How to go about setting up a PTA

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 05 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 05 March, 2013, 5:11pm

My sister in Canada is very active in her children's school through a PTA group. My children's school here has no such group. What do they do and how I can form one?

It is true that fewer schools in Hong Kong have Parent Teacher Associations. They started in the 1800s as a way to introduce more "mothering" into children's education. Given that here most mothers work and depend on their helpers for the daily care of their family, it is little wonder that PTAs have not really caught on in Hong Kong.

International English schools usually support PTAs with parents selling uniforms, collecting for charitable events, raising money for equipment or books, etc. They may also organise a list of mother helpers to support small group activities.

PTAs today include fathers and may be more vocal in trying to influence school boards over perceived problems in the school. As such, many local schools do not welcome these associations because of the loss of power they seem to present.

Some PTAs influence the curriculum in ways that create more work for teachers. A PTA needs a teaching representative to relay back to the teachers, as many times what the parents ask for could result in more work for the teachers, giving them less time to spend on their students. PTAs need to listen to both sides of the story.

If your child's school does not have a PTA, you can approach the school about starting one. However, you might want to ask around. If there is any negative historical background on the issue, it is best not to stir things up again. There are many ways you can support your children's school without causing disruption.

Ask the teacher and let them know you are interested in doing some small group work with any children they think need extra help. Most likely this will not be with your own children. Having a parent come in and help, even with other children, can have a calming and focusing effect on your children. They feel a sense of pride in pointing out their mum. Teachers often find the best behaved students have more involved parents. Children may be showing their best behaviour to the teacher to make parents proud or reflecting expectations you set at home.

There are insurance issues to be considered and the teacher will need to clear it with the principal. Suggest ways in which you might help, supervising handwriting work, listening to children read, reading a book to children to pre-teach vocabulary, supervising students doing corrections, among others. Offer some times when you are available to come in and see how those fit in with the class schedule.

Be flexible, offer ideas, but accept the teacher's focus and needs.

Be flexible, offer ideas, but accept the teacher's focus and needs. Even boring jobs that just need to be done, such as sticking worksheets in books for younger children or creating resources for an activity, can take a load off the teachers and inspire them to be more creative with their teaching. Many teachers have more ideas for lessons than their planning time allows for, so the extra hands will be welcomed.

Organising events such as dinners for the teachers is a great option. Approach the principal with your ideas. Be willing to contact other parents to raise the funds, find parents with businesses willing to donate prizes, put down the deposits with the restaurants, organise a menu sensitive to vegetarians and any Western tastes, decorate entrances and stages, and organise entertainment. Teachers will appreciate the thought and hard work.

As you become more involved, you will find more ways to help. In one school, teachers who coached winning speech competitors received a nice watch and a thank-you note. There are many times when teachers are just doing their jobs, but a small "thank you" reminds them that parents notice and appreciate their hard work. PTAs are great for that.

School fêtes are chances for parents to run booths. Practise your face-painting skills. Carnival games raise money quickly if parents donate small prizes. Think of fundraising ideas for library books or PE equipment. Talk to the teachers about what is needed. You will make yourself popular and welcome all around. Kris Gienger teaches at a Hong Kong international primary school