTA needs! The cookies should help though!

  9. 12/09/2009 / 22:58

    I joined the PTFA at my daughters’ school but only managed 12 months as something had to give and I wasn’t bowled over by the internal politics and shall we say ‘strong personalities’ involved.
    I can see why this group of women would be called a clique. One lady was quite overbearing. That said I am sure she would have been gutted to hear that and these days I would probably tell her!
    Overall I’m not a fan of ‘cliques’ – I’d define this in my mind as a group that appears closed to outsiders. This can apply, in some people’s eyes to some blogs and Twitter friends – where they are followed but don’t follow back, or don’t bother replying except to ‘close’ mates or people they appear to consider ‘worth’ replying to – sounds dreadful doesn’t it? or amid bloggers, or are commented on and don’t reply or reciprocate.
    I am much more confident than I have been before and if I now encountered a group I was interested in joining but appeared a clique, these days I would find a way of steaming on in.
    I think a judgment that a given group may be a clique may sometimes be mistaken and based on misconceptions. I know I have fallen into the trap of calling a group of people a clique as I was making a judgment based on my own confidence rather than the reality of how welcoming they were – my ‘baby’ group for example. I remember feeling a little excluded the first time I made it, but persevered.
    I would say to anyone encountering what they think is a clique to question themselves – is it really? Or is that impression based on other factors to do with self esteem, confidence, disappointment, irritation or even envy? i was certainly envious of the friends these women had made. We are good friends now of course…!
    I would say to anyone concerned at appearing like a clique to examine how welcoming they really are, how open are they to new ideas? That is the clincher I think, if a closed circle is set in its ways, then it can be a clique. if not there is hope for us all.
    Phew hark at me. And breathe.

  10. 12/09/2009 / 15:59

    First, those cookies are fantastic.
    Our son is only 2.5 but he is already in private school. YIPPEEE…no PTA. Only a very annoying and gossiping “room parent” that is avoided at all costs. 🙂

  11. 12/09/2009 / 09:13

    Oh well ladies, I always loved that great song Harpery Valley PTA – and now I’m older it’s spot on. Whenever I help out at school – putting up coat hooks, baking, walking kids swimming – I do it because I want to not out of any need for admiration or recognition. It’s very cliquey, it’s about being the best parents, it’s about being ‘in’. On balance though, it’s their own soap opera, so it doesn’t irk me (although it did when I first moved here three years ago). It takes all sorts though and they do great work. There’s a lot of unsung heroes out there. I don’t think our schools could function as well without them.

  12. 11/09/2009 / 23:02

    Oh AMM, the Mummy Bloggers site has disappeared! I tried to get in to do the Twitter thing & it was gone! Please tell me I didn’t break it!

  13. 11/09/2009 / 21:09

    I did the PTA thing at junior school, but left in the end – I was the only working mum, and yes, I did feel left out when I’d find out that loads of decisions had been made over coffee in the daytime. However, never one to give up, so I’ll be checking out the new senior school PTA – you can’t keep an old mummy down!

  14. 11/09/2009 / 18:29

    Cliques are evil. They start when you are too young to notice and you think you get rid of them when you leave school, and therefore teenage girls, behind. But you don’t. I have found them at work, in NCT classes and now you tell me they are on the PTA? Can you not set up a competing PTA???

  15. 11/09/2009 / 07:53

    ‘good’ works I meant! Bloody iPhones!

  16. 11/09/2009 / 07:51

    Very interesting post. My kids are too young for any PTA malarky but it doesn’t surprise me that it’s regarded as cliquey. Not since I was at school have I had cliques in my life but motherhood is full of them. I don’t know why women like doing it but it’s one of the things that can end up making us look childish plus some women I know have found themselves being bullied and ‘excluded’, and this can be seen both on and offline. The PTA can be seen as an opportunity for someone to claim queen bee status. Depending on whether her and her crowd use their powers for good or evil, you can get a school with some notable hood works happening that may even be inclusive and let the non members have a say in shaping the future of their children’s school…or you get a Mean Girls, high school setting. They do some good stuff but more energy spent letting others know how powerful they are. The pressure is immense in these groups – I don’t blame people for bowing out!
    If those are your cakes, well done!

  17. 10/09/2009 / 21:37

    We haven’t got to the PTA stage yet but I’m sorry to hear it’s perceived as cliquey. My mum was always involved with the PTA and I kind of assumed I would get involved too. But I would hate to become involved in school gate politics -there are surely more important things in life…

  18. 10/09/2009 / 21:21

    That’s an interesting post. I think it’s great your a member. I’ve been put off by the idea of joining my school’s PTA because when we lived in the south I knew a school where the teachers hated the PTA members because they tried to run the school. I suppose it’s given me the wrong idea about them. Now, by not joining, I’m probably just being lazy.

  19. 10/09/2009 / 19:49

    Iota — I couldn’t possibly comment on that.
    Nicola — good for you! I would just volunteer though, don’t wait to be asked.
    Too2 — great point, you do become friends, another good reason to join the PTA.
    Whistle — do get involved, I’ve found it’s one of the only ways to see how a school ticks.
    Liz — it’s always hard to break into established group — maybe this is the issue. Most of the PTA people I know are very busy (juggling work, family and school stuff) and sometimes the niceties fall by the wayside.
    Kirsten — Slap a label on a group and suddenly it’s a target. I do feel strongly that if people have something negative to say, they should be ready to step up to the mark and put their time in too, rather than point out all the bad things.
    SPD — I’d love to have a dad on our PTA. My hubby went to a meeting once and it caused quite a stir.

