Friday, October 22, 2010

PTA Blues

This is J’s fifth year in elementary school and for the first time this year I became a PTA member. As a single parent, I lacked  the capacity to take on any volunteer responsibilities that took time away from my never ending list of  to-dos. I figured with DB in the picture, I might have more latitude and dove in to the deep end of the pool when I announced my desire to take on some work to help as a PTA volunteer. I have to admit, I received a warm welcome as the PTA is always scrounging for volunteers. Back home, J and  DB were excited for me.
My first assignment was to do the monthly newsletter. Seemed like a walk in the park – I would get inserts from about six sources, I could pick out a template and combine the material. Since there was no editing involved, I was toying with the idea of an  Macro to pull the pieces and assemble the newsletter. The work would be a matter of few clicks I had a whole month to do this. 
At the risk of getting ahead of myself I was wondering if I could get one of the geeks at work to set me up with something like Silverstripe so that the contributors of the inserts could post their content online have the newsletter be generated automatically that the print shop could then print off of.
A day after I had been assigned my duties, another lady whom I will refer to as F volunteered for the same job and to spare us both any hurt feelings, the volunteer coordinator asked that we work on this gig as a team. In the first email, F wrote the following :
I also volunteered for the newsletter :). How would you like to work it out? We can alternate months...When I was in the Army I did the FRG newsletter and loved it. Please give me a call if you have time and we can talk more :)
When I read that note, my sense was that F really wanted this job to herself and wanted me out of her business. Against my better judgment, I decided to call her and work out how we could work on this thing together. In what would later prove to be a  career limiting move, I told her that I was impressed by her prior experience with newsletters and would love to learn from her on the job. F had at that point already picked out a template in some obscure publishing software that believed would be perfect for the job at hand. Sadly it could not be converted into something conventional like Word – but she’d be glad to give it a shot.
Within days she had produced a top-notch newsletter, taken it to the printer’s shop and had copies made for the entire school. The speed and the level of efficiency was astounding to say the least. There was no way I was going to pull off something even close the next month. I could now see the error of my hide-bound ways – foolishly trying to empower the users with open source content management software when they had this formidable human newsletter generator going at a hundred miles a minute and delighting in the experience.
Almost masochistically at this point, I tried to convert F’s  template and find something like it in Word and when all failed , in a final act of desperation reached out to her for help. She had in the meanwhile left me a voice mail message advising me to begin work on the next month’s newsletter as time was running out. I realized at this point she had taken the leadership role very seriously. A few days later, I had to throw in the towel and wrote this to the volunteer coordinator
F  has a great format for the Newsletter that requires software that I do not have  - we have not been able to convert her template to Word. I think it will work out best if F does the newsletters going forward.
I would love to volunteer for anything else that I have the skills to help out with.
I had forgotten what it feels like to be kicked out of the proverbial sand-box and my first foray into the world of PTA brought back memories of grade school. I am beginning to realize it is a certain type of person that makes a great volunteer like F and I just do not fit the profile. I lack the intensity, don’t derive a huge amount of satisfaction by doing this job and finally don’t believe in the agenda of this PTA.
I am an outsider who tried to step into the magic circle and had my hand resoundingly slapped. As for the volunteer coordinator, she continues to preserve an icy silence that I can only take to mean that I have been banished from the playground and not just the sandbox. Thanks to me, F must have moved a few notches up the PTA totem pole and for that I am very happy – she definitely deserves it.


ggop said...

Why do these volunteering opportunities bring out the alpha moms? :-(

HC this was your first time with a news letter. She knows that s/w like the back of her hand. Take away that package and have her explore and find a new solution. Then we can level the playing field.

I feel for you getting the cold shoulder. It is not fun. I hope your future ventures in PTA are more satisfying!

Heartcrossings said...

ggop - I wish the same too. Sadly, the PTA scene is dominated by alpha moms. One such as myself will always find it challenging to find a way to contribute without with getting railroaded :)