True Confessions of a PTA Mom: And So it Begins…

by PTA Mom
Originally Published: August 29, 2012

Today was the big day – my son, Jackson, started kindergarten. My husband and sister are educators, so Jackson has been raised around teachers and classrooms since he was an infant. He spent his first Halloween at the school dance dressed as a chicken, dancing with his Daddy and the students. He ran his first relay race at age three with second graders during field day. At age four he participated in the school’s holiday sing-a-long and joined the kindergarteners afterward for cupcakes and candy canes. My son has always felt welcomed and loved in a school environment. So for Jackson, the first day of kindergarten seemed both exciting and perfectly natural.

I watched his anticipation grow as we walked toward the school. Shouts of “hurry up, Mommy” and “come on, we’re almost there” came from the distant blur ahead wearing a Dallas Cowboys backpack. When we finally arrived at our neighborhood elementary school, and after he entertained my paparazzi-like intent of photographing his every move, Jackson celebrated his moment. He jumped up and down and raised his hands in the air in pure exhilaration, in a way that reminded me of when Rocky reached the top of those stairs at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Jackson had finally arrived.

We took what seemed to be a very long walk to Jackson’s new kindergarten classroom. As we made our way to class, we squeezed by excited students and parents. We passed by other kindergarteners escorted by anxious parents toting large camera equipment. We stepped to the side to make room for entire families that had come to send-off their students. We passed the principal hugging children. We saw teachers scurrying to their rooms to greet their new students. The excitement was palpable.

Jackson didn’t hesitate as he entered his classroom and greeted his new teacher, so his father and I took our cue and said our goodbyes. Through tears I took my husband’s hand as we walked through the maze of hallways to the parent- teacher association’s (P.T.A.) “boo hoo breakfast,” a tradition welcoming kindergarten parents and helping them transition on the first day of school.

A “P.T.A. Mom” is born
I was quick to join the P.T.A. at my first opportunity on meet-the-teacher night. I also have been around schools and educators long enough to know that I wanted and needed to be involved in the educational community. I met some of the other P.T.A. moms, who told me about the wonderful activities that awaited our son – the fall
carnival, movie nights, award assemblies, field day. Visions of class parties and field trips filled my head, my tears dried, and I began to share their excitement. I was a P.T.A. Mom! I started making plans to get one of those sequined P.T.A. shirts the other moms were sporting. Then it happened. One of the other mothers took me under her wing and kindly explained to me that our neighborhood elementary school was an incredible place. She told me if I could imagine the perfect elementary school for my child, this would be it. (This was wonderful news any parent would want to hear.) She continued praising Jackson’s new school, telling me that many of the parents felt our school and community were in a “bubble” of sorts – protected from the harsh realities of the outside world. At that moment my bubble burst.

My many hats
You see, not only am I a P.T.A. Mom, but I’m also a Principal’s Wife. I know a little something about those “harsh realities.” My husband has long served in schools in the “outside world” (he calls it Title I) and I leave our neighborhood “bubble” every chance I can to support their functions. My husband’s elementary school does not share the advantages of Jackson’s – more than 90% of his students are designated low socio-economic status. Many of his students could not be escorted by their entire families on the first day of school because their parents work two or more jobs to make ends meet. I know that my husband and his staff worry about how some of their students will eat when school is not in session and have worked with local food banks to ensure their students are fed over breaks. My husband and I purchase shoes and clothing for needy students at the holidays through a program set up by his dedicated teachers. I know those harsh realities – I’ve seen their smiling faces for many years now. And I know the challenges faced by students and schools in that outside world.

I also know just enough about education to be dangerous. Okay – in my defense, I’m actually pretty well versed in the challenges facing public education. Not only am I a P.T.A. Mom and a Principal’s Wife, but I’m also an Education Advocate. I have a better-than-average understanding of school finance, funding cuts, accountability, the Texas legislature, politics, and the corporate-led movement to privatize education. I’ve supported Texas Parent PAC’s efforts to identify pro-education candidates for state office and have made political donations to those campaigns. I’ve attended candidate forums, looking would-be legislators in the eyes, pointing to my son, and demanding better. I’ve spoken out at town halls looking for solutions. I’ve taken my plight to columnists at our local newspaper. I’ve marched in protest on the state capitol – twice, in fact.

