Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Back-to-School Night: A kinetic, frenetic experience

Back-to-School Night at our local high school, I have come to believe now that I’ve been through two of them, is primarily a kinetic experience.

Perhaps not coincidentally, kinetic rhymes with frenetic, which happens to be another good adjective for Back-to-School Night, but I’ll get to that later.

At Back-to-School Night at my son’s school, parents are invited to follow their child’s regular class schedule, Blocks A through H, except that each block has been shortened to eight minutes. During those eight-minute blocks, the teachers offer an impressively concise and well-articulated summary of their plans for the school year, but mostly, they say “To learn about the curriculum and my expectations, check my page on the school’s website. To find out how your child is doing with assignments, attendance, and grades, log in to your parent portal account. To speak one-on-one with me about your child, send me an email and we’ll set up an appointment.”

I don’t blame the teachers for this at all. It’s as good a use as any of the eight minutes they are allotted. And it’s true that technology makes it easy to access the kind of information that a teacher of previous generations would have been sorely challenged to summarize in this abbreviated amount of time.

So as I see it, Back-to-School Night is really just about stepping into Tim’s shoes for a couple of hours, almost literally, as I trace his daily path from all-school assembly to A block to B block to C block. I get to see the halls he walks and the classroom displays his eyes rest on when he’s not paying full attention. I get to see and hear the same adults he watches and listens to five days a week.

But only for eight minutes, and then on to the next, which brings me to the part that is not only kinetic but frenetic. Tim’s school is a bewildering maze to me, an incomprehensible network of hallways and right angle turns with classroom numbers whose prefixes change inexplicably from S to I to A. Tim’s freshman year, I made the mistake of coming to Back-to-School Night straight from work, which meant I was wearing heels. It was truly like an anxiety dream come to life as I tottered frantically down the halls eternally searching for rooms whose numbers didn’t seem to exist. This year, I cast fashion to the winds and wore my running shoes, which meant I was able to replicate the previous year's frantic dash of confusion from one wrong turn to the next at a slightly faster and steadier pace, with fewer twisted ankles along the way but no greater luck in finding where I was supposed to be.

At one point, despair overtook me. I was searching for Tim’s social studies class in room H17; somehow the hallway had ended at H15 and I found myself in a dim portico between two buildings. “How can I be so lost?” I wailed out loud.

A student guide materialized and offered to show me the way. Feeling suddenly reassured, I pulled myself together. After all, even if I reached the classroom a few minutes late, I’d still get the visuals. I’d have a look at Tim’s teacher and the classroom wall displays, which was all I seemed able to get out of Back-to-School Night anyway. And if nothing else, I was getting plenty of exercise.

“Next year,” I announced confidently to the parent next to me as I slid into a seat, “I’ll know my way around. I’ll get to every class on time. I won’t make wrong turns or tear my hair out in exasperation.”

“Next year this building will be a pile of concrete,” the parent reminded me.

Oh, that’s right. The new high school is on schedule to open in April. Never again will I navigate Back-to-School Night through this particular maze. Surely the new building has been designed with the directionally challenged, like me, in mind.

But just in case, next year I’m bringing my running shoes again. And also GPS.

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