Why I Don’t Volunteer for the PTA

Why I Don't Volunteer for the PTA

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If you’ve been following Reflective Mama, you may already know that I am a HUGE fan of Parents as Teachers. You may have also deduced that I am a joiner. I love organized activities and school. I am always seeking out new things to do around town to get us out of the house, provide some enrichment for Baby, and interact with other parents and kiddos.

I always planned to be involved in Baby’s activities and schooling. I have helicopter tendencies and believed that my active participation would help him excel. As I write this, a list of the 2014-2015 Parents as Teachers PTA events hangs on my refrigerator, and I’ve considered volunteering when Baby’s schedule allows. Unfortunately, these lovely ideas on how to help Baby thrive were completely unfounded.

I borrowed The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way by Amanda Ripley from the library after seeing it listed over and over again as one of the best books of 2014. The title sounds just a bit pretentious to read as a parent, but I promise I initially checked it out as professional development.

Why I Don't Volunteer for the PTAAmanda followed three American high school exchange students as they spent a year studying in the three highest scoring educational systems: Finland, South Korea, and Poland. The programs were all different, and, of course, not perfect. South Korea’s educational system was exceptionally flawed. Students attended school and academic supplementary programs (hagwons) from early morning until an educational curfew kicked in late at night. However, Finland and Poland seemed like much more balanced programs.

Amanda provided a unique, real life perspective of the schools in these countries compared to their counterparts in America by interviewing the students before, during, and after their year abroad. She also interviewed the students’ families, teachers, and peers, along with education officials, researchers, politicians, and test creators. In addition to personal accounts, she noted relevant research that sought to identify factors leading to student success… or failure.

Two key findings identified in each of the high scoring countries were academic rigor and a culture that highly valued education. In Finland, the students had less homework than American students and more freedom. Yet at the same time, the material covered in their classes was more challenging. Expecting students to learn advanced material produced students who were capable of learning advanced material. In contrast, Amanda shared many American examples of elected officials and school administrations lowering standards and tracking students into easier and easier classes, when studies show that the exact opposite approach has raised the education levels of all students.

Seeking student success? Provide rigor and value education.

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Poland, Finland, and South Korea all had cultures that highly valued education as the key to a successful life. (South Korea, however, was a bit too cut throat in this respect, as there were only three exceedingly exclusive universities which promised a successful future). When families and entire communities highly valued schooling, communicated that to their children, and expected their kids to do well, the children took school seriously, worked hard, and… tested really well.

The countries that highly valued education also highly valued their education professionals. Teachers were paid considerably higher and garnered more respect in the high scoring countries compared to the United States. It is also much harder to become a teacher in South Korea, Poland, and Finland compared to in the United States. The high scoring countries had far fewer teacher training programs with far more competitive admissions standards than in the United States. Excellent teaching was certainly a factor in children’s learning.

All of this information was interesting, but none of it truly shocked me… until I read how parent involvement factored into student success. Previously, I assumed that all involvement would be positive, but the research disagreed. Students’ academic success was not positively impacted when their parents volunteered, such as by planning fundraisers, baking treats , helping out in the classroom, coaching sports, running extracurricular programs, or organizing events. These were all wonderful things, but they did not lead to higher test results. 

Students did perform higher when parents directly worked with them on skill development. When children were younger, this took the form of reading to them everyday and working on basic math skills in a structured format. For older children and teens, parents who asked open questions about movies, books, school, and current events helped students learn to think critically and to think for themselves, two crucial skills needed in today’s workforce.

Why I DON’T Volunteer for the PTA

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Parent involvement mattered, but not all forms were considered equal. This research changed my perspective on what it means to support my child’s education. I can still think of many reasons why I would want to volunteer at my child’s school, but I would no longer do it with the pretense that I was helping improve his test scores.

Yet there is only so much time in a day. I appreciated learning evidence-based ways to use that time in an effective way to help Baby learn and grow. This was not my intention when I picked up The Smartest Kids in the World, but it was my biggest and most immediate take away.

As a toddling one-year-old, Baby needs me to provide him with safe places to roam and climb. He is constantly learning through endless exploration. This curiosity and bravery inspires me daily. As much as I want to protect him from every lurking danger, I give him room to tumble and fall and learn from his own experiments and mistakes.

In addition to physical activity, I incorporate activities to promote early literacy into our day, like playing with books, rhyming, talking (a lot), and telling stories. I hope to start working with him on numbers and counting in a formal way in a year or so. It’s my job to create a constructive learning environment to feed his natural curiosity and desire to learn. Although in the end, Baby is going to develop on his own schedule.

