Friday, September 12, 2008

I Are Room Mom Now: Part Deux

Last week I posted about the startling news that I am the Room Mom for Laura's second grade class. I was a little trepidatious, not because of the official duties, but because I knew there were "unofficial" or secret duties, like collecting money for teacher gifts, that I wasn't sure how to go about. Also, my two year-old creates some drag on my in-room volunteering. (I know I was not alone in my need to be clued in, because that post got a lot of traffic from folks googling "room mom duties.") You guys advised me to delegate and be very clear about what I could and couldn't do. I emailed Jan, the other mom who had said she wanted to help with crafts. I asked her to be Co-Room Mom (everyone loves a title), and suggested we divide up the work. She agreed. And there was a meeting of all Room Moms up at school yesterday. So here's what I learned and here's what I'm doing.

In our school, the Room Moms do these things:
  • Write to all the parents once or twice a year and solicit donations that will be used to pay for two class parties, teacher gifts, and special treats and activities during Teacher Appreciation Week.
  • Keep a ledger of all money received and spent, and give the ledger to the principal in May.
  • Create and maintain the schedule of weekly classroom volunteers, send out reminders to parents.
  • Oversee the planning of the two classroom parties.
  • Solicit donated stuff from parents for an auction basket, as a PTA fundraiser in December.
  • Coordinate with the parents of each month's birthday kids about the in-class celebration.
  • Be in charge of doing a monthly craft project with the class (our class only--I don't think other rooms are doing this).

Donations: A big part of the Room Mom meeting was spent talking about collecting money to fund class activities. I was glad that it was the big focus, because this is the part I was most in the dark about. In the next week, I am going to send out an email, and send a letter with each kid, introducing myself and Jan, listing what events we have planned, and asking for a voluntary contribution of cash. They'll make the checks out to me, and I'll keep track of the kitty. Our guidelines say that each family can contribute no more than $50 for the year to the Room Mom fund. (Any more than that needs to go to the teacher for her craft fund, or to the PTA. Some Room Moms are going to solicit money twice this year, with a max of $25 each time, but we have the option of doing it just once for the whole year, and I would rather go that route.

I think this part requires some tact, because I know there are families with multiple kids in school who just can't write another check for this. Plus, times are hard out there. There are plenty of non-monetary things the class needs, though, and the letter will talk about those too. The money that goes in and out needs to be kept track of; the principal told us that she gets calls at the end of the year from parents who want to know what the class spent their money on, and she likes to be able to give them an exact accounting. Our Room Mom last year sent this ledger out to all of the parents, at least a couple of times.

The No-Cash Option: One woman raised her hand and said that her child's teacher had decreed that she didn't want money collected at all--that parents were to donate food and material things but no cash. That would definitely be one way to go. Then kids could bring individual gifts if they wanted, but there would be no class gift. It's good to clarify with the teacher which way she prefers. As I write this, this way is making more sense to me. My class is not like this, though.

Parties and Auction Basket: At Open House, Mrs. S had parents sign under the event they wanted to help with, then she gave those lists to me. In the next couple of days, I will email each group of parents to confirm that they're willing and able to work on that activity, and I'll ask one of them to designate herself as the head of that event. There were tons of moms for each party and only one person for the auction basket. Guess she gets to be in charge of that.

In-class Volunteers: Mrs. S also gave each parent a list of weekly volunteer needs, so they could check off which they were willing to do. Jan, my Co-Room Mom, is going to be in charge of the weekly volunteer scheduling. This was the part of the job that I was most dreading, because 1) it just sounds dreadful to me, and 2) I can't go and fill in on short notice, if someone cancels, because of the toddler situation. My impression of our Room Mom last year was that she did a lot of in-class stuff herself. I am not able to do that. I gave Jan the parent volunteer interest forms and she's going to start scheduling.

Monthly Crafts: Jan is really into this. Mrs. S wants them to be seasonally appropriate but "not too complicated." I didn't hear any other Room Moms mention crafts.

Monthly Birthday Celebrations: I know all the kids' birthdays, as do their own mothers, presumably. And I know the dates every month that Mrs. S wants to have cake. So all I have to do is email a couple of moms a month and tell them when to bring cake. I don't remember ever, ever having an in-class observation of my birthday. I think this might be new.

