If Luck is a lady, Karma is her trashy illegitimate cousin (Back to School Night)

Tonight is one of my most dreaded nights of the year: Back to School Night.

I don’t dread it because I’m specifically scared of meeting my students’ parents en masse. (Although I DO sometimes worry that they’re going to take one look at me and start laughing hysterically and ask, “No, really, where’s our kids’ ACTUAL teacher?”)

I dread it because I was the kid who used to send my dad after the teachers I didn’t like when he went to my school’s Back to School Night.

And if I’ve learned anything in my life, it’s that if Luck is a lady, Karma is her illegitimate cousin who’s too trashy to even be cast on Jersey Shore.

In general, Back to School Night has been fine for me. Because I run the school newspaper, I wind up speaking mostly to parents who I’ve already known for a couple of years. So for my newspaper classes, parents usually come in, hug me, then ask how they can help support us. In other words, they’re wonderful and I love them.

My English classes are a little scarier. With a room full of kids, it’s easy. I am clearly in charge. I know it. They know it. Piece of cake. With a room full of adults, some of whom are old enough to be MY parents, I don’t feel like I’m in charge. Especially because I get asked every year by at least one parent how old I am. And if you’ve been reading my blog faithfully, you know that I do NOT like to talk about my age.

 And in a couple of disturbing cases, I’ve been asked out.  Even if the parents are good looking and single (which hopefully they are if they’re asking me out), I’m not exactly ready for a high school aged stepchild.

The trick is to have enough to talk about to fill the whole ten minutes without room for a lot of questions. Because if you talk too fast (which I am constantly guilty of), you’ll have six minutes left for questions. And no one ever has general questions about the class. The questions are always specific to their child (and you can’t answer ONE of those without answering all of them), or they’re policy questions about the county or the school, and I never know the answers to those.

Usually I come away from Back to School Night knowing that I did a great job. But every once in awhile, a parent comes in with a grudge. The worst of those was at my old school. I was talking about the books that we were reading in the class, and one mother interrupted me to say that she found our choice of books inappropriate (Of Mice and Men and To Kill a Mockingbird).

I tried to be honest and say that while Of Mice and Men isn’t one of my favorites, I think To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the best books ever written. This particular mother argued that the kids should be reading more contemporary choices. I said that I agreed that using books that they were already interested in reading, such as the Harry Potter books (which were HUGE at the time), would be useful in getting kids to develop a love of reading, I didn’t think that the county, who selected our books, agreed with that idea, but I encouraged her to take it to them.

Apparently this was a big mistake.

The next day, I was called down to my principal’s office during a planning period and told we had a serious problem. The mother who had criticized the book choices went up to my principal after my class, absolutely livid, and claimed that I was promoting Satanism.

I couldn’t make this up if I tried.

Then, my principal told me that we had an even bigger problem with her other complaint about me, and that it was something that I was going to have to deal with.

Her complaint?

I was too young.

And my principal told me this completely deadpan. It took me a good five minutes to realize he found the situation funny.

I’ve never had any situations like that since then, and I usually get emails from parents the following day telling me that they loved my enthusiasm or see why their kids love my class. Which is a great ego boost.

But I’d still rather be home gearing up to watch Jersey Shore. If it runs late, I really hope the parents will understand that I need to get home to watch that. Their kids are my top priority from 7:25am until 2:10pm. The fight between Snooki and Angelina is going to be my priority tonight from 10pm until 11pm.

I’m not going to tell them that though. If liking Harry Potter means I was promoting Satanism, I don’t even want to begin to think about what liking Jersey Shore is promoting.

Team Snooki all the way!

The scariest five words in the English language: The First Day of School

The first day of school.

No five words in the English language can fill me with such a sense of panic as those do. Well, except for “Bruce Springsteen died earlier today.” When I hear THOSE five words for real, odds are pretty good that I’ll be taking a bath with a hair dryer.

When I was younger, I dreaded school so much that my dad used to have to throw me over his shoulder and carry me there, kicking and screaming.

And by younger, I mean last week when teachers had to go back to school.

Poor dad.  He’s getting too old to carry me there.

It’s absolutely the worst day of the year. Not because it’s actually THAT bad, but because it marks the longest possible amount of time before summer vacation.

Starting school comes with its own special brand of dread for me: bulletin boards. I would rather gnaw off my own limbs than set up a bulletin board. Literally. I don’t know what’s wrong with me, but I’m bulletin-board challenged.  If there was a class for setting up bulletin boards, I’d have to go to it on the short bus.  I painted my whole condo all by myself, but somehow putting construction paper on a bulletin board and arranging a display on it is beyond me.

Luckily, my newspaper students have started volunteering to help me set up my room during the week before kids have to come back.  (And by volunteering, I mean that I send them frantic emails all summer begging for help until I wear them down enough to agree to come in). They walk in, I show them proudly whatever I managed to put up on the bulletin boards all by myself, and they unfailingly say, “Oh, that’s so cute! You tried!” Then they pull it all down and start again. But at least the room looks good by the time the rest of the kids come back.

The night before the first day of school might as well be called “National Insomnia Night.” I’m a troubled sleeper under the best of circumstances. With the first day of school looming, I don’t even know why I bother getting in bed. But even if I DO manage to fall asleep, it doesn’t last long, as I have to get up in the middle of the night to get to work on time.

Waking up early again, after a summer of sleeping late, is torture. I know that those of you who work all summer are feeling zero sympathy for me right now, but high school starts at 7:25am. In other words, right around when you nine-to-fivers are waking up, I’m already teaching first period.

The first day of school is infinitely worse for teachers than for students. Students basically just have to show up and listen on the first day of school. Teachers have to spend most of the first day talking, then memorize approximately 150 names. I have the worst memory on the planet when it comes to names. Literally. If you meet me for the first time, I promise that within 30 seconds of meeting you, I’ve forgotten your name. The only exception to this is if you’re wearing a nametag, or you’re REALLY hot. Otherwise, if I’m going to see you again, I have to ask someone who was with me what your name was.

Now multiply that by 150.

Luckily most of the kids in my classes are named Madison, Taylor, Brianna, Zach, Tyler, or Brittany. And with the exception of Brianna and Brittany, all of the names are gender neutral. So if I can’t remember a name, I can usually just call one of those, and I’ll be fine.

Of course, none of the names are SPELLED that way.  That’s just how they’re pronounced.

When I was in school, the first day of school meant showing up in a new dress, with a new backpack full of fresh school supplies.

Now, kids don’t usually bother with their backpack on the first day. Instead, they bring their cell phone and ipod. And good luck getting them to shut either off.

It’s also a shift to remember that I’m at work again and therefore can’t use profanity every third word. I admit it. I have a potty mouth. But at school, I HAVE to control it. My mother always likes to remind me that as a teacher, you’re the subject of someone’s dinner table conversation every day of your life.

If you drop an f-bomb in class the first day, I can promise you’ll be the subject of EVERYONE’S dinner table conversation that night. Including your principal’s.

Then, if you make it through the whole day, don’t fall asleep on your feet, learn all the names, and don’t accidentally curse, you have to wake up at the crack of dawn the next day and do it all over again.

Just 184 more school days until summer vacation.