I have some experience with the PTA, I've talked about it here before. This is my 6th year at this school and my first 3 years I was active to a crazy, unnerving degree, and then I took a few years off where I did absolutely nothing. Not a goddamned thing. So I know what things look like from both sides now, and I thought I would take all of this perspective and, speaking as a parent, give some advice to other parents. Remember that my experience is only in an elementary school, so I'm sure my advice would be different if we were in middle or high school.
First, though, a disclaimer. It is WAY fucking different to have a child with an IEP than to have one without, I know this because I have one of each. Therefore, the following is ONLY directed at parents whose kids do not have special needs or an entire IEP team to manage.
1. First things first: Lose the fucking attitude.
This is a hard job they do, these teachers. If you think you can do it better, you should quit fucking complaining about it and start homeschooling. They also make shit for money, by the way. Yes, it's true. Sure, they get summers off, but that means that either they don't get PAID for three months, or it means that their shitty-ass salary gets split into 12 month increments, which just makes it smaller and therefore more difficult to budget and pay the mortgage. So lighten up, would you?
2. Give your money, your time, or whatever else you can spare.
Did you know that the average elementary school teacher spends $511 of their own money on classroom supplies every year? And that's from a study done in 1993, I'm sure there are newer ones where the numbers are higher, but I think that's enough to prove my point. The PTA at our school raises about $150,000 a year, and if it were up to me, I'd have given it all to the teachers (it isn't up to me) but it's all dependent on parents spending their own time and money so that the teachers don't have to take the load all on themselves. So when you see that flier that says "volunteers are needed" for such and such thing, make that phone call or send that email, you'll feel really good about having done it (and just ignore the snooty bitches I mention in #5). Maybe you can't spare the money or time, though, and that's cool, just do what you can; what you are comfortable with and what you have time for. You don't have to be a rock star, every little bit you can do will help, I promise. Edit: my friend Tiffany reminds me that a lot of the time teachers will have jobs that you can do at home. If you work or have other kids it can almost be impossible to get there during the day, so maybe there is some cutting or sorting or copying you can do at home after the kids are asleep. The only way to find out is to ask, so... ASK!
3. If you can't spare anything, just tell your kid's teacher that you think s/he is awesome
Teaching can be a really thankless job, especially given the current political climate of teacher blaming and bashing, and sometimes the best gift you can give your child's teacher is a simple "thank you." But you can also go above and beyond that and write them a letter (and COPY their Principal! It will hopefully go into their file) and tell them how much you like them and the great things you think they've done for your kid. This, too, will make you feel good about having done it. I completely flaked one year and never actually got around to writing any letters for my kid's teacher, so I just told him (a bunch of times), and that was good, too, because if I had done nothing else that year, at least I did that.
4. If you don't know what you can do to help, ask
Ask your kid's teacher how you can help them. They might say "I can't think of anything," but that's because some people are bad at asking for or accepting help. And please don't fault them for turning you down and then remaining overwhelmed, because sometimes when you're burdened with crap, it's hard to figure out how to delegate and it's just easier to cut up all those paper stars, themselves, than to try to explain to you how to do it. But it's nothing personal so ask them again. And again. At the very least, if they are able to figure out something they CAN ask, they'll know they can come to you. (But if they start to run in the other direction when they see you coming, it's probably time to stop asking. Maybe put the limit on asking at two or three times a month.)
5. If you are an active member of the PTA, lose the fucking attitude
If you're going to spend your time volunteering in the classroom, or fundraising, or whatever else it is you do, quit fucking complaining about it and just do it. Don't bitch about how other parents are lazy and you're doing all the work, either do it or don't do it. Other parents are aware of your shitty attitude and the reason they don't want to volunteer is because they CAN'T STAND YOU and they don't want to try to break into this clique you've created. They don't want to be judged because they work (and you don't and therefore have plenty of time to judge others) and they don't have the time like you do. You need to help recruit them, because not only is everything dependent on volunteers, but it all HELPS the teachers and the school. And you know what else? This is a community we're talking about, it's not just about YOUR shitty little kid who is not the only student at the school. So shut the fuck up and do the job you said you'd do or just get out. There are others who can replace you and probably do it better once you're gone.