Familiar elementary school hallmarks include colorful playgrounds with pint-sized equipment, cheerful artwork displayed on the walls and understanding teachers that patiently offer hugs and encouragement as well as grades. Another defining aspect of the elementary school experience is the existence of a parent teacher group. Whether your school has an active PTO (Parent Teacher Organization) or PTA (Parent Teacher Association and yes, there is a difference), you should think about lending your support whenever possible.
What does a PTO or PTA do? Simply put, a school’s parent/teacher group is formed to build a bridge between what is going on at the school and the parents who want to help in some way. Many programs often exist within the PTO or PTA but one of the main objectives is to raise money for the school. These dollars almost always benefit the school directly. In fact, many parent/teacher groups raise enough money to help teachers buy supplies for their classrooms, in addition to funding larger projects like technology acquisitions and field trip fees.
Schools are often handed the unpleasant task of managing budget cuts, and parent/teacher groups can sometimes come to the rescue. PTO Today, an online PTO/PTA resource center, surveyed 598 PTA /PTO leaders in 2013. Interestingly, 54 percent of those leaders reported that their schools had increased their requests for financial support from just the year before.
As a teacher, you may be wondering about the best ways to support your school’s PTO or PTA. Check out these ideas that will lend a hand without requiring a large amount of time:
- Volunteer at one or two PTO/PTA events. Usually a parent/teacher group will throw at least one major fundraising event per year. Carnivals, Walk-A-Thons and Silent Auctions are common and the volunteers in charge of these efforts often need lots of help. Offer to work at a game booth or concession stand and your time (which will probably be just a few hours) will be greatly appreciated.
- Allow your classroom to be used for meetings or after-school clubs. Take it one step further by finding out who the parent group leader is and then volunteer your room before being asked. A parent volunteer will likely be relieved to have an asset like a classroom offered up without having to put in a request. Make sure to emphasize that your classroom should remain in the exact condition you left it in, and it’s a good idea to hang a sign or two around the room with a friendly reminder to that effect.
- Try to attend a few PTO/PTA meetings throughout the year. Parent/teacher group meetings often have low attendance rates. Showing up at just one or two meetings will be noticeable and is an easy way to let the volunteers know that teachers are interested in the group’s efforts.
Parent/teacher groups are often able to provide amazing benefits, but they rely heavily on volunteers’ time and generosity. Consider donating your time, even if it’s just an hour or two. Your efforts will certainly make a difference.