It's the little things...
September 14, 2008 7:05 AM   Subscribe

Teachers, please read: I was just made president of the PTA at my son's elementary school. I am completely new to everything PTA and I'm taking over a situation where we have a serious budget shortfall, so this year's focus will have to be fundraising, perhaps even more than supporting programs...But, I still would like to regularly do things that demonstrate appreciation for our teachers...

So teachers, what is the low hanging fruit that isn't too costly, but very helpful? It does not have to relate directly to the classroom as long as it makes teachers feel good. Any and all suggestions appreciated.

Possibly helpful info: We are a Title 1 school with a young, very well-trained, enthusiastic staff and we have a vibrant international community with somewhat patchy parental participation among the immigrant groups- which we are trying to change.
posted by mistsandrain to Education (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
When I was teaching in a Title 1 school, I spent a lot of my own money on office supplies and stuff for my classroom. A small gift certificate to an office supplies store or to the local teachers' shop would probably be appreciated quite a bit.
posted by PhatLobley at 7:31 AM on September 14, 2008

At my school the PTA throws potluck dinners for the teachers, usually after school ends on a day near a holiday. If the teachers at your school have a lounge/photocopy room, a rotating volunteer to leave snacks or cookies there would probably be appreciated too.
posted by msittig at 7:58 AM on September 14, 2008

Participating in National Teacher Day is always nice.

Also the gift of time is precious. At one of the schools I taught, teachers had to give up some of our lunch/break time to do lunch duty or recess duty with the students. If it's like that at your school, try to suggest a parent volunteer program so the teachers can have a full lunch or break time. I know I always felt frazzled and rushed on those days and would have loved to take a full break/lunch to refresh myself for the afternoon.

Also, another tip for your PTA would be to discourage individual gift giving to teachers, like around the holidays and such. It's really inappropriate and I have more "#1 Teacher" mugs than I care to count. What I really would have loved instead is a letter or note written by the parent or student thanking me for my efforts or how I helped their child. Something I could put in my professional portfolio or my personal teacher scrapbook to remind me of that student and the difference I made in their lives. Seriously, an honest and heartfelt thank you goes a long way.
posted by NoraCharles at 8:39 AM on September 14, 2008

Not a teacher, but how about mobilizing and organizing PTA members to contribute time helping in classrooms? Use online tools to organize, e.g. google calendar or meetup?

I much appreciate a lack of fundraisers and a simple request for cash (e.g. everyone gives $25). A good approach to fundraising is a pyramid of having each pta board member contribute something (so you can say you have 100% contributions from the board), then contact five people who do the same, etc., etc. Learn a lesson from the Obama campaign(!), organize, track, use data.
posted by idb at 9:10 AM on September 14, 2008

Our school hosted a penny drive where students brought in pennies by the classroom. The classroom with the most pennies won (any nickels, dimes, etc they used for negative points for another classroom).

All the money went directly to the teacher's for classroom supplies. We managed to get an extra 100 dollars per classroom.

Organized parent help is great, too.
posted by aetg at 9:17 AM on September 14, 2008

I know you asked for teacher-friendly ideas, but I'm not a teacher. My wife was PTA president for two years though, so here are some things we saw work.

T-Shirts can be a good fund raiser, because you can usually count on one per family member. If you work a deal with a local t-shirt shop, you can easily pull 100% profit.

But, as idb says, the best way to fundraise is to get donations. I hate Hate HATE buying the tchotchkes and candy and putting the kids through point-system schemes where for X number of sales they get points toward some other piece of easily-broken, made in China POS. Those capitalist-fundraisers take too big a chunk for what they are worth, IMO.

Potlucks can be fun, but these days, there are a lot of rules about food, at least in the schools our kids are in.

To try and get bigger money out of corporations can be worthwhile too. Local businesses will often donate money for space in a school calendar, yearbook or logo on a shirt.

As far as supplies, the schools our kids are in send home a list of things that they'd like, such as hand sanitizer, tissues, other paper products. I don't think the PTA is really involved in that, but it simplifies things, and virtually eliminates teachers paying out-of-pocket for shared supplies.
posted by tomierna at 9:25 AM on September 14, 2008

Definitely have to agree with the the importance of time. Anything you can do that will help teachers with time such as making copies, stuffing folders, organizing etc. will be very much appreciated.

Another thing you could do is get a group together that would help write grants. There are lots and lots of grants out there, but again, time is often the determining factor in why teachers don't write them themselves. I am also a big fan of Scholastic Book Fairs as a fund raising tool. At our school (a Title One School) we make enough to give the teachers a little, donate books to the library and support other PTA programs, plus kids get books!
posted by pazoozoo at 9:31 AM on September 14, 2008

My high school had a program called PEST (Parents Enthusiastically Supporting Teachers, or something like that, I don't quite remember). I don't know whether this would work in your school, since you mentioned that you had spotty parental participation, but it is a good way to get people involved.

