Or, at least I did.
Since 1995, I have stood in front of my students’ parents twenty-two times. Usually, in late September or early October, I have watched adults navigate their child’s confusing daily schedule as they go through a “typical” rotation of their son or daughter’s school routine.
Typically, I get about ten minutes to convey my personality, teaching philosophy, expectations, and classroom routines. I also offer a glimpse at the history curriculum that I am responsible for teaching. The night always feels rushed and false. Teaching is part acting and Open House is like a movie trailer for a film the parents will never see.
Open House Night often leaves me feeling unsatisfied.
Maybe it is my age or my perspective as a parent, but last night I actually enjoyed Open House for the first time. The parents were funny, engaging, and most importantly, involved in their children’s lives. Of course, many parents could not or chose not to attend, that is the perennial issue with Open House: teachers often feel like they are preaching to the choir. The parental participants are the parents who don’t always need to meet me.
I remember pleading with my own mother to attend my own Back to School Nights. Not formally educated herself, the mother of a high achieving kid, she did not always see the point of wasting an evening at my school. However, even as a teenager I sensed that “good” parents attended school events, especially Open House. As a reflection of myself, I wanted my mom to be perceived as an involved parent. I wanted to fit into the suburban schools that I attended.
Now I work in a large, suburban school. The families have diverse resources and varying needs. Many parents work evening hours. Other parents do not see the benefit of a high school curriculum night — viewing their adolescent as an independent young adult.
Last night felt different. There were laughter and smiles. It felt like a community. I shook hands of parents for whom I had taught all of their children. I called those parents legacies. I told one father that I loved having siblings because in a big school familiarity breeds connections.
I was different too. In an attempt to liven up the ten-minute “show” I had previously photographed my students holding signs declaring the places in the world where they wanted to travel. I teach Global History and I desperately want to put a pin in my students’ small bubble of experience. I was able to make a short video of the pictures — telling the parents that the kids were hoping that they might get a trip out of their cute pictures. I loved watching the adult’s expressions as they anticipated seeing their baby’s face appear. No matter their age, they are always your baby.
Ultimately what I realized last night is that Open House is an opportunity for teachers to be ambassadors for the survival of public schools. I showed my parents last night that I was a hometown girl, listing only one private institution on a slide of images of the public high school and college that I attended and the two public schools for which I have been employed. I wanted my students’ parents to know that public schools promote excellence and are filled with enthusiastic, compassionate teachers.
My activism and the march for public education this past July has renewed my faith in public schools and has given me a sense of purpose. Open House, although nerve-wracking and incredibly flawed, is an opportunity for teachers to spread the “good” word of public education.
Maybe next year I will actually look forward to Open House.