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I Hate Back-to-School Night

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Why is back-to-school night a mandatory event that takes three hours and tells me absolutely nothing?

woman pulling her hair
Jennifer Ginsberg: Dear Administration,

I really appreciate how zealously you encourage community building and parental involvement. But I'm busy -- really busy. I have three kids going in three different directions, and my husband is frequently out of town.

So when you send me an "invitation" to mandatory events -- like PTA meetings, Parent Orientations, and Back-to-School Nights -- can you please be mindful of the fact that not everyone wants to spend three hours listening to various people give random speeches about nothing in particular?

After securing a babysitter for the evening, frantically making sure my children are bathed and fed, and sitting in rush-hour traffic for 45 minutes, I made the mistake of assuming that this meeting was a critically important event where important information would be conveyed in a brief and concise fashion.

After all, most of us parents are pretty busy. Between balancing our careers and families, we hardly have time for basic self-care (like taking a shower) and socializing with our own friends -- let alone with a group of acquaintances during a forced "community-building" event. An event which, quite frankly, makes me want to isolate myself in some dark cave and never speak to another human being. Ever again.

I find the "Hi My Name Is Jennifer" name tag offensive and aggressively friendly, given the fact that I am a 35-year-old woman -- rather than a small child at summer camp -- who is perfectly capable of forming authentic connections with human beings and introducing myself to those individuals who I wish to communicate with, thank you very much.

And is it really necessary for every person on your staff to get a formal introduction, stand and bow, and receive a lengthy round of applause? I am happy to express my gratitude to the faculty and staff in the form of holiday and end-of-the-year gifts. But at 9 PM on a Thursday night, after being up since 5:30 AM and running around like a decapitated chicken all day, the last thing I want to do is plaster on a fake smile and clap my hands like a deranged seal.

Maybe the jokes that are interwoven throughout your pointless speech would be funny if I was drunk or high, but unfortunately, I am stone-cold sober. And I am supposed to be in my comfy, frayed sweats with "JUICY" written on the ass and sprawled on my couch watching "The Lost Footage of the Real Housewives of Atlanta" while eating chocolate chips -- not crammed into some obnoxiously bright auditorium with fluorescent lights glaring down on me, wondering if my butt looks fat to all the people who are standing behind me. Consequently, I am feeling a bit humorless at the moment.

When all is said and done, this three-hour "mandatory meeting" could have been condensed into a one-paragraph e-mail. Which would have immediately been sent to my trash folder and deleted forever.

Sincerely, Angst Mom

P.S. I am happy to co-chair the Purim Carnival and bring cookies for the bake sale!


next: Kids Watch: "9"
19 comments so far | Post a comment now
Anonymous September 17, 2009, 2:43 AM

I was always taught that if you have to make a complaint about something, you should have a constructive suggestion for fixing the problem. Maybe you’re better off skipping these events.

PlumbLucky September 17, 2009, 4:35 AM

I thought she did make a suggestion: do not make an evening “back to school” event three hours and mandatory!

Barb September 17, 2009, 5:16 AM

No PTA meeting or back-to-school event is ever mandatory.

And if you’re not getting anything out of the event, you’re probably not trying. In fact, it sounds like you’re going out of your way to make it a bad experience. I’m sure the teacher prepared information to share with parents, and the PTA had an agenda, so next time OPEN YOUR EARS and stop coming into it with a bad attitude and you may just learn something. Or skip it.

dean September 17, 2009, 7:08 AM

Too funny! I have a two-yr-old and have not had the misfortune of going to one of these things. Are they really that bad?

Mom of four September 17, 2009, 7:41 AM

As a mother of four children who are spread over 12 years of the school system, I say a heart Amen to this post. Back to school nights share little what couldn’t be explained in a single paged memo or a casual, drop by back to school if you want to meet the teachers/staff in an informal meeting.

anonymous September 17, 2009, 8:55 AM

I went to my first PTO meeting ever this year, where they went over every single item from the previous years’ budget and how it changed, repeating frequently things like “the grade school principal is now in charge of their yearbooks so it’s off our agenda” (really, then WHY ARE WE MENTIONING IT FIVE TIMES?) One woman went on for about ten minutes about how the PTO was dropping the sixth-graders’ t-shirts even though (a) it was already established that the sixth-graders would have their own fundraisers to cover this and (b) the woman didn’t even have a child in the sixth grade, by her own admission. After two hours, I left - and I lasted longer than a lot of other parents did. I’m not apt to go to the next one. It’s not that we don’t WANT to be involved, we just want the moderators of these meetings to be mindful that we have little time to spare and to streamline the information a bit. Is consideration of EVERYONE’S time too much to ask for?

squeaky082 September 17, 2009, 10:36 AM

Thankfully we have a 1/2 hour “Meet-The-Teacher” Cirriculum Night the 2nd Thursday of the new school year. One session is at 6:30pm & one session is at 7pm. You sit in your childs classroom at your childs seat so the teacher can place parent face w/ student face. The teacher explains who they are, what is expected, how they stucture things and the sign-up sheets are out for the volunteers.

Martini Mom September 17, 2009, 10:56 AM

Wow, that sounds awful!

