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Friday Rant: I Suck at Being in the PTA

Kid's Piggy BankOne of the reasons I wanted to quit working full time was so that I could be more involved with my daughter’s school while she’s little and isn’t embarrassed to have me around. At the beginning of the year, I signed up for the PTA or Parent Teacher Association for those of you who are not in the know. Her school has a very active PTA that is always donating supplies and hosting amazing activities for students and teachers, so I was excited. However, halfway throught the school year I realize that I suck at being in the PTA!

 I Can’t Make the Meetings

The PTA holds meetings at 8AM on school days. I realize that no one likes do do meetings at the end of the day and we are all busy, but this assumes that PTA members either don’t work or can take off for meetings. I don’t work every day, but have had to work on the majority of meeting times. I can’t justify cutting two hours of patients from my part time schedule to go to a meeting.

The PTA Has Fundraisers ALL THE TIME

I can’t remember a time when there wasn’t some sort of fundraiser going on. I realize that to buy the computers, playground equipment, and audio visual equipment that the PTA has donated over the years, you have to make money.

I think some of the ways they raise money are great. The PTA has movie nights in the gym. They sell water bottles and raffle tickets for various things. Parents can choose whether or not to buy or participate. They also have a longstanding tradition of selling pickles and popcorn on certain Friday afternoons for a quarter each.

Some of the Fundraisers Suck

However, some of the fundraisers drive me crazy. They ask the kids to sell things like Little Caesars Pizza kits. I hate asking people to buy stuff during fundraisers. No one really wants that stuff and they buy it out of obligation.

I hate the selling fundraisers but the buying ones are even worse. There are book fairs and the latest one called Elf Shelf. These are set up in the gym, and each classroom has a designated day and time to “visit.” Weeks in advance we get letters sent home asking for the child to bring money on the correct day. For Elf Shelf, we got two extra reminders about how “stressful” it can be for kids and to really” try and work out a good solution,” meaning make sure to send money.

Elf Shelf: Making a Caste System Out of the First Grade?

I have two huge issues with having these fundraisers during school time. I guess books are always useful, and I certainly support reading. I’m not sure that the book fair should be a required part of the school day, especially when you can check out as many books as you’d like at the library for free. That one is very gray for me.

Elf Shelf just flat makes me mad. The Elf Shelf collection is trinkets that are meant to be bought as Christmas gifts for friends and family. They are crap, literally gumball machine quality, but they charge about 8x more than a gumball machine. Why would you spend money on junk?

I tried to have a conversation with my 6 year old about how poorly made the things at Elf Shelf are and that we can make better gifts, but she broke down in tears because “everyone” was going to be buying stuff at Elf Shelf.

What’s the Solution?

I realize this could have been a good lesson in not following the herd mentality, but I know how hard it is not to fit in at school. I could not stand the thought of her standing in the corner while most of the other kids were buying their crap. I hope when she’s older, she will be reasonable enough to know this is not a good way to spend money, but 6 year olds are not exactly reasonable.

We compromised, and I let her take her own money. She ended up taking $10 and bought some overpriced junk for the grandparents and a ring for herself, which broke in half exactly one hour and five minutes after we got home from school, so maybe the lesson was learned after all?

What’s even worse is that I know there are parents who will not or cannot send money for things like this, and their kids are always going to be left out. I know the teacher keeps extra quarters for kids who don’t have money for pickles and popcorn, but they can’t fund everyone for Elf Shelf, nor should they have to. Why we have to do things like this to buy computers and technology for the school is a discussion in itself, but for now, this is how it is.

That’s basically why I suck at PTA. I morally can’t get my head around peddling crap to elementary school kids and creating anxiety over not having money to spend. The PTA is very revered, so I’m nervous about speaking out, but there have to be others who share my view. Maybe I’m being sensitive. Someone please tell me I’m wrong if there is a reason why this is OK.

What have you sucked at lately? Parents, how do you handle school situations like this?

Image: Freedigitalphotos.net/Dan

About Kim Parr

Kim Parr is a private practice optometrist, freelance writer, and personal financial blogger. You can follow her journey to 20/20 financial vision at Eyes on the Dollar.


  1. Kim,
    Sounds much like high school, except with all the pregnant kids gave birth. You know the PTA can become like a tribal council. We don’t have kids but when we do, I’m going to kick ass in the PTA. Which means I won’t be joining it because I’m terrible at that stuff.

    • Oh, I thought I would be great, but it’s really not my thing. I am much better on the accountability committee. We are analyzing data to see if bringing 6th grade back into the elementary school is a good idea, and they meet in the evenings!

  2. *Sigh* I would have a very hard time being part of the PTA. I do hate all the fundraisers! I can’t blame them for having so many but at the same time some of them really do suck. The problem is kids think the fundraisers are awesome (you get these cool prizes if you sell 100 magazines!). I don’t blame you for sucking at PTA.

