Me vs. The PTA

tomato

As many of you know, I’m the  Power-Hungry Art Coordinator for my kids’ elementary school. This is a form of indentured servitude, I mean…um…a volunteer position which is responsible for ensuring each classroom has an art docent.

An “art docent” in this context is a fancy term for an innocent and unsuspecting parent who tries to instill an appreciation of art history on a classroom who would rather be doing anything else, with the exception of math. According to the inside intelligence I get from my daily waterboardings of…I mean friendly debriefings of…my sixth grade daughter, no one likes math. (And Michaela is in love with Evan, who doesn’t like her back and there’s a whole bunch of drama. But that’s another story.) In fact, the only thing that kept her class of little weasels from pelting me with tomatoes when I was their art docent last year was the thought that if I actually walked out of the room, they would be back to doing fractions.

So, as an art docent you have to put up with a lot of crap. As the coordinator of the program you also have to put up with a lot of crap. Not just the flaky parents I complained about in the Power-Hungry Art Coordinator post, but as it turns out, the dreaded PTA. (For non US-residents, the PTA is the Parent Teacher Association.)

Now, I am not a huge PTA fan. The way I see it, I have a full time job and don’t have time for moms in yoga pants trying to get me to part with my money, my free time or both. Last year, the Art Docent Coordinator was a member of the PTA and that was it. I had to pony up the $8 PTA membership fee and I was left alone to do my job. This year, as it turns out, I have been elevated to a PTA Board member…and by “elevated”,  I really mean forced to wear yoga pants, attend monthly PTA meetings and smile.

As I was soon to find out, there were other implications to being a PTA Board member. Namely, I was expected to give monthly oral reports of the “progress” of my program to the Board. I was reminded of my monthly presentations to the risk committee at work. There was a minor difference, however. At work, I was paid.

I had a real dilemma. This art docent program is not like the usual PTA stuff with committees, fundraising and budgets. What the heck was I supposed to report on? How many parents actually got pelted with tomatoes vs. expected tomato peltage? I imagined it…”and Mrs. Jones only had 3 tomatoes thrown at her this year vs. the six she had to dodge last year. This marks a decrease of 50% in flying objects.” No, unfortunately this first meeting was before I would have any data on the tomatoes, since the lessons hadn’t actually begun yet; that report would have to wait a few months.

I figured I would simply give them a few bullet points on what I did, which was pretty boring. When the meeting finally arrived and I began speaking, this strategy seemed to work well. As I explained that I had single-handedly matched the volunteers to their classrooms and was going to have an orientation meeting for the new volunteers at my house, everyone smiled and nodded with enthusiasm. Wow, they were paying attention to this crap. It was then that I gained a false sense of security and made the cardinal corporate mistake…never, ever give a committee too much information. Just keep it very high level or you will find yourself in trouble.

Buoyed by their enthusiasm on my first two points, I ventured on to explain that I had also e-mailed all the teachers to let them know the dates of the art docent lessons and the name of their art docent. It was then that the room fell deadly silent. As I quickly learned from the PTA president, aka my second boss, I had severely broken protocol. Apparently I was not allowed to e-mail the teachers directly. At the point, I nearly fell out of my chair. WTF? I quickly pointed out that this had not been an issue last year, to which the president replied that the protocol had been in place for several years. She elaborated that this protocol was in place to make sure there weren’t any inadvertent “misunderstandings”…i.e. that I didn’t haul off and start offending teachers by e-mailing them information they probably wanted to  know.

One thing was for certain. I did not sign up for this. If I was going to be reprimanded for doing my job by a committee, it was going to be by an annoying bunch of people wearing skirts and suits, not by an annoying bunch of people wearing sundresses (or yoga pants) covered in kid snot.

At least  I knew what I was going to do for my next report…and it involved bringing a case of tomatoes. Now that’s breaking protocol!

 

 

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The Volunteer Part II, the Art Docent

Picasso Paper Bag 004

In the Volunteer Part I , I had ventured out of my corporate comfort zone of meaningless statistics and mind-numbing Excel spreadsheets to tackle volunteering at my then fourth grader’s Thanksgiving party. As I doled out someone else’s scalloped potatoes to a stampede of hungry 9 year olds, I found that these kids weren’t any scarier than the lunatics I deal with on a daily basis in the asylum…I mean business world. In fact, by the end of the party I even felt comfortable enough to accept the challenge when the room parent called out “Anyone want to volunteer to do the class art lessons?”

As I soon learned, this volunteer role had the official title of  “Art Docent” and required me to teach a series of 4 lessons in art history along with an accompanying art project for each. In other words, for most of the lesson I had to talk loudly to a bunch of unruly people about a topic they weren’t really interested in, while attempting to direct their attention to the accompanying PowerPoint slides. This was definitely familiar territory. I wondered if I would get business cards.

It turns out I didn’t get business cards, but at least the lesson materials were already prepared. All I had to do was edit the heck out of them for “better clarification,” which was a key management technique I’d observed in my interactions with our senior leadership team. (“Leadership Team” is pretentious corporate speak for the people that dump an urgent project on your plate and then immediately go on vacation somewhere without cell phone network coverage, leaving you to work through the holiday Christmas party to meet the deadline. On the positive side, at least you get to miss the crappy White Elephant exchange…)

As anticipated, there really wasn’t much difference between a classroom presentation and a business meeting. In fact, the cast of characters was very similar, which is probably due to the fact that many school kids grow up to be corporate folks.

