School night leaves us studying the teachers

September 24, 1998|By Kevin Cowherd

THIS WEEK, I'm again participating in the timeless ritual known as Back-to-School Night, in which parents visit their children's classrooms and sit at tiny desks with all the legroom of a Fisher-Price PlayCenter and listen to teachers lay out their grand visions for a successful school year.

With one kid in high school, one in middle school and one in elementary school, my wife and I see lots of teachers, some of them -- let's see, how to put this? -- quirkier than others.

A few years ago, for example, there was the incident with the overly energetic chorus teacher.

As soon as all the parents had gathered in her classroom, this teacher pointed excitedly to the blackboard, where the musical scale was outlined.

Then she chirped: "OK, parents: Let's hear you sing the scale!"

Personally, I am not big on impromptu group singing unless a couple of very important conditions are met, namely:

1) I have a beer in my hand, and; 2) The group in question is singing the Notre Dame fight song in a packed football stadium in South Bend, Ind.

In this case, however, I was surrounded by a lot of parents who looked as if they'd just gotten off work. Which is to say they looked tired and hungry and in no mood for some ultra-hyper chorus teacher with four cups of Maxwell House under her belt dashing around the room, exhorting everyone to sing.

In hindsight, if the teacher had served cocktails and passed around trays of hors d'oeuvres, sure, pretty soon we would have all been up for a little singing. As it was, though, all we could manage was a low, ragged "Do, re, mi " that quickly trailed off.

At this point, of course, any normal human being would have gotten the message: These people do not want to sing. These people just want to go home, inhale a can of Hormel chili and pass out on the couch.

But this teacher did not get the message.

In fact, there is every reason to suspect this teacher wouldn't have gotten the message if we had each written "I do not wish to sing" in Magic Marker on our foreheads.

Because even before our pathetic chorus had died down, she chirped: "I can't hear you!"

Well. By now, of course, a number of parents (including moi) were becoming concerned, some even wondering if we were all lurching dangerously toward a hostage situation. ("Nobody leaves this room 'til you sing, hear me?!")

So we tried the scale again, but the result was even worse, a listless murmur that didn't even make it to "re" before expiring.

The teacher tried whipping us into a singing frenzy a few more times, but by now the parents had largely overcome their fear and were in outright rebellion.

All I remember after that is going home and telling my kids: "If any one of you ever becomes a chorus teacher and asks parents to sing, no matter where you live, no matter how old you are, I will jump on a plane, arrive at your doorstep and smack you so hard your butt will fall off."

A few years later, on another Back-to-School Night, there was another incident with an overly energetic Spanish teacher.

This teacher seemed incredibly bright and focused. But she also seemed incredibly annoying, since she insisted on explaining the entire curriculum in Spanish.

This would have been fine, of course, if she were addressing a group of parents in, say, Havana.

But since this happened to be in the suburbs of Baltimore, most of us were lost right after: "Hola! Mi nombre es Senora ..."

Then again, at least she didn't make us stand up and sing the Cuban national anthem. ("I can't hear you!")

This, then, is the essential danger of Back-to-School Night: It's a crapshoot as to whether you'll end up with a nice, normal teacher or some wild-eyed zealot.

Actually, it doesn't much matter to me, since I basically have only one question for each of my kids' teachers: How much homework will the little monster have?

Because on school nights, every time I ask my kids how much homework they have, they say: "Oh, not much."

Then, around 9 that evening, my wife and I find out one kid has five pages of math homework and a science report due the next day, the other has four chapters of social studies to study for a test, while the youngest has three spelling dittoes to be completed.

L And they wonder why Daddy's always reaching for the Tylenol.

Pub Date: 9/24/98

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