Monday, September 14, 2009

Going Back to High School (and Finding I Don't Fit)

by Julia Buckley
My husband and I attended the high school's "Back to School Night" so that we could go through our son's schedule and meet all of his teachers. When did I ever have the energy that high school requires?

For one thing, the school is huge--about four thousand students. We wore our gym shoes in preparation for the crazy running between classes, but I was exhausted just making the jaunt from our car to the school (we had to park several blocks away).

Once inside we began the journey: honors world history first period, honors English second period. Ian's English teacher was striking and impressive. "I will never accept a hand-written assignment from your child," she warned us grandly. "And I will never give a bathroom pass to your child." She wore a red suit and high heels and spoke of things like diction and annotation with appropriate passion.

Jeff and I were distracted by the desks. When did they get so small? They dug into our stomachs and we grimaced at each other as we tried to take notes.

The bell sounded and we darted down the stairs to gym class. There the coach had to compete with all of the other coaches, whom the event planners had inauspiciously stuck in the cafeteria together so that their talks all wove together in a cacophany of sound. "Your child is currently taking Life Fitness," shouted the coach. "In nine weeks he will either switch to swimming, dance, or an anti-bullying course called Step Back." We squinted, trying to hear him, smirking slightly when he mentioned dance (our son refuses to dance or sing, ever. School will be so good for him).

The bell, and we were off to Art. The loveable Sandy Duncan look-alike said she had finally "treated" herself to a vacation in the South of France that summer, where she had painted the scenery and felt serene. I doubt we concealed our envy well, but we did admire the things she had the students doing in the impressive studio, which had, according to her, a better kiln than the local universities.

Then (was there more?) we went to German class. I wondered if, at this point in the day, my son's stomach was growling loudly enough for everyone to hear, since I can rarely get him to eat breakfast. I know, I know. Such an important start to the day, and yet both of my sons claim nausea when I show them morning food.

The German teacher was sweet and energetic. She greeted us by saying "Wie gehts?" and told us in a brief English speech that she mainly talked to the students in German. Then she spoke in German.

My eyes drifted to the wall, where pictures of all the students' heads were attached to homemade paper "T-shirts" which sported German slogans. Ian's said "Ich habe drei Katze" (I have three cats) and "Ich habe ein hunt" (I have one dog). Not bad for the first week of school, I thought.

FINALLY we had a break. Jeff and I beelined for the bathroom and then called our littlest boy, who was home alone, manfully playing computer games.

And then there were MORE classes! Did we go to high school, Jeff and I wondered, and did we really learn this many things?

Ian's algebra teacher told us that he had motivated the students to bring in the parent form by promising to do a back flip if they all brought it back. 26 out of
27 students brought it back, so he didn't do the flip, but he made a separate deal with them that they won, and he did the flip in class a few days later.

Oh, did I mention? He's twenty-four.

If I told my students I was going to do a back flip they would A)laugh and B)dial 9-1-1 on their cell phones and keep a finger hovering over the "send" button. Plus I can't do a back flip OR a front flip. I can't even do a cartwheel. I suppose I could offer to jog in place or jump rope, but it doesn't have the same glamour.

When we finally got home, Ian asked what we thought. We said that we'd been quite impressed, for starters, that he could even navigate his way around that Noah's Ark of a school.

He shrugged. "Yeah, I'm great."

In this modern era we can keep track of his grades online, so we'll be able to give him a nudge whenever he ceases to be great.

But I must tell you: hurrah for high school students. I am one adult who is not sure she could--or would--go back.


Elizabeth Zelvin said...

Lovely post, Julia. When my junior high classmates made contact after 51 years, we found one teacher we all remembered was the beautiful young art and homeroom teacher. My most vivid memory was something she said about art; someone else's was about how she'd helped her through an embarrassing rite of passage. We invited her and her husband to our f2f reunion. She was still lovely--and 75! We hadn't known she was only 23 at the time. She told us, "It was my first job, and I didn't know what I was doing."

Lonnie Cruse said...

Back in the dark ages when I went to high school in Las Vegas, students had to leave main campus and walk over to the next block where the auditorium was located for a class. We all complained that the five minute break between classes wasn't enough time to make the walk, not to mention switching out books from our lockers. The principal decided to make the walk along with a class and swore that HE could do it in those five minutes.

Well, of course he could make it in five minutes. He carried no books, was head and shoulders taller than the rest of us, and did I mention HE was the principal, so the students made way for him. Sigh. I know this because I happened along behind him on the day of his "experiment."

High school, needed it back then, wouldn't dream of going back now. Too tough.

Julia Buckley said...

Oh yes, Liz--every teacher starts young, but the kids never know it. :) What a neat reunion, though.

Lonnie, that's hilarious! Rotten principal. :)

Sandra Parshall said...

No hand-written assignments? What does that mean? That every kid is expected to have a computer and printer? Isn't that a bit unreasonable? Aside from the question of economics, if everything is printed out, how can the teacher tell whether the student actually worked on it himself?

Julia Buckley said...

Yes, she means that everything MUST be typed. I guess she's figuring that if kids can't type it at home, they can use school computers.

Typed assignments are easier to read, but some students still think better while composing longhand. I guess they can always type it up afterward.

In regard to more research-type assignments, many of them DO get plagiarized, although it is pretty easy to catch them with online plagiarism detectors. But there has to be more dialogue with them about WHY they do this, especially when it's so easy.

kd easley said...

I don't remember my high school schedule being that rigorous. Of course, I wasn't a very rigorous student, so I probably didn't take that many classes that would require me to work that hard. :)

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