I never thought I would be going to school with my kids.
The summer before my oldest daughter started kindergarten, I'd been warned at our neighborhood playground: "Stay away from those PTA moms. Once they get you in their clutches, they'll never let you go."
But the school community was new to us, so a few weeks in, I hosted an afternoon tea at my house so we could get to know the kindergarten girls and their mothers. Not long afterward, I had a playground conversation with a Mexican-American father of a fifth-grader, who admitted that he did not feel like a part of the community. Before I knew it, I had an organized an international potluck to replace the school's annual Harvest potluck, and created a multi-cultural committee.
I served as our PTA's first vice president of outreach. I was a member of the school's leadership team and served as a reading tutor. I competed for and won city and county grants to create a tile-mosaic reader board, renovate the playground and install an environmental rain garden.
I became one of those PTA moms.
Though it's clear I was (over)compensating for my pent-up career ambitions, my years of volunteerism were personally and professionally satisfying. And I'm happy to report that, in at least one instance, I broke the stereotype.
"You’re not a typical PTA mom," a refreshingly frank parent, originally from the South, told me. "You don’t have a stick up your ***."
I don't know if the expression "A little knowledge goes a long way" is appropriate, but here's what happened: The more I started caring about my kids' school — not just making sure my children were thriving academically and socially, but also that their teachers and administrators were well supported — the more I started caring about learning environments beyond our school, including those where the picture wasn't so rosy.
I began subscribing to newsletters from local education-advocacy groups. The information they provided was useful, but I had trouble distinguishing one group from another. I suspected I wasn't the only busy parent who was confused.
So I wrote an article about them. One article led to another; one publication led to another. And thus, I became an education reporter.
I saw that the education debates raging in my hometown of Seattle are the same debates being played out nationally. I started following national education journals and advocacy groups. It was only a matter of time before I began following what was happening with education internationally.