  20. 10/09/2009 / 18:03

    A thankless task, and one I’ve been on the radar for recruitment for a good while. I respect anyone who wants to do it. I try to ignore perceived cliques, as it is often in a person’s head, rather than the reality.

  21. 10/09/2009 / 17:12

    By the way – Bare Naked Mummy – not sure if you’re in the UK, or how different it is in the US, but here, there’s no question of you ‘joining’ the PTA – you’re automatically entitled to be a member by virtue of being a parent, so there shouldn’t be any debate over that. There’s nothing to stop you going to meetings and volunteering.

  22. Kirsten
    10/09/2009 / 16:54

    It half amuses and half appalls me that PTAs generate so much passionate debate and that it seems fine to call people who get involved (yes I am one) insecure, threatened, lacking in identity, cliquey and non-plussed by the idea of full time work. We are just people trying to make our kids’ school better; its been fun & it has given me the best sense of community I have had in my adult life.

  23. 10/09/2009 / 15:48

    I was a full-time working mum when my son was small and I found it incredibly difficult to break through the PTA barrier at first. It was only by making friends with other PTA members at cubs etc that I felt confident enough to go to some of the PTA meetings and gradually become involved with fundraising, events etc. I was very conscious that I didn’t fit the PTA ‘mould’ – I was a very young mum, I worked full-time, all complete novelties to the rest of them. I’m glad I finally found the courage to break through and get stuck in to the important business of helping to raise funds for the school. So I guess I would say that in my experience the PTA can be a bit like a clique of popular girls at school. I am not normally a shy person, or easily intimidated, so why should it have been so hard for me to break through?

  24. 10/09/2009 / 15:15

    This is all to come in the future for me. I’m thinking of volunteering for my son’s pre-school committee – is this the start of a slippery slope?! Cliques are a strange thing, so many people feel threatened by them but I find if you make an effort to befriend one or two people in a ‘clique’ you find out they’re not so terrible and close-knit after all.

  25. 10/09/2009 / 15:08

    What I have seen here is that people want to be asked to join or head up a committee or whatever. They won’t just volunteer. I spend loads of time calling people asking for help and it isn’t any fun after a while. But, if I don’t ask then I end up doing it myself and burn out comes quickly that way.
    Also, I can see how a group of moms that head things up would appear cliquey – they are spending extra time together, get to know one another, and maybe even do what appear to be fun things outside of school – like going out for coffee to plan an event. What happens is these moms become friends. Friends does not equal a clique, but to the outside it may seem that way.
    I often remind myself that this is for the kids and is worth the work. That’s the only reason I do so much volunteering at the school. I’d much rather read a good book.

  26. 10/09/2009 / 14:49

    After 3 years with my son’s school I was finally asked to be JD’s class parent rep. Is that the same as the PTA? I think the perception of being a parent rep by some parents (never me…I just thought it was a load of extra work for no other benefit than supposed satisfaction) is that it is a clique with untold advantages for your child (including reduced school fees…if only). But it doesn’t feel clique-y to me yet. Probably an indication that I am not in the “in” set of mums. Hey ho.

  27. 10/09/2009 / 14:44

    Do you think it’s worse in the UK than the US? I have seen it blogged more than once that UK women are “like being back in high school”, and certainly many PTA tales would bear that out. (I don’t think you ever had experience of children at school in the US, so perhaps you can’t compare.)
    Cliques speak to me of insecurity, and people trying to find an identity by belonging. And somehow they feel threatened if other people can belong too. It IS very high school.
    Hope youngest is getting on better today.

  28. 10/09/2009 / 14:30

    Expat – evern after all those years?
    Jen — yes, agreed that what goes around comes around and it all evens out (even if what you do is just within your family)

  29. 10/09/2009 / 14:15

    Bare — That’s too bad. There’s so much potential.

  30. 10/09/2009 / 14:12

    I honestly think our PTA is as inclusive as possible – and I am not saying that because I am on it, because I am not!
    But I do see the incredible work the people who are on it do, regularly handing over thousands to the school, and I have seen them take in new people over the years. Maybe it helps that we are a relatively new school, just starting our seventh year?
    Before you say why not, Guiding takes up all the spare time I have. I have a few PTA daughters in the Brownie pack plus I always do my turn at the summer fair, so I figure it all evens out in terms of volunteering.

  31. 10/09/2009 / 14:12

    Im still struggling with the fact that it’s pronounced “click” over here!!!

  32. 10/09/2009 / 13:42

    I have tried joining the PTA in my daughters school but to no avail.
    It seems that you have to be the right kinda mother (don’t ask I don’t know either!) and you need to know the right kinda people (honestly you’d think I was running for election).

  33. 10/09/2009 / 13:20

    Potty — of course I made those cookies! (not)
    A school with no PTA, really? wow.

  34. 10/09/2009 / 13:04

    OK, first off please tell me you didn’t make those cookies yourself. And if you did, can you send me one?
    Secondly, you’re totally right to stay out of the politics. Unfortunately, human nature being what it is things will often be misinterpreted, slights will be taken where none was intended, and ‘politics’ will ensue. As long as you aren’t meaningfully involved in them though and know your own agenda (as you do), I think you’re doing the best you can.
    (Thank god we chose a school with no pta…)