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Fear, Loathing and Back to School Night

Fear, Loathing and Back to School Night
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Back to School Night flyers (paper or PDF, if a school’s gone green) are often decorated with drawings of apples, pencils, books and smiling students. But the event is often fraught with tension and even fear and mistrust on both sides between teachers and parents.

I look forward to Back to School Night, but it seems I am in the minority. My husband and I are both “in the education business” (we’re both professors at Catholic universities in the northeast); many of my students are studying to be, or are, teachers, speech therapists, occupational therapists. I’ve always liked — all right, loved — school and learning; seeing my parents go to Back to School night was non-controversial.

Even more, education and school are key to my teenage autistic son Charlie’s future and we really value opportunities to talk to his teachers and therapists and see his school, which is in another town and county than we live in. Charlie can only talk a little and we rely on notes and reports from the school to find out how he spends his days so any chance we can visit his school and talk to its staff mean a lot.

Tensions Surround Back to School Night

In a recent conversation with a former student who now teaches middle-school language arts, I noted that the phrase “Back to School” send a frown across her face. My neighbor has taught middle school math for almost two decades; talking to her the day after Back to School Night, I realized the extent of her preparations to meet parents, including having her own little daughter spend the night with her mother. She was definitely surprised when I told her how much I liked Back to School Night and how I saw it as a chance to learn more about how Charlie spends his days. She reflected that she shouldn’t get so nervous about Back to School Night. Then she laughed and said, “but I still do.”

On Back to School Night at Charlie’s school, his teacher didn’t have the easy-going manner he does in his notes and at conferences. I had showed up in work clothes and whatever sweater I could grab; some parents were in shorts and very casual. But there were definitely those dressed and sat on the edges of their seats and frowned when questions (“why are there all these empty classrooms and our kids have to share a room with another class?”) were responded to with references to the “a” word — to the administration.

How Did It Come To This?

As much as we  say we value education, reports about education policy, curricular issues, teacher training, special education law and the like are often received with polite attention and a yawn. Education often only makes the news when there’s a scandal, too often involving physical or sexual abuse, the teaching of topics such as creationism instead of evolution or — as highlighted by the teachers’ strike in Chicago — teachers’ unions and issues of tenure and evaluation.

Often it seems that teaching is a profession everyone has an opinion about but too many are glad not to have to do. Teachers are deemed selfish, our schools are perpetually said to be in a crisis, there are constant calls for reform by giving people “more choice” via charter schools.

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3:13PM PST on Dec 9, 2012

I'm Currently Trying To Effect Change In My Own Child's School District. They Recently Snuck In A Policy Without Parental Input That Will Double Punish Children For Bad Behavior. If The Child Gets Sent To The School's "Time Out" Room 3 Or More Times In A Semester The Child Will Not Be Allowed To Join Their Friends And Peers During The School's Holiday Parties And Festivities. My Question Is Why Punish Them Again For Things They've Already Been Punished For? It Isn't Fair And I Don't Think It Will Send The Message They Are Hoping For To The Children. Please, Sign The Petition To Help These Children. I Want To Help Them Have A Voice When No One Else Seems To Be Standing Up For Them. The Next School Board Meeting Is Coming Up And I Will Present The Petition To The Board Then. Thank You For Your Support.

4:11AM PDT on Oct 19, 2012

Thanks for sharing.

2:16AM PDT on Oct 19, 2012

Thanks for information!

3:01AM PDT on Oct 18, 2012


10:43AM PDT on Oct 16, 2012


12:05PM PDT on Oct 15, 2012


8:10PM PDT on Oct 14, 2012

I remember when I went to high school, my mom would go to back to school night. She only went I think for two years. At least she got to meet some of my teachers and know what I was doing in school. It sucks for some teachers when no parents come at all and they go through all that trouble of preping the classroom for the parents to see. I feed bad for those teachers. I think maybe some teachers don't like back to school night because it's more work for them to do and then if they have students that don't care about school, they still have to go in case if some parents do show up. Kudos to those parents that do go to back to school night!!

3:35PM PDT on Oct 14, 2012

Lack of funding and investing in education is a world-wide problem. Until we get our priorities totally rewired in all societies North and South, gloomy and dark schooling will remain.
Any teacher with more than ten students per class will not attend the students nicely in a relaxed and stimulating way.
Right now, with right-wing cuts in education across the board, classrooms have over 30 students all over the world. Very sad for both students and stressful for the teachers. Unsustainable by all standards.
Vote left, vote Obama.
No more right-wing creeps like Wert in Spain please. The other day Wert, the Spanish education minister said it was in the interest of Spain to castillianize Catalan schools. Untrue, if he did so, Catalans would become Spanish, and where would Spain get their plunderous fiscal imbalance from then?

1:17PM PDT on Oct 14, 2012

Images of Back to School Nights:
When my child was excited about something on display in the classroom (student work/projects) classroom atmosphere generally more positive--seeing what was being done beyond homework coming home reassures parents a lot, but not all subjects lend themselves equally to this (e.g., reams of math problems).
Schools with active parent groups (miss the PTAs of my youth--I think that model promoted better communication and helped avoid misunderstandings) had better parent turnout
Schools with schedules of which class when so parents of classmates together at the same time and teachers could provide overviews (downside was if 100% of the time went into teacher talking)
Student involvement in the night (fund raisers, classroom demonstrations, etc. sometimes clubs, other times opportunity for extra class credit)

9:08AM PDT on Oct 14, 2012


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