Symphony 38

“Do many parent’s show up?”

“Since you have all of the sixth graders, you can expect about thirty people to show up. In some ways, it will be the most important thirty. The ones who won’t show up for back to school tend to be of little use to you anyway.”

Neil was a little puzzled by the whole concept. “I guess I don’t quite follow you. What use are parents anyway — to me, I mean. I am not used to dealing with parents. In my old high school, I rarely even met them.”

“What did you do about discipline?”

“Discipline was between the student and me, or if it got really serious, between the student, me, and the office. The parent had little to do with it.”

“I see. Well, that might be all right for kids who are almost grown, but these students are still too young for that. Parent cooperation can still make all the difference at this age, and we try to cultivate it. That is what back to school night is really all about.”

With that in mind, Neil set about preparing. It didn’t take much physical effort. He cleaned up his room the day of the open house, wrote the bell schedule and a summary of the school rules on the blackboard, and put two name tags, one for each section, on each desk. He set extra copies of his textbooks out on the counter, and stapled some of the better student papers to the bulletin board.

The mental preparation was another story. Back to school night was scheduled for the eleventh of October. By that time he would have been teaching his students a little over four weeks. He had sixty-four students all together. How well did he know them? Could he even connect faces with names without error?

He ran his finger down his class list as he sat alone in his apartment that evening and tried to bring each face into focus. Some were easy. Tony and Jesse, his troublemakers, were engraved in his brain. So were Sean and Duarte, Rosa Alvarez and Rita Morales, Stephanie, Tasmeen and Rabindranath, Brandy, Oscar, little Randi Nguyen, and a dozen others. But the other forty were still hazy. He could put a face to most names, but for a few of them he still was not sure that he was putting the right face with the right name.

He spent the evening with his class list, as if he were cramming for an examination — and, in fact, he was.

# # #

When the night came, all his worries proved unfounded. The parents who came were unfailingly polite, and none of them were expecting miracles. He only had to jog his memory twice to bring up quiet, anonymous student faces. All the rest who came were parents of students who had made themselves known to him within the first week of class.

There was a message in that, but which way did the arrow point? Were these parents present because their children excelled and they were proud of them? Or were the children driven to make themselves known because the parents were always there expecting it of them?

# # #

The first woman to come in was tall, blonde, and confident. She stuck out her hand and said, “Hi. I’m Janice Hagstrom. This is my husband, Bill.” Bill was a bit shorter than his wife. He was young and good-looking, but he seemed a bit abashed in her presence. Janice did all the talking. Stephanie was her oldest daughter, and she always did well in school, but Janice was a little worried because this was a new situation and all, going from teacher to teacher all day, and she was glad that her daughter had at least one place to call home. more tomorrow

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