Teacher Gifts: At the meeting they supplied us with a little "Teacher Wishlist" form with spaces for the teacher to put her favorite foods, interests, and favorite stores (Ann Taylor Loft. All teachers love Ann Taylor Loft. And Target.) There were other little bits of info, like favorite color and favorite takeout lunch. Even if you don't have a handy form given to you, it would be good to get this info somehow. I was going to email another teacher I know who is a friend of Mrs. S. The thing around here is to give a big gift card from the class at the Christmas and end of the year parties.

So what to do right now? We're in the start-up phase of the school year, and if you are a Room Mom, and there's no big meeting organized for you guys, this is a good time to meet with the teacher and find out:

  • What her expectations are--some teachers do a lot of this stuff themselves, or some may want lots of computer help or other kinds of involvement from parents.
  • Get the other parents' contact info from her--you will need it to make a class directory and get the ball rolling on donations and volunteering. (At our school you have to have permission to include someone's info in a contact list, and Mrs. S already had them indicate whether they wanted to be included or not, so be sure to respect people's preference.)
  • What kind of gifts she likes, if you're going that route.

Then find someone to help you, whether it's someone who signed up for a lot of things, or another parent you already know. There really are not a lot of great Room Mom resources on the web. There is this place, but it kind of talks to you as though you're new to our planet. It has some sample forms, though, like a Teacher Info/Wishlist thing. Maybe more good stuff if you dig. What I really like, actually, is Family Fun Magazine. I just started getting this, and unlike some family mags (I'm looking at you, Cookie) it's filled with things that don't actually cost money. Their website has tons of cute and doable crafts, like these guys:

Presh. Okay, maybe only I like those. But I hope this helps give you an idea of what's involved in Room Momming, and also that you don't have to enslave yourself. So much depends upon the teacher, not just on her wishes but on her degree of organization and how on-the-ball she was at the outset in getting volunteer commitments from parents. I hope you have a coalition of the willing to draw upon. And I would love to hear how it works where you are, and what you guys have planned. Here's to a good year, y'all!


Amy said...

Wow. Great summary, Beck! Look at you--the Room Mom Matron already. :) I think it's a really good thing you roped someone in to help you said, it's definitely do-able, but there's still lots to take care of!

On another note, these modern times we live in has brought changes to teacher gifts! I'm sure from the teacher's perspective, that is a really, REALLY good thing. I guess I just remember with some fondness the days that Mom (a veteran teacher, readers!) would bring home her box of Christmas gifts or end-of-year stuff...we'd have fun looking over all the random stuff she got. Remember the pinecone at Christmas?

Anyhoo, you go, girl! Whip those parents into shape!

Bren said...

I think our whole town is a "no cash" town. Except maybe the schmancy private school 'over there', and we really don't hold truck with them. But as a sort of hippie University town, the very idea of collecting cash seems primitive. Personally, I am offended when I'm expected to donate money for some gift that someone else picks out. I have no problem sending snacks that I made or bought in my own bargain-hunting or when the teacher has a "wish tree" with needed items and you can go pick a 'leaf' with band-aids or crayons written on it and provide that. No-one knows what I paid for them (probably not much). Plenty of parents here have no income as they're working on degrees or running a non-profit or living in a commune.

We have a "teacher appreciation week" where we got a letter that explained what we would do each day. Monday everyone takes flowers (Gary took the entire 5-foot-tall sunflower we had - some people had professional arrangements, and some potted plants) the next day was a letter or drawing, one day the parents had arranged a brunch/lunch thing to be set out in the break room, and Friday each teacher got a basket filled with donated 'luxury' things. Chocolate bars, $100 gift cards to a spa, and everything in between, that had been collected during the week at the front office. You could take one thing or nothing and no one would know. The baskets were set out and you just put it in the appropriate one.

I do not envy you, but I do admire you. I totally use my little man-friend as an excuse to not get very involved except to send snacks every other week or so.

Carrie said...

