"I'm not going," my friend confided, no trace of apology in her voice, when I brought up the upcoming back-to-back back-to-school nights. We were debating who despised them more: been-there-so-many-times parents or the teachers, who contractually give up a night to blast through PowerPoint presentations carefully constructed to leave no time for questions. The bell rings, and you're off to dash to the next 9-minute "period."
She's got four kids, two in high school, one in middle school, and a kindergartener. So, yes, she did go to her little boy's kindergarten class, to see where he sits and write him a note and hear his teacher run through the basics of the first year of elementary school. As for her older students' classes, she decided it wasn't worth the scheduling gyrations necessary to run to school, and be smushed in the halls with other parents, herded around like clueless cattle from class to class.
Back-to-school nights in the younger grades are a different thing entirely. There's time to get to know the teacher a bit, ask some questions, look in your child's desk, write a sweet personal note, and look around the classroom to take in what the kids are doing every day and how your child will spend her days during the year. But for middle school and high school, these nights sometimes feel more like a necessary charade on everyone's part. The teachers barely have enough time to impart their philosophy, run through the class curriculum, grading policy, and show you how to get to their websites, where you can find lots of good information.
And yet, tempting as it is on a busy September night not to go, we go. Not because we walk away knowing the 9th grade Language Arts teacher is now a parent and works in mini-lessons on grammar, or that the Latin teacher's daughter is at MIT, or that the World History teacher will not award partial credit on late homework assignments. We go because we want our kids to believe we really do think school and the work they do there is really important. We say it all the time. We show it by talking to them about their homework, the projects they're working on, and, yes, jamming our bodies into over-packed staircases, running through their day in 9-minute intervals, missing geometry because we went to the wrong classroom after "lunch."
Been back to school lately? Do you think it's worth everyone's time?
(Post postscript: I just got back from Back-to-School Night #3 for my junior in high school, and I have to say it was so worth our time. I was inspired by many of the teachers my daughter is lucky to have this year, awed by her course load, and thrilled that she has the opportunity to learn from some passionate, smart teachers. All in all, a good night, worth the hallway shuffling and parking lot traffic jam.)