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PTA Volunteers

Many public institutions rely on the generosity and help of volunteers in order to run smoothly. One of the more important institutions is the school, and one of the most visible volunteers in the school is the PTA volunteer. These volunteers fulfill a necessary role, especially for the elementary schools, by augmenting the work of the principal and teachers with extras that the school ordinarily would not have. The people who do the volunteer work are varied, but the PTA seems to act as a magnet for three types of personalities: the power seeker, the eager beaver, and the dependable worker.

Dominating Dora, the "power seeker," usually starts off as a committee chairman and almost always ends up as the PTA president. She feels she must run the PTA her way because only she knows the best way to do it. She calls board meetings often and is incensed and hurt if someone misses the meeting. All jobs must be done her way, and she frequently organizes half of the job before it is delegated. She then checks up to see if it is being done precisely as she organized it. On the other hand, she may not delegate anything at all, preferring to do most of the work herself. Not delegating the work ensures that it will be done properly, namely her way. Dominating Dora usually follows an unacknowledged personal agenda to gain status, prestige, influence, and authority; she often has no idea that she is following a personal agenda. The school personnel are wary of her since she is very bossy in her dealings with everyone. She even goes so far as to tell the principal and teachers how to go about their own jobs. Dominating Dora also promotes programs within the PTA that the principal often does not want. For example, her idea of painting cute rainbows and stars down the hallways may not seem reasonable to a cost-conscious principal who has just had the school hallways painted a fresh coat of creamy white. Dominating Dora may pursue the issue anyway until there is a showdown with the principal, who usually has the last word on these things. Unfortunately, this disagreement causes bad feelings which many times costs her votes at the next election of officers. Dominating Dora always sees that her name is prominently displayed on anything that has to do with the PTA. This recognition is her payment for all that she has done, and she glories in it. She makes sure that she is always available for any awards or plaques or other recognition certificates, often missing out on her children's activities. A "power seeker" like Dominating Dora burns out in about two years, or she is pushed out sooner by her fellow volunteers who do not care for her leadership. Of course, she could not have accomplished any of her myriads of activities without the "eager beaver."

Rarin'-to-go Rita is an "eager beaver" who agrees with everything Dominating Dora says. She goes to all the board meetings and would never dream of missing one. She does everything she is told to do. She volunteers to do every job and is delegated to as many as she can handle plus one more for good measure. Rarin'-to-go Rita is usually the volunteer with all the PTA files stored in her dining room. Her family has not eaten in the dining room since she joined the PTA. Rarin'-to-go Rita is also the one who makes all the cute prizes for game day and designs and fashions the charming centerpieces for the PTA banquet. She thinks nothing of staying up until all hours getting them done. Rarin'-to-go Rita also has an unacknowledged personal agenda, which is that she wants to be liked, needed and recognized as a capable person. The school personnel love to have her around because she overachieves for their benefit. Rarin'-to-go Rita does most of Dominating Dora's background work. She is the one who will find out how much the paint will cost for the cute rainbows and stars, will design them, and do the work when the principal gives in to Dominating Dora's verbal storm. Rarin'-to-go Rita does not expect public accolades for her work so much as she needs peer group acceptance and recognition. If she receives public attention, she usually becomes very embarrassed and flustered. "Eager beavers" like Rarin'-to-go Rita usually burn out within two years, but their places are soon taken by new "eager beavers." If a suitable "eager beaver" cannot be found, the work will be done by the "dependable worker."

Normal Nancy is a "dependable worker" who is not interested in running the PTA. She goes to no board meetings. She does not care whose way is right as long as the job gets done. Normal Nancy always signs up to help in any way she can. When handed a job, she does it quickly, efficiently, and without much fuss. As chairman of a committee, she gathers enough help around her to get the job done, delegating as needed. She also has a personal agenda; she wants to improve the educational experience of her own children as well as other people's children. She feels the only way she can improve school is by giving her time when she can. The school personnel like her because she is reliable, does what is required, and does not interfere with the school. Normal Nancy does not get involved in any programs that are controversial. She does not want to be involved in the politics of the PTA; she just wants to make her contribution and go home. Normal Nancy does not seek recognition. In fact, she goes out of her way to avoid it. For example, she may not show up at the PTA Volunteer Recognition Banquet to receive a special plaque because of a scheduling conflict with her daughter's ballet class. After receiving the plaque from a friend, who carries it to her in a plain brown paper bag, she places it in the filing cabinet along with her other plaques and certificates of recognition because they are not that important to what she is doing. The "dependable worker" like Normal Nancy does not burn out because she paces herself, works steadily, and fills in the gaps where needed. Doras and Ritas may come and go, but Nancys "keep going and going and going."

The interesting thing about the "power seeker," the "eager beaver," and the "dependable worker" is that they are all necessary to run the PTA organization. Their quirks are what make them important in getting the activities planned, the prizes made, the playground equipment ordered, and the book fair organized. Another noteworthy fact is that, when necessary, any PTA volunteer can become any one of these three types of people. The fact that a "power seeker," an "eager beaver," and a "dependable worker" can fit together like a puzzle to form a bigger picture is the miracle of the PTA volunteer organization.

--Christine Wagner

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