My kids are not in public school yet, but may I say that I am disturbed with the whole concept of teacher gifts as a seemingly required institution. I never remember giving my teachers any gifts as a child, except in rare circumstances. If I was a teacher I certainly woudln't want to receive a truckload of rickrack every year. I understand that teachers aren't the highest paid, and that many spend out of pocket for supplies, but is the answer to these problems giving them gifts? I don't get it and I don't like it.

And if I am going to end up giving my kids' teachers gifts every year, I DEFINITELY would want that to be up to us and not be solicited for cash. Cause you know that

a) my kids would be actively involved in creating such gifts and

b) they would be low cost or free to put together

Amy said...

I hear both of ya! Bren, that is a great idea about the Appreciation Week--something different each day is really a fun idea and I'm sure the teachers love it. I'm thinking though that some parents would see it as more of a hassle, unfortunately, and would rather just write a check. (if they can, that is.) Ava's only in preschool and I've already noticed that--parents would rather pay a "participation levy" than show up to volunteer as a helper. I ain't judging, some of them work, but I just think it's interesting.

And Carrie, I agree that it's a bit out of hand. We always took gifts for the teacher and I'm sure most of it got thrown away. I guess that's where the whole gift card idea came from??

Beck, maybe you could reform the process! Cause I'm sure that wouldn't take much time or effort. ;)

Becky said...

That is exactly how Teacher Appreciation Week goes here too, Brenda, to the letter: flowers one day, then homemade cards, then stationery day, etc, and a different parent brings the teacher lunch each day. I will say that it IS like, not a hassle, but every day of these special weeks is another item on the big mama to-do list. This is really its own post, but does your school do these weeks where, like, Monday is red shirt day 'cause they're talking about fire safety, then Tuesday is Hawaiian shirt day for safe internet surfing, then Wednesday is yellow shirt day for road safety, and on and on. It's like Roy G. Biv Elementary School.

And the money and gifts: Dudes, I know. I'm kind of conflicted about it, or I'm of two minds (is that the same as conflicted?) I was unsure about this going in. I don't like it if parents are made to feel pressure to donate, even if nobody knows but the room mom. As I was saying, the no-cash way really seems kind of streamlined, in addition to its lessened ick factor. And a classroom party shouldn't cost very much, because it should be kept simple as heck. I'm definitely going to see to that this year.

BUT, the last two years, Laura's class has given the teacher a $100 giftcard to Target in December, and then another giftcard (to Ann Taylor both times, LOL) in the spring. And the teacher is thrilled. And she doesn't have the truckload of rickrack to deal with. Then it seems nice, and frankly, when the end of the year rolls around, which is always a crazy time, I am perfectly happy that the party coordinators are going to go get a giftcard to be from the class. Because it's one less thing to think about.

And (will this comment never end), on the "participation levy", Amy, they actually discussed this at the room mom meeting--that some parents see it as "convenient" that they can write a check to support these activities that they can't or don't want to show up for. I don't judge it at all--I think it's fine that there's a mix of people with different interests. Different strokes, I guess. As for me, I wouldn't take anything in exchange for the fun of going in and reading to the class, even if I have to make arrangments for Hank.

You know, maybe what I don't like about the collecting $$ thing, and maybe this is what you mean too Carrie, is that it does seem like a levy--like it takes something that is maybe a spontaneous outpouring, the desire to give a gift, and institutionalizes it, as you said. But I wouldn't say no to a $100 to spend at Target either. Sigh.

Brenda, sometimes I get dreamy when you describe your school district. I miss hippies. What is the opposite of a hippie? 'Cause that's what we've got here.

And Amy, of COURSE I will reform the whole way this works this year, and change hearts and minds, duh!

ThursdayNext said...

I think that teacher appreciation goes a long way. When I taught high school English, the PTO gave us a lovely brunch each spring. I think you are doing a world of good by being a "Room Mom."

Becky said...

Thanks for stopping by, Thursday!

sheila said...

A few years ago I asked one little question about what the PTA Presidents duties were. Yup, got suckered into doing it. TWO years in a row.

Our teacher apprec lunches were always themed. Like an italian theme....all pasta dishes (kids dressed up in black/white and served their teachers. Also a 'fiesta' theme and 'teachers of the world' theme (pot luck of various ethnicities)

It was like having a full time job. Now I dedicate my time to my 3 teens. If I make it through this, I can make it through anything! lol.