I may still volunteer for the PTA someday, but I will be doing it for myself as much as for my son. For now, I’m using our time together on more toddler-centered activities. During my limited free time, I am choosing to pursue some different interests of my own.

Would you volunteer in your child’s school? How do to support your child(ren)’s learning?

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12 thoughts on “Why I Don’t Volunteer for the PTA

  1. [email protected]

    Great post Farrah, there is so much we can do to help our children learn! Being in their class is only a very, very small part of it.

    I used to volunteer in my children’s classes, then I had my 4th baby. It’s so hard to get in there. I try to support from home and enrich their learning here as well.
    [email protected] recently posted…Dear Blogger: You Are Totally Missing The Boat!My Profile

    1. farrahudell Post author

      Amen! Time is our most precious commodity, and we need to spend it wisely. There are so many ways to support our children. We each find the balance (or lack there of) that works for us!

  2. Jennifer | The Deliberate Mom

    This is a fascinating subject Farrah. As a former early childhood educator, I was often reading about cultural differences in education and child-rearing.

    I think the important part of parent involvement is that parents acknowledge the cultural norms and practices of a family. By doing this, they can help the child succeed. For example, in some cultures, children are not taught to have a questioning attitude. When a teacher takes that approach and directive, a child will struggle in their classroom. However, when a teacher gets to know a family and understands their cultural practices, they can more successfully implement a program that is sensitive to that child’s nature and background.

    This post has really got me thinking… I love this kind of stuff!

    Thanks for sharing.

    Wishing you a lovely day.
    Jennifer | The Deliberate Mom recently posted…I Would Have Starved Without The Food BankMy Profile

    1. farrahudell Post author

      It’s so true! What will help and support Baby may be completely different from what his peers (or future siblings!) could need. It’s so hard to be a successful teacher! The excellent ones are worth a million times their weight in gold. The “model” countries are so much smaller than America and Canada, too, which has to make education systems easier to manage. So much to think about!

  3. Sarah Nenni Daher

    I saw that book and didn’t pick it up because I actually thought the same thing as you did: pretentious drivel. Thanks for giving me a better insight. Like you, I think that our children having our support in their endeavors is one of the best ways you can provide assistance.

    PS – What free time? :) Just kidding.
    Sarah Nenni Daher recently posted…It’s My SITS Girls Day!My Profile

    1. farrahudell Post author

      Ha! I just sent Baby with my husband to pick up dinner so that I could have a few minutes to myself. My lack of free time is astounding. At least now I don’t spend it worrying about being involved enough in Baby’s activities!

  4. Rachel G

    This sounds like a very, very interesting book. I’m intrigued by how differently education is done around the world. I think we plan on homeschooling our kids in the future due to our lifestyle–and I can see that volunteering for bake sales, etc., would not actually be the most helpful thing to do for the purpose of encouraging your child’s education.
    Rachel G recently posted…A Rainy VacationMy Profile

  5. Amber

    Sounds like an interesting book. I am not part of the PTA. It’s just not my thing. However, if the school needs help, I will volunteer.
    Amber recently posted…The Pity FlowersMy Profile

  6. Bev

    I worked in the field of early childhood for several years, and at the last program I worked at we really emphasized the importance of reading and talking to our children, and the research to back it up. It is amazing what a huge impact being exposed to a lot of language at an early age can have on a child on their learning later in life.

    I think as parents, we struggle with what to do to help our children learn and grow. Like you, I try to read and talk and ask questions a lot to my soon-to-be one-year-old. Who knows if I will one day volunteer for the PTA, but as you mentioned it would be for myself as much as for my daughter.
    Bev recently posted…On guilty pleasures, pet peeves, and How I Met Your MotherMy Profile

  7. Mrs. Mashed Up

    LOVED this piece, on so many levels. Great article. I love this book. Have you read Brain Rules for Baby by John Medina? I think you’d love it. And thank you for stopping by to join Pin Worthy Wednesday! I’ve pinned this post to the Pin Worthy Wednesday Board. Hope to see you next week!
    Mrs. Mashed Up recently posted…Upcoming Giveaway/Blogger Opp: Glass DharmaMy Profile

    1. farrahudell Post author

      I’m so happy you enjoyed it! Pin Worth Wednesday is one of my favorites. Brain Rules for Baby looks perfect for me ~ I’m requesting it from my library now. Thank you for the recommendation!

  8. Pingback: PIN WORTHY WEDNESDAY 7!! |

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