I know what $5.4 billion in cuts to state funding look like – crowded classrooms resulting in record requests for class size waivers, staff shortages, elimination of bussing, a long-awaited 1% pay increase for educators after many long years without raises. I know the dangers facing public education and that despite the sweet perception of our community bubble; my son’s perfect school is not immune to funding cuts, “reform” efforts, and privatization attempts.

The many enemies of public education
I know the enemies of public education and I don’t hesitate to call them exactly that. In fact, I’ve made a few enemies in my time fighting for education – and I wear that as a badge of honor. (Advocacy work isn’t always popular!) I know the names of the anti-education state legislators and I communicate with them regularly warning, begging, and attempting to embarrass them into restoring the $5.4 billion in funding cuts forced upon Texas public schools in the 82nd legislature.

I know the lobbyists and uninformed policy wonks that use worked-up statistics, anecdotal evidence of “our failing schools,” and hackneyed cries of “fiscal responsibility” and “tax reform” to scare the lay Texan into abandoning support of public education. They rely upon the law of if-you-tell-a-lie-enough-times-people-will-believe-it-as-truth and I call them out every chance I get. (Again, popularity really isn’t important to me.) I won’t let them stand behind bumper sticker political slogans and hide their real motivations to undermine public schools. (Here’s a hint – there is often an extreme ideological value and/or profit driving these groups; neither of which are of benefit to Texas students.)

I know the corporate- and profit-driven interests that are exploiting half-truths about public education in an attempt to shove endless testing down the throats of students or promote vouchers and private reform efforts. In addition to P.T.A. Mom, Principal’s Wife, and Education Advocate, my resume also says Businessperson. I get profit –in my world we live and die by it. But, I have also worked in the business world long enough to know that I will not have my child’s education and future tied to anybody’s profit margin or EBIDA. Not on my watch.

Pissed-off mamas
So I realize I’m probably not the stereotypical P.T.A. Mom. I’m comfortable with that – I’m not very good at crafty things, I don’t bake, and I’ve never organized a carnival. But perhaps I represent a new generation of P.T.A. Moms – those that are informed, vocal advocates fighting to protect the interests of children at all costs.

I will be proud to work with my fellow P.T.A. Moms to ensure all of our children receive not only the education that they deserve (and that our taxes pay for), but the one that is promised them by the constitution of the state of Texas. I will help my fellow P.T.A. Moms to call out disingenuous education “reformers” and politicians that are looking to turn a quick buck on the backs of our children. I will encourage my fellow P.T.A. Moms to pester, threaten, and vote out legislators that don’t share a true commitment to public education. I will work with my fellow P.T.A. Moms to ensure the schools uphold their end of the bargain and deliver a quality education worthy of our children. Together we will work to protect Texas’ continued economic growth, which will be short-lived if we can’t produce tomorrow’s scientists, business people, developers, entrepreneurs, and great thinkers.

Former Texas Lieutenant Governor Bill Ratliff once said these attacks on education won’t end until the “mamas get angry.” I once heard him speak about the early efforts of Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD) to force legislators to pass tougher DWI laws. The laws we have today would not be in place if not for those determined, pissed-off mamas. Today’s mamas have the power (and frankly, the sheer numbers) to make them a force to be reckoned with. I am confident that informed and pissed-off mamas can take-on a lobbyist, politician, and policy wonk any day to protect the education of their children. (Lobbyists, politicians, policy wonks, and enemies of public education – consider yourselves warned.)

Fellow P.T.A. Moms (and Dads, and Grandparents, and Taxpayers, and Community Members, and Educators, and Pro-Education Legislators, and Concerned Citizens), consider this your call to arms. It’s time to protect public education for our children and our future. It’s time to move on from bake sales and field day. It’s time to get pissed!

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