It’s that time of year again. There’s a chill in the air, the sun is setting earlier, I’m sneezing from who-knows-what flying around, and we’ve spent two late evenings this week in overheated classrooms with a bunch of other parents who don’t even seem to be trying to resist the urge to distract themselves on their phones while their kids’ teachers are telling them what to expect from the next 10 months.
It seems a little more straightforward in elementary school. The teacher (who, by the way, probably hates back-to-school night because odd as it might seem to you, she is a whole lot happier trying to corral a bunch of runny-nosed 7-year-olds into their seats than she is talking to adults whose suit-covered behinds don’t even FIT into those seats), has enough time to show you adorable drawings on the walls, and give you a little show-and-tell about this year’s confusing spelling program, and some sort of diorama your kid will be crying about in a few short months.
You’ll sign up for an individual conference next month, where you can find out if your child is as weird in school as they are at home.
Now, back-to-school night in middle school seems to be an entirely different story. Given that middle schoolers are a somewhat mysterious brood, prone to periods of silence, followed by periods of intense information-sharing and questioning, it’s possible you know a lot about your middle schooler’s teachers. Or nothing.
You can expect to be squeezed through crowded hallways of confused, lost parents, looking for the Language Arts room. The confusion is frequently interrupted by, “Lisa! Over here!! Oh, my God! I haven’t seen you in so long! How was the beach?” Followed by, “Excuse me, sorry! Excuse me,” while Lisa prances across the hallway to kiss her friend and they both pull out their phones to see when they can get together for coffee.
This is all happening in the approximately 37 seconds the parents have to get from one class to the next, because if parents were actually given an appropriate amount of time to get around the building, we’d be there until midnight.
You can likely expect to be greeted at the door by a foreign language teacher. In a foreign language. This makes me exceedingly uncomfortable. Our son takes Spanish, and it’s not like I don’t understand when Senora Whats-Her-Nombre shakes my hand and says “hola.” But I’m never sure how to respond. I’m pretty sure she speaks English, so I could say “Hi,” but given that she’s started the conversation in Spanish, I feel sort of obligated to go along with her and pretend that I’m bilingual. But I’m afraid that if I say “hola” in return, she’s going to ask me a question or say something I don’t understand in Spanish. So I just sort of look at her, quickly break eye contact and go sit down.
You can expect that, unless you are an engineer or accountant, your child’s math teacher is going to use a term like “absolute value” or a word like “quadratic” that is going to make you feel afraid enough that you may ask the teacher now if she can tutor YOU, because if your child asks you ANY question about math this year, he is going to find for sure that you’re really not as smart as you like to pretend you are.
When the Phys. Ed. teachers announce that every 7th grader is required to have deodorant in their gym locker, you’re going to think a lot of things. Like, is there any parent who has never gotten a whiff of their own 7th grader and not figured that out on their own? Or, please let it not be my kid who needs to be spoken to because he has forgotten to use the deodorant I know he brought in the first week of school. Or, how is it possible for a teacher to tolerate being in a room full of sweaty 7th graders?
When back-to-school night eventually ends, you hope the sun hasn’t started coming back up again. Because you still have to get home, get any straggling kids to bed, and start worrying about a math midterm.