PTA Pain

I have vague memories of the Parent Teachers Association (PTA) in the US, where I grew up. I remember the occasional school-wide meeting being held in the evening and a fall festival here, or there, involving baked goods. I’m not sure how much of my non-memory is due to just being an average kid (that is, extremely self-involved and just not noticing what the grown-ups were doing) or if the whole thing was just lower key.

Or, perhaps, my parents had some choice in the matter.

At any rate, PTA membership in Japan is by default. They take the fees out of your bank account right along with school supplies and school lunch payments. (Lunches her are amazing, by the way. A topic for another post.) I don’t know if it’s possible to opt out, or not. I certainly don’t know anyone who has tried!

The PTA at my children’s school is arranged like a pyramid, and at the top are the officers. Beneath them are the leaders of the four councils: class representatives, safety, and … well, in Japanese they call it “public information”, the group that makes the quarterly newsletter, along with the nomination committee. (These are the guys that try to suck you into being an officer for the next school year). Underneath that are the representatives from each class, and beneath all that is everyone else.

You are expected to serve on one of these councils at least once for each child.

This year, I ended up being the class rep for the first grade.

  1.  Our job is to organize a school lunch “tasting day,” when parents can have lunch at school. But not with their child, in the Home EC room. (Both my daughter and I were disappointed by that.)
  2. Arrange and execute the washing of all the schools curtains. Twice. (I didn’t realize I should be washing my curtains at home twice a year….oops.)
  3. Collect and prepare for posting “bell marks,” the Japanese version of “Boxtops for Education,” collecting proofs of purchases that can be exchanged for school supplies.
  4. And lastly, mending the white smocks that children wear when distributing school lunches (in Japan, the children help prepare the lunch.)

Whew, that was quite a list!

Of course, all of these jobs require multiple letters sent home, which we prepare, and monthly meetings because … well, because this is Japan, perhaps.

Every family without fail is to volunteer for one of the tasks, either washing curtains, helping organize the bell marks, or mending the smocks.

When my oldest child started school, I was really surprised that the PTA were in charge of things that were so nitty-gritty.

I’m pretty sure, for example, the my mother never washed school curtains in her washing machine and then hauled them back to school to hang them up, still wet, after cleaning the school’s curtains rails.

So it makes me wonder …

What is PTA like in your country? Do you have to participate? What kind of things do you do?

This is an original post by our World Mom Melanie Oda from Japan.

Photo credit to the author.

Melanie Oda (Japan)

If you ask Melanie Oda where she is from, she will answer "Georgia." (Unless you ask her in Japanese. Then she will say "America.") It sounds nice, and it's a one-word answer, which is what most people expect. The truth is more complex. She moved around several small towns in the south growing up. Such is life when your father is a Southern Baptist preacher of the hellfire and brimstone variety. She came to Japan in 2000 as an assistant language teacher, and has never managed to leave. She currently resides in Yokohama, on the outskirts of Tokyo (but please don't tell anyone she described it that way! Citizens of Yokohama have a lot of pride). No one is more surprised to find her here, married to a Japanese man and with two bilingual children (aged four and seven), than herself. And possibly her mother. You can read more about her misadventures in Asia on her blog, HamakkoMommy.

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