Here are a few of the personalities I encountered during my lessons, which are also typically present in the business setting:

The Royal Pain: Puts his hand up every time you ask a question, even though he has no idea what you’re talking about and has been holding a sidebar conversation with the kid next to him since you started the lesson. When you move on to the next topic, his hand is still up.

Defense Tactic: Aside from slapping him, which would be illegal, there’s not much you can do. Take comfort in the fact that when this guy gets to the business world, he likely won’t make it out of the mailroom.

The One-Upper: This is the kid who, after you talk about Italian art, tries to impress you with his vast knowledge of Italian pasta shapes.

Defense Tactic: Since you used to live in Italy, continue the lesson in Italian for the next five minutes. Your Italian is admittedly a little rusty these days, but he won’t know if you confuse the word for faucet with the word for toilet.

The Politician: This girl sweetly reminds you how fun it was when you two sat together on the bus during last year’s class field trip. Unfortunately, this is also the same kid that nastily announced at the class holiday party last week that she re-gifted the Secret Santa present she received from your daughter.

Defense Tactic: Sweetly remind her back (in a low, sinister voice), that you know what she did last Christmas…

The Attention-Seeker: This brat complains the whole time that the art project is too difficult. Somehow, despite her complaints, she manages to complete the project within the given timeframe.

Defense Tactic: Give her the attention she so desperately craves by challenging this kid to a game of tetherball at recess. Then, wipe the court with her. If it looks like she’s going to win, however, claim sudden dehydration and explain that you urgently need a drink from the toilet.

First Day of School – My Epic Fail

 

The beginning of a new school year is full of unknowns. For instance:

  • How much homework will my child get? In other words, at what time do I have to start nagging in order for the homework to be completed by bedtime?
  • Will my child still be obsessed with becoming the Olympic tetherball gold medalist and resume begging me twice a day to install a tetherball court in the backyard? Everyone knows you can’t downplay the importance of home training for future Olympians.
  • Will the class bully give my kid the finger as a “back to school” greeting? Yes, this actually does happen. Just ask Elizabeth’s buddy Dominic who was the recipient of one such middle finger.

Yet, as I found out this year, the biggest and scariest unknown is whether I will be taken down by my own mental decrepitude on the primary school playground…and drag an unsuspecting first grader with me.

My kids were brimming with excitement yesterday, the first day of school. It was their opportunity to finally see all the friends with whom I had miserably failed to organize play dates during the summer. Furthermore, since they are still young enough to like to be seen with me, they love the fact that on this day and this day only, parents are allowed to accompany their children onto campus.

After the first day, of course, things resume to normal, which usually means pushing the kids out of the car without coming to a complete stop in order to make my 8:30 am meeting. This is the real reason I bought them helmets and knee pads a few years back; the scooters were just a cover.

Upon arriving on campus the first day, the protocol is to go with your child to his/her assigned teacher’s spot on the playground and line up in an orderly fashion. The teachers then make their way down their respective lines and introduce themselves personally to each child. I love this and find it to be a very warm and welcoming touch. This is, in fact, much better treatment than you generally receive when you start a new job in the corporate world, where it is not uncommon to spend the first two weeks spinning your wheels in a futile attempt to:

  1. locate the bathroom
  2. find a chair that’s not broken
  3. determine how to effectively gag the person who whistles loudly outside your door all day long
  4. obtain access to a computer so that you can meet the deadlines you know you’ll have if you can ever figure out who you report to

Because Elizabeth had to go to the upper grade playground for her meet and greet and Corinne had to go to the primary grade playground for hers, Thomas and I decided to divide and conquer. He took Elizabeth, and I took Corinne. Taking Corinne’s hand, we made our way to the appropriate line and took our places. Soon after, I saw a familiar face approach and take the place in line behind us. I turned and gave Connor a big smile and warm greeting.

Now, Connor is a shy boy who cried every day last year when his mom dropped him off at kindergarten. Since it appeared that his mom had ditched him this morning to accompany his little brother to pre-K, my maternal instincts took over. I peppered him with compliments, telling him how brave he was and commenting on how much he had grown over the summer. When it was clear that I had managed to coax Connor out of his shell in a matter of minutes, which was record time for this kid, I beamed with pride.

It was right at this point, where Connor and I had established a true rapport and were ready to face the day united, that I heard Corinne shout out excitedly in the other direction, “Hi Connor!” I turned my head and, sure enough, the real Connor had arrived.

I looked back at Fake Connor. Fake Connor looked at me. We both took another look at Real Connor. It had all become clear to me. Halfway through my conversation with “Connor”, Corinne had asked me who the kid was that I was talking to. I brushed off her silly question, because it was obvious that she had suffered summer amnesia and forgotten what her classmate looked like. But it was I, not Corinne, with the brain decay.

Once the truth had set in, I bowed down in utter defeat and asked Fake Connor to identify himself, for his sake and mine. He shook his head in true, first-grader pity and told me his name was Cody, and he was new to the school.

As Karma would have it, I ran into Real Connor’s mom a few minutes later. She had in fact ditched her son to take his brother to pre-K. After a quick tallying of pros and cons, I decided to reveal the morning’s prior events to her before someone else ratted me out. After all, I could not be certain how many witnesses there were to my mental downfall, or if Cody was inclined to keep this little misunderstanding to himself. Besides, I was also fairly certain that Corinne could not be trusted with such sensitive information.

As I gave Real Connor’s mom the play-by-play, she laughed sympathetically. However, I could tell she was simultaneously wracking her brain to figure out which medication she should suggest to me.

I think I would have preferred it if she would have just given me the finger.