The night starts off with the top dog standing in front of a packed auditorium, selling all of us on the idea that what our children are about to receive in the form of another year of education at their fine institution is a spectacular blend of academic learning, extracurricular opportunities, social growth and development, and personal inspiration.
Ah, can’t you just hear the academic angels singing?
Somewhere in that magical evening known as Back to School Night, the principal and his or her vice-principal minions suggest how spectacular the teachers are, how magnificent the community is, how incredible the resources are and, most of all, how wonderful the parents are for being involved and coming to this Evening of Champions.
These people who are in these top academic positions are often doctors, although they’re not the kind with stethoscopes and they don’t have a waiting room full of old copies of People magazine.
They assure us that they’re people, too, and that they’ve been where we are. They know what it’s like to have someone they’ve brought into the world treat them as if they’re somewhere between an athlete’s foot fungus and a pimple surfacing on the tip of their nose just before the most incredible moment of their lives.
But, wait, there’s more. Their teachers tell us what they’ll learn, they smile, shake our hands — and assure us how excited they are to be sharing in this experience with our wonderful children.
Wonderful? Seriously? We can only hope that’s the case when they’re in school because the “wonderful” has been squeezed out of them by hormones that turn their voices into violins with broken strings, by their tough-love coaches, and by their would-be girlfriends and boyfriends who have decided that today is perfect to send them a text saying, “Sorry, we can’t date anymore because I’m looking for someone better.”
It’s almost like one of those old-fashioned sing-alongs, where we watch teachers with their Smart Boards at the front of the room, following the bouncing ball as it wows us with one after another of the stops on the journey to enlightenment.
For comic relief, we might get to hear from a teacher who seems about as comfortable speaking in public as I did when I was in seventh grade. He might look down at his feet as he talks, read from a script or take two huge gulps before each sentence. Speaking in front of a group of people, we realize quickly, is not exactly the ideal way to spend his day.
As they talk, they tell us how much they love a subject that, truth be told, might not be their first choice. However, the nearest district hiring biology teachers is an hour away and our school desperately needs a language arts teacher. They implore us to share information about our kids. That’s when we reach into our sales bag and suggest how eager our children are to fill their minds with inspiration and information. We plaster an enthusiastic smile on our faces as we hand in our creative writing assignments.
We emerge from the school, ready to take all that sales energy and turn ourselves into cheerleaders for education and our children.
“Oh, honey, I met your science teacher last night and she seemed so spectacular.”
“That’s interesting, Dad, because my science teacher is a man.”
“Wait, are you joking?”
The children share a devilish smile, pick up their heavy backpacks and trudge off to a place where the sounds in the real world corridors — real and in their own heads — are often nothing like a chorus of those academic angels.