Tomorrow night I’ll participate in my 30th Parents Night at the independent school where I teach English. I remember my first fairly well, being really nervous addressing these older people putting down some serious jack to have me, an imposter — someone who had never taught high school — in charge of teaching their precious replicated DNA. In the two weeks I’d been teaching them, I had learned that many of my students — as far as well-wired cerebral cortexes go — were more intelligent than I, so I assumed their parents would be the same.
Like I said, I was nervous. I remember sweating profusely and my hand shaking in my pocket as I improvised my way through an overview of the course, fielded a couple of questions, and bid them a fond farewell. Several wanted to shake my hand as they left and told me how much Leland or Penelope enjoyed my class. Generally speaking, if your students like you, their parents like you.
Of course, much has changed since then, back then when Ronald Reagan was president and it was morning in America. For one thing, the mothers of my students have gone from seeming matronly to looking like jailbait. I myself have gone from svelte redheaded virility to portly bald-headed senescence.
There is recompense, however. In the classroom, I now know what I’m doing. On Parents Night, with my professorial persona in place, I no longer sweat, and my hands are out of my pockets sawing the air for emphasis. Essentially, I attempt to convince parents to take the long view, to look at that not-so-great essay grade as a snapshot in time, not as a colossal failure that kills Mason’s chances of ever getting into Harvard. I try to convince them to see that less-than-stellar essay as an opportunity to show Mason that proofreading is important (i.e., unless you publish a blog).
The last thing you want to do is make learning an exercise in anxiousness.
Sometimes parents show up drunk, especially in Charleston. I guarantee you no new teacher tomorrow night will face a question as awkward as this one I faced about a dozen years ago.
“Mr. Moore, is it true that you’re a lesbian trapped in a man’s body?”
She was an acquaintance. Maybe my first word of advice is don’t get too chummy with your students’ parents.
I don’t remember what I said, but if someone were to ask me that tomorrow night, I’d say, “a black lesbian trapped in a white man’s body.”
Okay, the promised advice.
First, these people are bored stiff. Sitting in high school desks rekindles their high school insecurities. Entertain them rather than trying to inform them, though avoid icebreakers featuring a rabbi, a priest, and an imam.
Second, I suggest two weakish bloody marys a half hour before the festivities. This WC Fields-approved strategy will take the edge off without impairing your speech; in fact, it might even facilitate better communication. Note, I said weak bloody marys, which are odorless. You definitely don’t want to do two high gravity craft beers, not to mention two lines of coke or even one tab of LSD. I mean, c’mon, duh.
Otherwise, just be you. Obviously, you must interview well, or you wouldn’t have gotten the job in the first place. Try to have fun. Time flies. The next thing you know you’ll be on the cusp of retirement, your pretty plumage molted, your first parents night a distant memory.
 Mason’s a great gender-neutral name that allows you to avoid gender pronouns.