My son’s school’s “Back to School” event is called “Curriculum Night,” and it’s very focused on the curriculum for your child’s class room. There’s a general “state of the union” style address from the principal, and then the parents break up and head to their child(ren)’s class room to hear from the teacher about the specific curriculum for that class for the year. It’s VERY informative. And they’ve done a very good job of organizing it so that parents with more than one child at the school can either split up and visit different classrooms during a single session OR attend back-to-back sessions in different classrooms (handy for single parents with more than one child, which I appreciate). And our PTA meetings are always kept to an hour (except the first one of the year, which can sometimes go 1 1/2 hrs).

As a busy single mom, I’ve always appreciated the organization and consideration of my son’s school. But after hearing your story, I appreciate them even more!

Danielle September 17, 2009, 3:11 PM

What I don’t like is that at my daughter’s school (as with others I think), children are not welcome. What am I supposed to do with my kid? Finding a babysitter is not the easiest, especially for ONE hour. So this means that only one parent can go while the other stays home with the kid.

You’re a school - have a room or a gym set up with stuff, crafts, an activity, whatever, to amuse a bunch of kids for an hour while we meet the teachers. I’d even be willing to pay $10 for it.

Anonymous September 17, 2009, 8:46 PM

You are so right- I Just had back to school night tues- what a waste of time- the principal spent half the time going through - what she called- an “unintuitive” school website. If its so unintuitive why not use a different type of service- and not waste an hour of my time????? Too annoying!

Anonymous September 20, 2009, 12:57 AM

Danielle-
Who would staff a room where the students were “amused”? The teachers are meeting with the parents. Who would set up, who would clean up? Who would cover the extra insurance costs? Also, these events are usually school wide so you may be talking about well over 100 children.

Parents I’m sorry if often you feel that the information at these meetings are “boring” but teachers and administrators don’t hold these meetings for fun. Teachers aren’t paid for these meetings. We often must get parents together to go over homework policies, grading policies, etc. Usually children aren’t allowed because its difficult to go over some pieces of information when students are present. Teachers want to build a partnership with you. We also want some boundaries. Parents will call us at home at all hours requesting information that went home in letters and was given at these meetings. If your school meetings aren’t productive offer solutions. Please remember that teachers are often working parents as well. We must find childcare to attend these meetings and we are also not paid for these extra hours.

Cranky Allison September 20, 2009, 6:16 PM

I found my way here by googling “curriculum night” “waste of time” — I knew I’d find something I’d enjoy reading.

Evening programs are not mandatory in public schools, no matter what the teacher says…and it’s a lame, tin-hat dictator thing to try to get parents to come by telling them lies about it being mandatory. What are they going to do, expell your kid because you couldn’t get Wednesday night off?

I have been going to curriculum nights — and occasionally missing them — since 1990. They are not important. (Sorry, teachers and administrators, but this is your fault. When people who adore their children and want the very best for them are bored silly by hearing this year’s plans for their kids, then there’s something wrong with the presentation.) Whether public school or private, elementary, middle, or high school, I have never once found out anything from curriculum night that I couldn’t have found out the next day when the handout came home…because they know that not everyone can attend the so-called “mandatory” curriculum night so of course they type out all the info.

The only thing curriculum night is good for is getting a look at your daughter’s World History teacher in order to determine whether he wears a hairpiece, a point that is argued in the carpool regularly.

He does.

Make it worth our time, educators. Be concise. Limit presentation time. Get someone with communication skills to vet teachers’ planned comments to determine whether it’s worth asking people to drive someplace to hear it. Save one vote-of-thanks round of applause for the end of the evening.

But parents, you need to do better, too. Be quiet when the principal stands up and calls the room to order. She doesn’t just mean everyone else — she means you, too. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been surrounded by people who won’t stop talking, and it wastes so much time. Just shut up and the evening will be over half an hour earlier!

Cranky Allison September 20, 2009, 6:25 PM

Well, anonymous teacher, since the meetings are useless for the parents and extra work (to no purpose) for the parents, the obvious solution is to NOT HAVE THEM. It’s not like it’s some kind of federal law that you have to try to drag the parents into the school and read them the same handout that you’re going to hand out tomorrow. I don’t get a babysitter and go downtown to listen to the town crier shout information for three hours when I can just wait for tomorrow’s newspaper to bring the same info minus the dithering and attempts at humor.

Don’t waste people’s time with an irrelevant meeting. Or if you must hold an irrelevant meeting, at least don’t try to tell parents that attendance is mandatory. It’s not.

Cranky Allison September 20, 2009, 6:32 PM

Whoops, I meant to type “extra work (to no purpose) for the TEACHERS” in my last post.

Abirarith October 11, 2009, 1:55 AM

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Howen October 11, 2009, 3:52 PM

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Rita October 16, 2009, 12:57 PM

Wow. I don’t know what kind of schools everyone else’s kids go to but my daughter’s back to school night is always fun and informative. It starts at 4pm and ends at 7pm on the Thursday before school starts. The PTO always has goodies set out, this year they had samples from the new fundraiser catalog. You can come and go in your child’s room/library/art room/whatever at your leisure. It’s very informal but at the same time definitely not boring, and like I said it’s informative. And the kids are either with their parents or their friends, walking around or on the playground. And siblings are always welcome. Heck, they even have a “baby/toddler room” set up for parent meetings in the morning during school hours just in case you don’t have a baby-sitter.

Seriously, what kind of schools are your children going to???

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