Which Parent Volunteer Job is Right for You?

Find the category below that sums up your typical day to get matched to the school volunteer roles that are just right for your schedule.
By Francesca Castagnoli
Sep 15, 2015

Ages

3-13


Sep 15, 2015

We all want to be involved at our kid’s school. But finding the time and figuring out where you fit in can be as daunting as finding a seat in a middle-school cafeteria. No worries: There’s a spot for everyone. Even you! All you have to do: Find the category below that sums up your typical day to get matched to the jobs that are just right for your schedule. You’ll be helping out—without stressing out—before you know it.

Your life is: Basically Insane

  • You work full-time and crazy hours at that
  • You have a partner whose schedule isn’t much better
  • You have a child (or two) not yet in school
  • You want to help out because it’s the right thing to do

Start as a booster/attendee/clipper

Your life is: Mostly Workable

  • You’re employed full-time but can arrive late or leave early
  • You have a partner who’s flexible when he can be
  • Your youngest is in elementary school at last
  • You want to meet more of the other parents

You’d be great as an event volunteer or committee member

PLUS: CREATIVE FUNDRAISING IDEAS

Your life is: Pretty Flexible

  • You work part-time
  • You have a partner who’s (usually) understanding
  • You have kids who are still in grade school but are pretty independent
  • You hope volunteering means you get to see your kid

Set your sights on class parent or committee chair

Your life is: Ready for More!

  • You work at home
  • You always hear that your partner seems like a dream!
  • You only have your youngest left in grade school (or you have ultra-reliable childcare)
  • You see the PTA as the best way to make a difference

You’re positioned for treasurer, recording secretary, or (co-) president

Find Your Niche

Booster/Attendee/Clipper

  • Low Commitment
  • Low Stress
  • Low Partner Annoyance

If you have more money than time:
Just write a check toward those new monkey bars. Don’t feel guilty. When funds are given directly, that’s one fewer fundraiser to worry about.

If you have more time than money:
Attend school events. They can’t be successful, nor can they build a sense of community, if it’s always the same 20 families there. Just by showing up to the ice-skating party, you’re expanding the circle.

Not much of either?
Clip labels! Most PTAs participate in programs from General Mills (Boxtops4education.com), Campbell’s (Labelsforeducation.com), and Tyson (ProjectAplus.tyson.com). You can score cash or equipment for your school.

PLUS: TEACHER TIPS FOR SCHOOL SUCCESS

Event Volunteer

  • Low Commitment
  • Low Stress
  • Low Partner Annoyance

Some events make bonding with fellow parents easier than others. Typically, events where you help kids (say, manning a crafts table) create camaraderie because you have to think on your feet. Like getting glue out of a kindergartner’s hair without scaring or hurting her. Same goes for any cleanup crew: Friendships have often been forged during broom patrol.

But book fairs, though a team effort, aren’t the best way to meet people. Unless you’re helping a class shop, you’ll probably end up unpacking or restocking books — important, but lonely, jobs. The same is true of cashiers. It’s hard to make small talk when you’re counting change.

Class Parent

  • Medium Commitment
  • Medium Stress
  • Low Partner Annoyance

You’ll get a crash course in your child’s teacher’s quirks, her classmates, and the school culture. Some PTAs take volunteers at the first meeting; other times, the teacher does the recruiting.

What to know before you raise your hand:

  • The job is sometimes shared. Partner up with someone who has what you don’t, like time on weekday mornings or an outgoing personality.
  • You’ll be sending a lot of e-mails and/or printing notices to be sent home.
  • You may be rounding up a healthy snack, keeping food allergies in mind.
  • You’ll collect donations. Increase participation by asking for a lump sum in September.
  • Planning the parties falls to you, too.

PLUS: WHAT NOT TO SAY TO A TEACHER

Committee Member

  • Medium Commitment
  • Low Stress
  • Medium Partner Annoyance

Events and fundraisers like square dances and pancake breakfasts all have a committee — each of which needs lots of members to be successful. Think you’re ready to be one of them? Set specific parameters on your role: Offer to send out the e-mail blasts or create the flyer. This way, you know what’s expected of you and when. The more vague your role, the more you’ll end up doing — which may be fine with you. If not, be clear from the get-go.

Perk Alert
You get to know parents outside your child’s grade. This comes in handy for breaking the ice with moms of younger kids (My son had Ms. Morris last year!) and getting clued in by those of older kids.

Committee Chair

  • Medium Commitment
  • Medium Stress
  • High Partner Annoyance

You need to be able to lay out your own money while waiting for reimbursement, and you must be organized. Really organized. The best committee chairs know when to pick their battles, so don’t micromanage. If someone offers to wrap goody bags for a gala, let her — instead of criticizing the ribbon and asking her to show you a prototype next time (true story!).

It’s common for big events to take over your life. You have to be able to stay calm and improvise in the face of things like power outages and member meltdowns.

PLUS: THE GUIDE TO AFTER-SCHOOL PROGRAMS

Treasurer

  • High Commitment
  • Medium Stress
  • Medium Partner Annoyance

This is your calling. Or it isn’t. No, not an inner calling. A voice mail asking if you can moonlight from your real accounting job. Many treasurers do have bookkeeping experience, so adding one more Quicken spreadsheet to their life is fairly easy. But plenty are just good with numbers, and this job is a way to use that skill in a meaningful way. Beyond, you know, always being the one to divvy up the check.

Just be prepared:

  • Virtually all treasurers make mistakes. One who was a Girl Scout leader accidentally deposited $800 from a school car wash into a troop account.
  • Transparency and fessing up are the only ways to cope and carry on after a financial foul-up.

Recording Secretary
High Commitment Medium Stress High Partner Annoyance

Your role is to attend every PTA meeting, and some Board of Education meetings, to record the minutes.

The Top Insider Tips:

  • There’s a no-slack policy on attending every meeting. Got a sick kid? Or husband stuck at the airport? Find someone to cover for you. Fast.
  • PTAs are susceptible to politics. If yours has petty rivalries (some do!), you may be walking into touchy situations.
  • Members can (and do) challenge the minutes. You’ll need to stay impartial and hold your ground if someone disputes your version.
  • If it’s allowed, it never hurts to record meetings on a digital device.

PLUS: WHAT TO DO WHEN YOUR KID SAYS "MY TEACHER HATES ME!"

President/Co-President

  • High Commitment
  • High Stress
  • High Partner Annoyance

Being a PTA president is a two-year commitment that falls into the “toughest job you’ll ever love” category. Your reward is seeing a positive change in your school and knowing it wouldn’t have happened without you. The crux of your role is to listen to parents’ ideas, be an advocate for your school at district meetings, and maintain a healthy PTA relationship with the principal.

Many times this job is split between co-presidents. The winning combo will complement each other. For instance, you’re a creative brainstormer and your co-prez is all about details. It’s possible to go it alone (or be a co-president with a spouse who travels often for work). But only if you have reliable childcare. Consider this a full-time job. Because it pretty much is.

Photo Credit: Artpartner-images/Getty images

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