• Reflecting on the PTA Legacy: A Challenge for 21st Century Leaders

      Sandra L. Zelno, Consultant to the Pennsylvania PTA


     Chapter 6. Teachers - The PTA’s Middle Name

    The long-awaited summer months are finally here.  Not only do we have time for more family interaction with summer hiatus from most schools, but the slower speed of the season gives us opportunity to begin planning PTA activities for the next school year.  Every leader ponders such basic questions as, “How do I reach out to more members?” or “How do I get more teachers involved?”   Teachers are central to PTA work as shown by the legacy left for us to embrace.  Let’s explore and figure out how we can tell the historical tale in a fashion that helps us strengthen parent-teacher relationships today.

    Since the PTA’s inception as the National Congress of Mothers in 1897, there has been a steadfast commitment to home-school cooperation.  This was clearly evidenced in the organization’s original mission statement and prevails today as outlined in the National Standards for Family-School Partnerships.  Research conducted over the years by Anne T. Henderson and Karen L. Mapp shows there is a positive and convincing relationship between family involvement and student success, regardless of race/ethnicity, class, or parents’ level of education.  When parents and teachers are involved in meaningful ways, children do better in school.  Here are some interesting facts about early efforts to engage teachers and other school personnel in the PTA:

    An outcome of the 1899 national convention showed a need for not only the involvement of fathers, but greater cooperation between parents and teachers.  This resulted in Hannah Kent Schoff         presenting a model for the first organized series of meetings between parents and teachers in schools which became the plan adopted by the National Congress of Mothers.  The blueprint was drawn and teachers were critical to the organization.  Local units began flourishing and teachers had a greater role in education.

    After the Pennsylvania PTA was founded in 1899, it devoted efforts to communicating with the schools.  In 1908, it made a decision to work more directly with the schools and hired Mrs. Walter L. Smith for $60 per month to market the PTA by visiting superintendents, principals, and teachers.   In the first three weeks, she had visited 45 towns and contacted 70 schools.  In 1911-1912, Cynthia Dozier carried on the work and visited 118 towns, made 75 addresses, and organized 34 local units.  For just a moment, think about the    transportation and communication available in those years!

    In 1908, delegates to the national convention voted to change the name of the organization to the National Congress of Mothers and Parent-Teacher Associations.  They felt the new name better reflected the projects and involvement of not only mothers and fathers, but teachers who were the growing factor in membership.  In 1924, the name was changed to the National Congress of Parents and Teachers, known today simple as the National PTA.

    In 1913, there was federal recognition of parents and educators in the establishment of Home        Education Division of the U. S. Bureau of Education which became purely governmental in 1919.  The PTA held its first conference with National Education Association (NEA) Department of Superintendence (now American Association of School Administrators) which opened doors for organizing PTAs in many schools.  Through joint conferences with NEA, the PTA was able to      publicize and explain its goals to school personnel nationwide.

    As World War I ended in 1918, young people had dropped out of school to go to work to support    families whose fathers and brothers had gone off to war.  National PTA took the lead in calling for these young people to return to school and tackled the problems of teacher shortages following the war.    In the October 1918 issue of the Child Welfare Magazine, Hannah Kent Schoff, National PTA President, said:

    “In one rural county in Pennsylvania, thirty-five schools could not open in September for lack of teachers.  The same condition exists in all parts of the country ... The future of the nation depends that no school shall remain closed because there are no teachers ... In America today, every

    Parent-Teacher Association should take as its slogan, “The schools shall not close.  Teachers shall be kept, whatever the cost.”... Even if mother-teachers are drafted to fill the need it is truly a war service as one can give ... When boys of fourteen can and do earn as much as is paid to teachers, when the many inducements for higher salaries in patriotic work are offered, the only way to keep the schools intact is to place teaching among the patriotic duties, and to increase the pay in the same ratio as has been done in every trade or profession.”

    A 1919 National PTA Convention called for the enhancing the career of teaching and passed the  following resolution:

    Whereas, We are facing the greatest shortage of teachers known in the educational history of our country, and

    Whereas, This condition is primarily due to the low salaries of teachers, 

    Be it resolved, That we use every means for advancing the salaries of teachers to such a degree that men and women of the highest type will choose the exalted profession of teaching, knowing that the inestimable service they are rendering will be commensurately paid.

    In 1947, the National PTA partnered with Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, on a three-year project to train prospective teachers in how to effectively work with parents.  As a pre-cursor to the post-war baby boom, the PTA initiated an extremely high visibility project to attract more teachers into the profession and raise minimum salaries, believing this would attract more men to teaching.

    Yes, the PTA is proud to have teachers on our membership rolls, but even prouder when the partnerships forged between home and school truly reflect this historical prominence.  What will your PTA do to share this glorious story with both your local parents and teachers?

     · Invite your teachers to serve on key PTA planning committees this summer.  If a committee doesn’t exist that would create more parent-teacher cooperation, why not create such a committee for operation in the fall?

    · Ask if you can speak at a faculty/teachers’ meeting about ways parents and teachers can work together.

    · Sit down with your teachers, principals, school superintendents, and other school personnel to learn their perspective on issues and how a powerful organization such as the Pennsylvania PTA can work with them to solve issues.  Is it a resolution for adoption at the state convention or school board meeting?  Or it some other vehicle for a greater voice through collaboration?

    · Share the research on parent and teacher involvement and how it leads to greater student success.  Host a session with your teachers on National PTA’s Standards for Family-School Partnerships and how to implement a program in your school. Teachers are driven by research-based practices, and parent involvement is such a program.


    · Extend written invitations to join the PTA to all your teachers/administrators and attach a copy of this article, letting them know how important they have been to the growth and success of this organization.

    Yes, the Teacher is the PTA’s middle name.   Let’s not operate in a vacuum.   It took all of us over the decades to guarantee that every child has the opportunity to learn.   Let’s stand together as the two most important factions of a child’s life—the parent and the teacher.   Stay tuned for the September/October 2014 issue of PTA in Pennsylvania which will feature Chapter 7, the next installment of Reflecting on the PTA Legacy.