As publishished in The Week on October 21, 2015
The cool kids are hanging by the lockers, laughing and talking a little too loud. The nerds are in the classroom early, eager to shake hands with the teacher and nab the seats in the front row. The girls are put together in skinny jeans, heels, and blown-out hair. You know what I’m talking about, right? This is back-to-school night, and these are the parents of actual high schoolers.
Back-to-school night for high school is dramatically different than it is at elementary school. When you go to the little kids’ school you are acutely aware of your status as an adult. You sit in teeny tiny chairs and look through the “artwork” that your child has left for you. The teacher talks about how he’s going to teach your kid to do stuff that you already know how to do. It’s adorable how they’re growing up, isn’t it?
In contrast, back-to-school night at your kid’s high school makes you feel like a kid. I wander from class to class with no clue as to where I’m going. The traffic in the halls is so socially overwhelming that I find myself saying hello to everyone like I’m running for Student Council president. Skinny Jeans walks by me and flips her hair without saying hello. I wonder what that means. Did I say the wrong thing? Did I say the right thing but to the wrong person and it got back to her?
I am in a time warp and I’ve brought everyone with me. That guy who’s texting in class, he was a note passer. That girl who’s writing down every word the teacher says (even the jokes), she’s going to be valedictorian. The jock in the back row is stretching because he had a really hard practice today. And look, he’s married to a cheerleader.
And just like in like high school, half the time I have no clue what the teachers are talking about. I walk into Biology and the teacher has an assignment for us on the board. “Record your inferences about these photos.” Look, lady, I didn’t come here to do homework. You can’t make me.One photo looks like a bunch of colors and the other looks like a feather. I write that down, grudgingly. She starts her presentation by telling us the answer. I wasn’t even close. I swear, just like high school.
When it’s time for break I hit the cafeteria and am relieved to find my BFF. She seems relieved to find me too, and we move to a safe corner. It’s loud and crowded and the popular girls are selling things behind a folding table, somehow already in a club. Skinny Jeans is there and looks sublimely happy. I have a feeling she feels like she’s back in high school, too.
I am happy when the bell rings and I can go to English. This woman speaks my language. I telegraph to her from my seat in the very front of the class (I guess that settles it, I’m a nerd) how much I love her and every book she’s teaching and how much I want to be her when I grow up. Even though she’s 30. I leave without saying hello, however, because I don’t trust myself to be cool about it.
I go to more classes, each eight minutes long. Calculus, as it turns out, has very few numbers and is too complicated for the teacher to explain to us. I’m a little grateful. The bell rings again and we check our schedules to figure out where our next class is. I have gym, so I instinctively run through my handy list of female problems that disarm male gym coaches. But then it hits me, I’m a grown up. I can just go home.