Essentially, a parent would receive a list of school employees (not necessarily teachers, but also administrators, janitors, counselors, etc.) and would choose one employee to "PEST." The parent would receive a list of basic information about that employee, such as favorite colors, candies, movies, etc. From there, it would be the parent's responsibility to bring a little gift or card each week for their employee, just to let them know that they are appreciated.

The whole thing is done kind of "in secret," and at the end of the year, there is a PEST reveal party, where the employees get to meet the parent that has been supporting them through the year.

It's kind of an involved idea, but I found that the teachers really appreciated it and it did help parents to become better acquainted with the people who run the school!
posted by brynna at 9:33 AM on September 14, 2008

I'm not a teacher, but have done PTO and school fundraising for years. As a PTO we offered each class one free field trip (bus costs + entrance fees), which the teachers really appreciated.
We had a strong fundraising machine, so set up an allocations process - telling teachers and parents to think "outside the box" and come to us for funding. We would work with ideas to make them feasible, affordable and within the parameters of what the school board would ok (use of school property, etc.) But the biggest hurdle we had was getting the word out that we were willing to do more than fund great ideas - teachers are not going to jump into something that may take over all their time. We had to make sure they knew they would be supported. It worked best with a group of teachers getting together to delegate tasks, and the PTO footing the bill and offering volunteers. Also parent volunteers need to be done as a partnership, i.e. two parents on a task - so there is no breakdown if work/family constraints get in the way.

We had parents organize a visiting artist/writer program. We also have an ethnic fest, where our diverse student body gets to show off cuisine and customs.
Everyone likes dessert.

There's a million things - I did it for 15 years. Me-mail me if you want to pick my brain.
posted by readery at 9:33 AM on September 14, 2008

As a school administrator, a couple of thoughts...
Do not forget about the administration. Obviously, they're not on the visible front line, but they still make sure life runs smoothly. Last year, one thing the PTA did that we all appreciated was a catered lunch for all school staff. Now the key here was using school connections for free/cheap food. We have an alumni director so it's easy to find out who to contact, but things can be harder to get those contacts depending. Still, they brought in the lunch during lunch hour so everyone got to partake in the fun. Nice tables and dishes were also used for that extra flair.

If you all already have fundraisers, I would work on helping to find volunteers through your position as you'll get to know a lot of people quite quickly.

I also have my opinions of how to handle school politics in your position (they will come up!), but I'll leave that to email if you're interested.
posted by jmd82 at 10:40 AM on September 14, 2008

Response by poster: Wow, I really appreciate all of these responses. This community always comes through for me. Can't wait to read more.

I will very likely email those of you who offered to discuss further. THANKS.
posted by mistsandrain at 10:54 AM on September 14, 2008

I bet some of those teachers have been working in your school for a while. Would it be possible to get past students to write, say, their favorite memory of their favorite teacher? Or a funny story, anything that was memorable. You could collect those in a little book and sell it at your fundraisers.
posted by one_bean at 11:22 AM on September 14, 2008

Our elementary schools do the following:

1. Fall "Genevieve's" Fundraiser (look it up, overpriced stuff, but in our town, people buy things appropriate for birthday party gifts, etc. like personalized plate kits, etc. and all the gifts are things no one would buy for their own kids, but they appreciate others buying one for them)

2. Fall BBQ held in the field behind the elementary school which sells tickets for a plate and serves chicken, burgers, potatoes, corn etc.

3. Poinsetta fundraiser or Holiday Wreath fundraiser at Holiday time

4. Birthday Book Program - donate a specific amt of $ in your child's name, the librarians buy a book for the school library and commemorate your child's birthday with a sticker inside the front cover of the book. This brings in a LOT of money.

5. MVP Teachers .... buy votes for your Favorite Teacher for a certain amt of $, all the teachers have a good sense of humor about who gets the most votes because all the $ goes into the kitty.

6. Ice Cream Socials - $3 buys a ticket for a styrofoam bowl of one of 12 flavor of ice cream with toppings of your choice. The kids clamor to go to these, held in the cafeteria.

7. Valentine's Day Chocolate Fundraiser - contract with your local sweet shop or arrange for bulk shipment from online retailer and have in-school pickup in the lobby.

This is all I can think of at the moment. Good luck :)
posted by KWittman at 4:15 PM on September 14, 2008

Best fundraiser ever:

1. Sell tickets to an local fair/event that costs nothing. Get buses, sell the tickets to kids, get parents to come as chaperones. Students should bring their own lunches. Have student representatives compete to see who can sell the most tickets to other students. Have prizes.

PURE CASH. We do this at our school and it works out great. Course we're in Chicago so there are tons of local events to sell tickets to.

2. Carwash - Sell the tickets to the carwash in advance. Have a contest with the kids. Also sell tickets the day of.
posted by allthewhile at 4:41 PM on September 14, 2008

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