No Joke: How Not To Treat A Volunteer…. Lessons from the Trenches from a Class Mom on Probation


umbridgeWell, I’m not technically on probation, but I am waiting to find out if I’m fired. And no, I’m not kidding.

See, I usually kid and joke about stuff quite a lot. I find it human. I think it’s good stress relief. And most of the time the people around me like it too. Except for, apparently, this time. Half a dozen people told me they liked my funny bit that I included on the form I handed out as Katie’s class mom on back to school night. This is the form where we asked for checks for teacher gifts for holiday, checks for teacher gifts for end of year, checks for PTO dues, and checks for PTO annual fund. That’s a lot of checks. But there was one who whined. And complained. And went to the powers that be to tattle. Because I made a joke. I’m not saying it was a good joke. Sure it was probably in a bit of bad taste, but there were no curse words and I didn’t borrow anything from Louis C.K. I just added a line. “If I write one more check I might kill someone”.

Funny? I thought so. Not to some. OK. I’m sorry. I legitimately am. Not everyone likes edgy humor and I suppose to those who are ultra politically correct killing jokes aren’t funny. I get that. I hate when someone says “Rule of thumb” because its origin was back in the days when there were laws on the books that said a man could beat his wife provided that the stick he used was no wider than his thumb. I hear that line and I cringe, but I recognize that it isn’t a call for action for more domestic violence. It’s just something people say. As far as expressions go, I’ve heard some that are a wee bit worse than that.

But instead of calling me and slapping me on the wrist, here’s the email edict the powers that be sent not just to me, but every single 4th grade room mom volunteer:


I am following up on a concern that was brought to my attention about a form letter that was distributed by the 4th grade coordinators. I believe that a parent may have altered the language on the form. It is my belief that this was in the spirit of trying to be humorous however it had the opposite effect on some of the parents.

To shed light on what happened, the form highlighted the PTO and District dues as well as the General Fund. All of this was explained correctly but then at the end the following was added “If I write one more check, I might kill someone.”

This has us concerned for a variety of reasons so I ask that moving forward all of the information that is shared with the parents via email is approved by Xxxxx, Xxxxxxx and me. As you know this language is not representative of the PTO and Lafayette School.  I am certain that this was done to be funny, but sarcasm and jokes do not translate in written form.

I appreciate your attention to this matter and hope that you can share this message with the room parents. If anyone has any questions, please let us know.



First of all, sarcasm and jokes do not translate in written form? At all? Ever? Not sometimes, occasionally, well, or perfectly? That’s a bit of a misstatement and offensive to comedy writers everywhere. Not that I am saying I am one. I just know there are some people who can actually write funny things. Promise.

Also, this email edict is missing a few things:

  1. A Reality Check. You really want 60 room moms to send their emails for pre-approvals from three separate people every time they need to ask someone to bring in cupcakes, napkins or hand sanitizer? The sheer quantity of emails that involves makes me want to vomit. Shouldn’t you just be punishing me? Can really no other room parent be trusted to send an email without three people reviewing it beforehand?
  2. A Niceness Check. You forgot that we are all doing this as Volunteers. That means our paycheck is an emotional one, not a monetary one. You need to tie us in to the mission of how this helps the kids, the teachers, etc. Not berate one person in a group email format. Not Nice. Also my biggest pet peeve.
  3. Finally, How is this actually Helping? If you truly believe that what I sent out was politically incorrect, how is this training anyone or elevating our discussion to be more aware or more connected? You’ve just made more bureaucracy in a vacuum. You never actually told us WHY you’re concerned, just that it’s a “variety of reasons”. Is it the killing joke? I do promise it was a joke. If you think I’m making fun of your fundraiser, then let’s talk about that too. Help educate us on why we need to take fundraising so seriously in a climate where government funding is declining, costs are escalating, and the kids are in need. We can talk about that too. But what not to do? This. Email Edict Of Insanity.

We all have a lot going on. All the time. The powers that be have a lot going on too, managing and administering their schools and balancing creative teachers with core curriculum requirements and working with a shrinking volunteer population while what they really need is more volunteer help. And more money.

But we have choices to make in this world. We can be politically correct and complain and send email edicts requiring emails to be pre-approved for all of eternity, or we can lead with bravery and talk about things of importance. Is my joke important? Or just blown up into nonsense? Why is it that the nonsense that seems to get a front row seat in our educational system when there are so many more important issues that really need to be tackled?

Here’s what I suggest should have happened:

  1. Powers that be reads my silly joke.
  2. Shakes head.
  3. Powers that be calls me. The old fashioned phone. Says “Hey, I get that it’s a joke, but people are sensitive about that whole killing thing. Please be more careful.
  4. Me: “Holy crap. You’re right. I’m so sorry. I’m on it”
  5. Powers that be: “Hey, I know you have a professional background in fundraising and are a former President of the Education Foundation, and you seem to have ideas about the school’s annual fund. Want to be on the committee?”
  6. Me: “Gosh. I guess so, sure. Count me in”.
  7. My Husband: “Did you say yes to volunteering for something again?”

Volunteers, humans, make mistakes. Teachers, educators, leaders, find ways to make them opportunities. Positive opportunities.  Let’s talk about things that matter and let the rest go. Calmly, and without an email edict. Things are so much more pleasant that way. No kidding.


To read about how this is not a first-time offense from the powers that be, please click here.


  1. Interesting read! You make some good points. Many have lost the art of direct communication.
    So glad I am not a class mom this year! The email pre-approval process would kill me – oops!


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