    • I can remember always wanting to sell stuff in school to get a free t-shirt or whatever they were giving away. One time it was a blow up cow that was the size of a German Shepherd. Really? Why did I want those? My Mom never let us do the sales, but she and my grandparents always bought something so I wouldn’t feel left out.

  3. My daughter is in grade 1 now and I’m one of the PTA members. I’m just happy that our meetings usually happened every weekend. It’s good to be a member of a PTA because you are aware about the activities of the school, the funds and the school improvements.

    • I am really impressed with the outcomes of the funds. The PTA does a ton for the school. It’s just some of the fundraisers that bother me.

  4. That is really frustrating, and I would have a hard time with it too. I might approach it by trying to propose a different fundraiser for that time of year. I think, with an organization like the PTA, you need to just ride the wave the first year to see how things are done, and get involved in a leadership position the next year so you can influence those decisions.
    It would be great to replace Elf Shelf with a small business / local artisan holiday fair, where the businesses paid for tables and sold items that kids would want to buy, at prices that they could pay. I bet you’d have a bunch of PTA members interested in doing it so they could sell their wares, and you could get the local Chamber of Commerce behind it too. You could add other money-making elements to it too, like a raffle for the parents to enter.

  5. I hated those fundraisers when I was a kid in school, so I can only imagine how awful some of them seem as an adult and a parent! I know they have to raise money somehow, but it just seems like there’s a better way to do it.

    • I think there are as some of the comments pointed out. The problem is that when things are done a certain way, it’s really hard to change. I’m not sure if I am the person to take that on.

  6. I had a similar experience with the running club I joined as a member this year. I couldn’t make most of the meetings or the activities they sponsor because of other family/kid commitments. You can only fit so much stuff in and family priorities come first.

    • I am the kind of person who will get down on myself if I can’t make everything work. There are some people who seem to be able to do it all, never run late, nd always have it together, and I feel like that should be me. After writing this post,though, I though about all the things we are involved in, and there are many. I think it’s probably OK if I’m not super active in the PTA. It just seems like the good Mommy thing to do, so I need to get over that. Are there PTA’s at a private school or is funding not so much of an issue there?

  7. Wow, elf shelf sounds terrible. I remember, and still dislike, all the junk we had to sell for schools and teams. Around here, there seems to be more of a move toward raffle tickets, which I much prefer. Lots of them are $1 or $2, and almost all of it is profit, because groups tend to get the prizes donated from businesses or offered at a large discount. Some are $5, but at least you know your money is going to the group, not towards price inflated junk!

    • I think raffles are great, and the PTA does those as well.They have one right now for a half pig that is locally raised and the butcher has donated his time to prepare it. That might sound gruesome for some, but those type things sell really well in our rural area. They are selling 200 tickets at $20 each, so it’s a pretty big fundraiser. They still do all the other things too. Like I said, they are super active, which is great, except for some of the ways they raise money.

  8. Sounds like a painful experience, and I guarantee you there are others in the group who share your frustration (I would!). And I think it’s awesome that you’re participating in the PTA, and trying to be an active parent for your daughter. Hopefully you can influence the other members in a positive way. Maybe try presenting a solution or two instead of pointing out deficiencies?

    • Sorry, that last line sounds a bit harsh as I’m re-reading it. I just meant to come up with a creative alternative to the dumb fundraisers they currently do so that you’ll bring something positive to the group. I didn’t mean that you’re complaining too much, because what else is a Friday Rant for? 🙂

      • I do feel like a complainer and needed to vent before I really talk to anyone in the know. If I could go to meetings, I might get some better insights, but I feel like I’m outside looking in. I’m not sure if it’s worth the effort if everyone else thinks it’s fine. There are plenty of other things I can put my energy into without trying to change the whole system of the PTA, and that is probably a better use of my time.

  9. I don’t usually comment but felt like I could offer some insight on this one since I’m PTA president of my kid’s school. Which really just means that no one else was willing to do it. First, at a lot of schools they do things from year to year because it’s always been done that way HOWEVER, the majority of the time changes can be made at the request of the members and at the behest of someone leading the effort. Which is to say, change comes from those in leadership – get involved. Nothing drives me more crazy than parents complaining or telling me how it could be done better but that are unwilling to lead the committee or organize the event. Everyone has busy lives so don’t criticize what you’re not willing to help change. (that’s not directed at you, it’s just what I wish I could say to the other parents at my school).
    I don’t know what to say about the meeting times – ours are in the evenings every other month – you might suggest they email the minutes or post them to facebook (create a group for the PTA.) Of course, the exec board sets the meeting schedule so there is that plug for getting involved! 😉
    I eliminated our christmas shop for the reasons you listed and it was a popular move amongst most parents. Also, we surveyed our group using survey monkey and found that the 2/3 majority preferred not to sell anything for our fundraiser so we do ‘mathathons’ or a fitness challenge to raise money – all profit and no selling. It sounds like your PTA is doing a pretty job of telling you where the money is being spent as you listed several things they bought.
    Last, I would like to say, you might really meet some great people. I certainly have and it’s really added to the community that I feel as being part of the school. I actually kind of can’t believe I would say that since prior to kids or prior to them starting school I didn’t envision myself as a ‘pta mom’ . . . as some of the commenters have suggested above.

