May 25, 2024

Back-to-School Night: America’s Annual Torture Convention

I used to refer to Back-to-School Night at my kids’ schools as “The Night of 1,000 Columns,” because of the comical inspiration provided by each year’s new gum rules, notebook policies (loose leaf vs. spiral vs. “Trapper Keeper”) and truly awful public speaking. (See a classic from the archives.)

Mission critical business is always conducted at Back-to-School Night. We learn about each year’s cupcake policy and how the new math texts arrived again without the required manipulatives. Who can ever forget the school’s disastrous attempt at vocabulary development? Or, being told by the history teacher in September 2000 that, “They do elections next year.” (in 2001 – a year after the first contested presidential election in US history)

I remember one teacher with so little gravitas that parents walked into her classroom, looked around, mumbled, “I guess she’s not here,” and shuffled out into the night.

At least one teacher perfected a grading system so complex that she had hundreds of individual marks per student per month. Unbeknownst to this highly-skilled professional, she morphed from a mild-mannered English teacher into Super Actuary. His NPR totebag and coffee mug magically transformed into a green visor and slide rule. Shazam!

My mind wanders during the 8-minute presentations. I keep an eye on the clock, waiting for the bell to free me from the monotony. I wonder, “How could my child spend 180 days of this sitting in that uncomfortable chair?” How do I escape?

Each year’s meeting began to feel more like “Scared Straight.”

The catalog of school rules and their accompanying punishments increase in volume and severity. B.F. Skinner would have sent his children to Summerhill after attending the average American Back-to-School Night.

Check out the email I just received from a friend reporting on his Back-to-School Night…

“The teacher explained that students start the year with 10 extra credit points. Each time they use the bathroom during class time, it cost them a point. If they can hold on all year, they get 10 extra credit points. Cool, huh?“*

What kind of sadistic madman becomes a teacher in order to govern a child’s bladder?*

Are Depends now part of the school uniform?

Now that my children have outgrown school, I am at the mercy of friends to report new innovations in state-sanctioned torture.


Footnote: *I was teaching recently at an Australian school where each child is provided with a reusable large water bottle and required to keep it next to their desk as part of the school’s “Hydration Policy.” Hydration – good or bad? You make the call!

My friend informs me that the teacher is sensational, although the toilet fetish leaves room for concern.

2 thoughts on “Back-to-School Night: America’s Annual Torture Convention

  1. Lovely post.
    A story shared by a friend. On his daughter’s fourth grade back to school night the following occurred. The veteran teacher wen through the litany of rules and procedures and then opened up the floor to questions. A mother asked, “What will you do to make sure my gifted daughter is challenged?” Keep in mind this mother was asking this question in front of the other parents whose children are apparently not gifted. The veteran teacher without changing tone stated, “We’ll manage to work around her” and then continued on as laughter filled the air.

    I don’t know what to really make of the whole story but found it interesting.

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