Boston Herald | September 30, 2013 | Op-Ed |

After a week of back-to-school nights (and with one more to go), all I can say is: spare me the volunteer “opportunities” talk.

With four kids in the public schools, I’ve attended so many back-to-school nights (30 and counting) that I can now give the speeches in my sleep.

And I’m officially burned out. Parental burnout? Maybe. But definitely school volunteer burnout.

Perhaps it’s a sign of my age, but I’m tired of hearing about all of the great opportunities the Parent Teacher Association offers for enriching our children’s education.

I get it, I get it. Volunteers are an important part of our schools. Without volunteers many valuable tasks would never get done — think school directories, for example. But enough, already, with the guilt-trips about getting involved.

Don’t get me wrong, when my first two kids were in elementary school, I drank the volunteer Kool-Aid too.

I served as room parent, library volunteer, coordinator of the teacher appreciation lunch, member of the Assemblies Committee, and chair of the 5th Grade Celebration — to name just a few of my plum assignments.

But what exactly did all my volunteering accomplish?

I am sure that the school librarian was perfectly capable of re-shelving those books better than the Dewey-Decimal deficient moms who came in merely to “spy” on their kids and get a sense of little Johnny’s classmates.

And I am sure that all of the classrooms would have survived without baked goods at back-to-school night and volunteers at the Halloween parade (Who are we kidding? Most of us weren’t there to “help”; we were there to photograph our children).

Sure, the teachers appreciated a hot chili lunch on a cold January day. But was it more important for me to organize this event, and shop for and serve the chili, than to spend time with my younger kids still at home?

And what of those PTA-sponsored school assemblies? Don’t they provide cultural enrichment for our youngsters? Perhaps. But at the expense of time away from the classroom and, frequently, for presentations that have absolutely nothing to do with the curriculum.

Let’s face it, in affluent communities — where many of the stay-at-home moms have advanced degrees — volunteering has become a way for educated women to become helicopter parents and feel relevant.

And in many communities, PTA boards are nothing more than grown-up cliques. An opportunity for some women (because, let’s face it, most PTA board members are women) to traffic in information, wield power, and establish their place in the mommy pecking order.

Well, guess what? I’m tired of hearing PTA types take credit for “running the schools” and complaining about those who won’t help. There should be no obligation (direct or implied) to volunteer at school. In my community, you’d be hard pressed to find an adult who doesn’t volunteer in some capacity — whether at a church, in a youth sports organization, on a political campaign, or at school. And the few who don’t? Well, God love ’em because maybe they’re frazzled enough just getting through the day-to-day.

If you are one of those women who really, truly enjoy the PTA, I salute you. By all means, knock yourself out raising money, organizing carnivals, and restocking bookshelves.

But don’t delude yourself into thinking that good citizenship is defined by one’s willingness to help at school.

As for me: I won’t help at back-to-school night, staff a carnival booth, or bring in healthy snacks. I’ve been there, done that. I’m finished.


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