    • Thanks so much for your comments and for your service in the PTA! That’s kind of why I posted here instead of rocking the boat at school. The PTA does so many good things that I really don’t want to criticize because I am not in the inner workings. If I can get to meetings I can learn more about why they do the things they do. I would love to find out how much Elf Shelf made and come up with an alternative. I just hate to be the newbie complaining that I can’t make it at 8AM on most days. I believe there is a ton of “This is how it’s always been done” and I know from experience with other boards I’ve served on that you have to tread very lightly with some personalities.

  10. Wow, sorry to hear about that Kim. I remember my parents being active in PTA when I was in school but don’t remember having a ton of fundraisers. Then my brothers came along and it seemed like every time I turned around they were having to peddle some piece of junk. That Elf Shelf situation sounds really bad and the sad thing is what’s going to happen to those who don’t have the resources to be a part of it. If they were older that would be one thing, but first graders – that’s just a shame in my thoughts.

  11. Sounds like reasons very similar to why I sucked at the junior league! I can totally relate!

  12. We suck at it too but try to help out the actual school rather than the PTA in other ways.

  13. I think our PTAs are very similar. A couple years ago I was a board member for the PTA but it wasn’t a good fit. 🙂 I don’t mind fundraisers but I agree when it feels like kids are forced to buy or will feel left out if they don’t buy – isn’t really a great message to teach kids. Plus, when the stuff is tacky, it just makes it worse because you know hard-earned money is being spent on crap. I would rather just write a donation check.

    • No kidding. I wish there was an option of a donation at the beginning of the school year that would exempt you from all the fundraisers. I know that would never work unless everyone did it, but it’s fun to think about. I’d write a check and then my daughter would still be crying over Elf Shelf.

  14. I would like to have one or two kids and I would like to participate in the PTA HOWEVER 8:00 am meetings on a work day won’t work-even if I work from home. It feels like it’s set up in a way to discourage working parents from participating. I would also suck at it because I don’t believe children should be selling items to fund their schools. Or being encouraged to buy stupid crap with their tiny amounts of personal money 🙁 I love the fundraising idea that one of your other commenters made (Stephanie) doing two marathons/challenges a year would discourage random consumerism. Encourage participation. And, I bet your PTA would raise more money. Good luck-this is a hard one.

    • It does kind of send the message that if you can’t be off work you don’t need to be in the PTA. Of course, you can still join and not go to meetings, but you really can’t be that involved if you aren’t physically there. I have a good friend who is a teacher and it makes her really mad because there is absolutely no way teachers with kids can go to PTA meetings.

  15. Sounds like a nightmare. We used to get lottery tickets to sell from the school and even as a kid I hated that forced sale and couldn’t figure out why a school you pay to attend would ask for more money this way. Thankfully the neighbors had money so the tickets sold fast.

  16. Awe I’m sorry Kim. I have no words of advice except that I think your thinking is pretty normal. I have mom friends who sound a lot like you. It’s like they can’t live up to the standard of these perfect PTA moms out there, who only subscribe to the Martha Stewart way of life.

  17. THANK YOU!! I feel the same exact way. My son is in kindergarten this year so I signed up for the PTA to be the involved-mom. Our PTA meets monthly, but they meet in the morning and at night, 2 different meetings- which is all fine and good.. however, I can only make the meeting in the evening, and who knows what suggestions are made during the morning meeting. The first two meetings I attended were all fundraiser based. School’s only been in session 3 months, and they’ve already done 2 fundraisers back to back, a book fair and Little Shoppers Shoppe (sounds like the same as your Elf Shelf). This has been a tough year for my family, financially, but when I tried explaining to my son that we didn’t have the money for the shop for christmas, he got all upset and started crying.. so yeah, I caved in and took money out of another part of the budget to allow for it. I’m not sure if I’ll continue to stick it out with the PTA this year, there’s just too much they ask for and its disheartening to always have to say no to them and to my son. So yeah.. I suck at PTA too.

    • Thanks for your comment. I feel like there are many others who feel this way. I don’t mean to say anything bad about the PTA because of all the good they do, I just have issues with the means. I also feel very sorry for those kids who just can’t participate for whatever reason and how they must feel to be left out. There has to be a better way.

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