Primary School Confidential: Mrs Woog
I am so glad my audience of hardworking volunteers don’t take the world too seriously 😉 I am a HUGE fan of Mrs Woog’s work (take my advice and like her Facebook page), and when she launched her new book Primary School Confidential, I just had to share the news! Even though I suspected she wouldn’t be able to resist a dig at the politics of school parent committees…
It’s all in good fun, though, and I know that none of my readers will be offended by this work. The ‘know-it-all’ variety of volunteer does not spend time hanging out in the neighbourhood of the Fundraising Whisperer – they are so busy ‘knowing it all’ that they simply do not have time to read my little tips on how to make things better for their volunteers 😉
I’d be SO interested to hear your thoughts on how close to reality this portrayal is for your committee (head to our Facebook page).
And so… I am pleased to present Chapter 17 of Primary School Confidential by Mrs Woog. Enjoy!
aka the Fundraising Whisperer
Extract from Primary School Confidential by Mrs Woog
Chapter 17: Parents and citizens, unite
One of the many extracurricular roles that parents take on is that of committee member. From the soccer club to the school fete, many of the clubs and institutions through which your child will pass will rely on parent volunteers for both management and fundraising.
I have done my time on several such committees and most have left a bad taste in my mouth.
I once went to a P&C meeting (only one) at which the president stood up on stage brandishing a pile of papers outlining parents’ ideas for fundraising. He then ‘filed them in the bin’. Literally. There was a bin there and he chucked the papers into it.
Many parents, when asked if they are ‘on the P&C’, will recoil in horror at the very thought. This is because the P&C is notorious for power plays, politics, bribery and corruption. Sounds like fun, hey?
So at the top of the heap you have the P&C, the powerbrokers. Feeding into this exclusive, elected group are other committees, such as the Canteen Committee, the Parents Auxiliary, the Band Committee, the Uniform Shop Committee, the Health and Welfare Committee, and the committee for parents who just don’t give a fuck. These are known as the No-Shows, the ones who can be relied on not to put their hand up for anything. Some may consider these parents to be the smartest of the lot.
But the truth is that schools need volunteers and committees. I mean, how else would you ever find out the gossip? Do a shift at the canteen, and I guarantee you will come away with all kinds of useless tidbits about people whom you don’t even know.
But back to the big kahunas on the P&C committee. The peak body of public school parent groups in New South Wales is the P&C Federation, an organisation that was established in 1912—and was dissolved in 2014 ahead of a revamp. It was in such a shambles that the education minister was forced to step in and give everyone a spanking.
Because they could not keep their shit together. The federation was positively plagued with bullying and infighting. So if this is happening at the highest level, what do you think is happening at the school down the street?
Bullying and infighting!
The fact is, though, schools just could not run without parent volunteers. The problem is that volunteers are getting harder to find. That’s because in 57 per cent of Australian families both parents work.
Although she worked part time, my mum also did canteen. I can still remember the excitement of those days when Mum was on canteen. I also recall being very, very popular with my fellow students that day, as they were all hoping I would choose them to be my best friend, thus giving them the golden ticket to canteen freedom at lunch.
Mum would spread lashings of butter onto pink-iced finger buns and dole them out to me and my friends. These days there would be no bright pink finger bun, but something organic, gluten-free and tasteless, so you would not go back to class after recess all hyped up on sugar. Thanks to the P&C, the good stuff, like finger buns, has been banned from our canteens. And don’t get me started on monkey bars . . .
Still, I shouldn’t cast aspersions. After all, there’s no way I’m putting my hand up to be the president of the P&C. And, frankly, I’m not qualified. The ideal P&C president should have a résumé that includes the following:
- Time spent working as a hostage negotiator for the federal police.
- A business degree and, preferably, an MBA.
- Experience in dealing with trolls on Facebook.
- Previous dealings with the United Nations.
- Some sort of qualification in health and nutrition.
- At LEAST a brown belt in karate.
- Membership of any of the major political parties.
- Superior finger-pointing skills.
- The ability to lip-read.
- The ability to say SOD OFF in several different languages, bearing in mind that we are a multicultural society.
Real housewives (and husbands) of the P&C*
Now of course I am generalising here. I am sure most parents and citizens groups are run with no fuss, by intelligent people with no hidden agendas . . . *shifts eyes quickly* . . . but I asked parents from across the country to share with me some stories of what is going on in their neck of the woods, and here are a few gems that came in:
The principal and the president hate each other and once they had to be physically separated at a meeting.
The P&C at our school has been taken over by want−to−be marketing−degree mums who think they know everything!
At my niece’s primary school, some of the P&C people started up a little swingers group.
There are a lot of stereotypes about those who get involved. Not all are bad—there are always the quiet, industrious few who just get on with it and don’t seek the limelight. Then you have the slightly more ambitious parents (lawyers, teachers, medical professionals in their other lives) who join the executive so they can have a bit more say on how things are done. The treasurer is usually a mum with an accounting or bookkeeping background and multiple chil− dren. The secretary—someone with an admin background or (in our case) a work−from−home dad with excellent IT skills and a sharp sense of humour. Then you have the vice−presidents, who are usually best mates with the narcissistic president; often the role of the VP is simply to massage the president’s ego. And of course you have the martyr who runs around DOING EVERYTHING, always looking flustered and stressed, but won’t say no to the next Bunnings’ barbeque or cake stall. You can never thank this person enough.
My P&C time was like being in a Real Housewives of . . . episode. As president, I basically sat there watching insane women go at each other hammer and tongs. You can’t help but get caught in the crossfire. I am now studying psychology so I can counsel all their kids when they end up in therapy.
A few years back, a P&C I was involved with had every single committee member resign. There was an epic all−in text/email/phone brawl between the tuckshop supervisor and P&C committee. The tuckshop supervisor believed the food should be both cheap and nutritious, but the P&C wanted the tuckshop to make a significant profit. There was name−calling, food was thrown and many tears were shed.
My favourite story is when someone proposed adding an optional tunic for girls to our uniforms and at the P&C meeting to discuss this a parent stood up and quoted High Court verdicts on human rights. Others brought up the feminist movement of the 1970s. It was the most absurd evening of my life.
*Please note that, the above anecdotes notwithstanding, the author acknowledges that many P&C committees do amazing work, and work in harmony, promoting parental involvement in schools in a rewarding and positive way, without political agendas or power struggles. She just could not find any of them to interview.
Republished with permission from Primary School Confidential by Mrs Woog. Published by Allen & Unwin.