punkwalrus (punkwalrus) wrote,
punkwalrus
punkwalrus

Back to School Night

So, yesterday, I went to High School with my son, and met his teachers. Back-to-school Night. A ritual not followed by as many parents as I would have imagined.

CR's high school is about 30 years old, about the same age as my high school when I attended. They are like a lot of the overcrowded schools now: a series of hodge-podge classrooms of various shapes and sizes. There seemed to be no real order to where any classroom was, like there is no "math wing," for example. In fact, some classrooms are so small, they couldn't possibly have been classrooms to begin with. CR's math class had remnants of plumbing and evidence of a large sink against one wall. Half the cabling (TV, LAN) looks like an afterthought done by the lowest bidder, and a lot of the random equipment looks like a general contractor had a "U haul it: U keep it" sale. It seems like they jam students in any space than can hold 10 or more people. Some rooms have walled-up half-windows suggesting it was once a much larger room that was split in two. Other stuff looks like it was just thrown up at the last minute. Much of the furniture, from desks to chairs, were mismatched and arranged like origami trying to make the most of available space left. A few teachers had their own Ikea bookcases sagging with literature, pencil sharpeners missing the covers (one teacher had a huge bucket tied under it to catch the shavings), and unused desks serving double-duty: bookcases, storage, and TV stands. A lot of the classrooms are in trailers outside; jammed together like campers at a Grateful Dead concert. Winding dirt alleys are the remains of once used athletic fields that turn to mud when it rains with stairs made by "U Get Dex Bilt Qwik" kinds of services.

The school is clean, or as clean as I guess they can make it, with a few exceptions, like the restrooms. Dude, I have seen better restrooms in gas stations. I am not talking about filth as much as I am talking about vandalism and general disrepair. The front door was missing on both the Boys and Girl's rooms, for example. When I had to use the facilities, CR's first response was, "Uh... are you sure? Can it wait? I never use those places." I was in a stall that had a door that did not lock, had no TP holder but a loose roll hanging on a bent handle of a toilet where the seat had been repaired with duct tape. The metal walls of the stall had been repainted so many times, they were lumpier than a relief map of the moon. Two of the sinks didn't work, and half the sinks had missing faucet handles. Broken tiles, missing tiles, and graffiti by Sharpie accented the general sense of decay that sucked the most private of rooms into a florescent-lit haze of ennui amid a melange of distant echoes of the crowds milling about outside.

My son doesn't go to school as much as he goes to a camp town that looks like it built and taken over by squatters.

They told us to show up at 5 for a PTSA Dinner, "sponsored by Subway." I was suspicious about this, so I ate a little beforehand, and sure enough, they wanted $7.50 for a 4-inch sub, $3 for a bag of chips, and so on. It was a fund raiser for the PTSA, run by the sorts of people who usually run them. CR and I sat at the other end of the cafeteria and made small talk until 6, when we decided to show up for his first period teacher early,

She was also his second period teacher. LD History and English. I liked her a lot. Light Brooklyn accent, former business owner to a few software companies, subbing for the former teacher who just gave birth to a set of twins. She really knew LD kids well, and had a former LD kid from the same high school about 10 years earlier. Retired, fairly wealthy, and she said she donates her salary to a shelter for abused teens. She really knew her stuff, too.

Third period brought us to Theater Tech, which was run by a generic theater person who said he didn't consider this a "blow-off" type of class, but then proceeded to explain how easy it was to get an A. Show up whenever, complete your project, you are graded on effort. Oh, and you have to attend all three plays that year, at a (reasonable) cost of $5/ticket.

Fourth period was Pottery. Former and current artist, seemed generic, pushed his own studio and gallery a bit much, tooted his own horn a bit awkwardly, relied on Powerpoint too much, but generally a nice guy. Again, you're graded on effort, but he stressed a lot of your grade was based on filling a timeline. "We're not a class that just pushes around clay," he said. "If you don't make it to firing schedule, you don't have a completed project." He also stressed he forces students to learn the proper names for things. "There's no, 'hand me that wire thingee' in my class! You better know what it's called." My son's pottery, which was in the shapes of various fantasy creatures, stood out from the various boring stuff other kids did. Maybe I am biased, but when 80% of the sculptures are the same pot, and then you have something that looks like modern sculpture, it stands out.

Fifth period was math (Algebra 1), taught by a pleasant man, a former New York school teacher who seemed a bit of a "follow the rules because I said" kind of guy, but was happy I showed up... the ONLY parent that showed up... and that I not only understood math, I liked it. My only problem with this fellow is how he followed a strict line of learning, and was far too focused on students passing their SOL tests, although I could understand his objective on why he needed to do so. My questions on, "Don't you think you should tech the kids to actually understand math rather than understand how to get the best grade on SOLs?" got a obfuscated "no." Reminds me of the saying that all SATs prove is that you are good at passing SATs, not that you always understand anything you're being tested on. My SAT classes focused on "how to get the right answer," not "how to use a better vocabulary." This teacher seemed a little afraid to actually teach critical thinking with Algebra, and said he only used word problems because he was told to do so: there are no word problems on the SOL. Bummer.

Sixth period was Applied Physics, and I liked this guy. Real young, like 23. Former student at the same high school, he came back because a former teacher made him love physics so much. He had demos to show us. CR had one of my old AOL shirts on him, and the teacher said, "AOL? Oh, man CR... don't tell me you use AOL?" CR smirked, "Er... my Dad works there." The teacher's expression was priceless. "I worked there 9 years, sir," I said, and let him squirm a little. He reminds me of the kind of people I easily make friends with, and I signed up for volunteering for him.

Seventh period was gym. I hate gym. My memories of gym turned me off to exercise for the rest of my life, and it wasn't the teachers that made me feel this way (okay, one teacher did), but the humiliation brought on by constant teasing, bullying, and testosterone-fueled antics by my fellow students. The gym was by far one of the least-cleaned places of the whole school, with tattered signs, stained walls, scuffed floors, and just a general sense of everything falling apart due to overuse and underfunding. Kind of like when you go to a third world country airport, and passport control is made up of old cargo crates, and the mismatch of guns held by soldiers with scarred faces guard the hangars which have goats running around the shells of abandoned planes. The teachers were okay, again heavy on the Powerpoint, but due to the bad acoustics, I couldn't hear a damn thing they said half the time. One thing I did hear was that they just got in a new set of "updated accident films" for driver's ed. "Thanks to the people at INOVA hospitals, we have a fresh batch for emergency room photos as well." Ew.

Then we went home in the dark. All in all, I am very glad I went. I like his school, his teachers, and they love him as well. Almost all of them bragged to me about what a nice, caring, smart kid he was, and I know they are supposed to, but I didn't hear them say that about many other kids. I was surprised how few parents attended. LD classes certainly had few to no parents other than myself.
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