By the time we got to the school, all the other parents had cleared the halls and filed into their kids’ respective first-period classrooms. Our first stop was orchestra, where the parents who’d arrived before us filled the whole room except the front row.
I stifled the urge to bow as Mike and I passed in front of everyone to take our chairs seconds before the bell sounded and a video started of the band playing a halting Star Spangled Banner. Afterward, the orchestra teacher used a baton to emphasize each point she’d written on a PowerPoint slide.
This was Colin’s junior high school open house. Speed-dating for parents and faculty. Members of the student council directed bewildered parents through crowds between sessions wherein each teacher had exactly eight minutes to describe themselves, their strategy, curriculum, graded assignments, homework, rules of conduct … hopes and dreams and zodiac signs, ruminations on the state of affairs in the Middle East, and whatever else they had time for.
“I don’t want your son or daughter working late on math homework, fussing with problems and needing your help every night,” Colin’s 7th grade math teacher told us.
That was good to know, since I’ve been functionally math illiterate in anything either kid brought home since 5th grade.
I wonder who’d laid out Colin’s schedule, and if their intention was to get him to cover as much ground as possible between periods. I was out of breath by the time I reached each class.
“English is next,” Mike said pointing. I saw the teacher greeting everyone at his door and wondered if we could duck in without drawing attention. I remembered this teacher. He’d taken our older son’s performance in his class quite personally. We’d both sat through parent-teacher conferences staring forlornly at our hands and wondering what to do with a kid who wasn’t a huge fan of reading.
I didn’t expect someone who’d ushered probably close to 300 kids through his classes in the intervening years to remember those days, necessarily, nor did I like the thought of our youngest having to shoulder anybody else’s legacy through school, for better or worse.
“Ah, the Markleys!” Mr. English Teacher called out to us. Dang, we’d been made.
The next class, Reading, was Colin’s favorite. I’d thought it was because of the subject, but it could also have been that this room had functional air conditioning, or that the teacher could have been born within the same decade as our twelve year-old. He asked us to write something down on an index card that he might not otherwise hear directly from our child.
“He’d like to write historical fiction for a living,” I wrote on his card.
I should have added “… and he’s going to be pissed I wrote anything about him at all,” because he was.
French was next, in the room for the class they used to call Home Economics, but which was now Young Living. I wondered if they’d learn to make crepes as part of the curriculum. If so, we’d all really dig French class.
For World Studies we found ourselves in one of those buildings set up near the parking lot. They call them “temporary” but they’d been there as long as I could remember living in the neighborhood. The teacher had lined the walls with images of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. A Game of Thrones-themed calendar hung by his desk. I wondered if I could maybe audit that section of the course. Or maybe the one on Middle Earth. I’m pretty sure I saw a hobbit figurine by his pencil holder.
I remembered sitting through this presentation with an earlier World Studies instructor. He told us he hated the curriculum and had a year until retirement. He didn’t have a GOT calendar near his desk. I hoped he was enjoying retirement more than he’d enjoyed teaching our older son’s class.
In the gym we heard from an energetic man in a red visor who talked about military training courses and how his students would be getting a full year of PE in one semester. He invited us to join them any time for a workout. He pointed to a bulletin board where he posted results of all the kids’ fitness challenges. He encouraged us to ask our students to bring home their gym uniforms on Fridays to be washed, and to remember to change their socks on a regular basis.
I wondered about the psychology of a person who would be understandably mortified by having their fitness results posted for anyone and everyone to peruse at the next school dance, but who would also most likely suit up every day in the same sweat-encrusted gym uniform they never remembered to have laundered without a second thought. A paradox of early adolescence, I’m sure.
We all filed out afterward, armed with handbooks and fliers about school fundraisers, past the smiling new principal, and dodging sprinklers and cars just like the kids probably did every afternoon.
In the more than 30 years since I’d left the halls of my own junior high, I’ve never once ever wanted to return. But for a moment on that late summer night, I thought about the years ahead of our youngest child. I thought of the opportunity for dreams and plans unfettered as yet by the inevitable smackdowns life will deal. I thought about the discoveries he’d make about himself and the world around him while he wandered crowded halls and sat in inconsistently ventilated classrooms.
For moment, as we made our way back to the car, I was excited for him. And, maybe just a little jealous.
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