Took a field trip today, taking a small group of seventh and eighth graders to a reasonably swanky annual luncheon run by a local charity. It’s always interesting watching kids in social situations they’re not familiar with, and “three-course meal” is certainly a set of circumstances that most of my students are not familiar with. I was worried that picky eating was going to be an issue; these kids have never heard of orzo, for example, which was on the menu, but it looked like everyone was trying everything. There was a Parmesan crisp on top of the salad; even I had no idea what it was at first, and I had some fun refusing to tell the kids what they were eating and watching their faces when they realized it was cheese.
Yesterday it was me in the uncertain social situation, and this is going to be a rare two-picture post, because I feel like it needs a visual aid. A former student who is now a junior in high school contacted me a couple of weeks ago asking me to come to an event that her school was holding where a number of their juniors and seniors, her included, would be doing brief presentations on research they’ve been conducting in conjunction with professors at local universities. She’s at a fairly posh and high-level local private high school, a school that I’ve known about the existence of for as long as I’ve lived here– it’s across the street from where I went to elementary school– but I’ve never set foot inside of. I was running a bit late when I got there, and I hit my first problem when I realized that what I had always assumed was the way into the building was actually the exit. The entire place is literally surrounded by a ten-foot spiked fence, and the school does not occupy the entire grounds, so I had a bit of a challenge figuring out how the hell to get in. Visual aid time:
Does this look like the main entrance to a school to you? Because to me it looks like the maintenance man left the servants’ gate open by accident. I just happened to drive by at the right time to see my student’s mother walking in through this gate, so I just followed her lead and parked on the street (turns out there’s no parking lot inside anyway) and walked in. I was greeted by a rather large dog, which was alarming until it turned out that it was friendly, and upon questioning the dog’s owner was told to go through the door that you can sorta see on the right side of the picture. Again, this was setting me up to be confused: I’m not used to the “main entrance” of a school to be so … well, side-door looking, and I was standing there trying to figure out if I should push the teeny-tiny little doorbell (Schools have buzzers! Prominent buzzers!) or just try to open the door (which I was assuming was locked) and go in when the student I was there to see opened the door.
Um, okay. Hi! This is good. Weird, because there are presumably hundreds of humans here and finding the one I want immediately is kinda strange, right? It’s not helping with the mild discombobulation.
Anyway. Student has told me previously to find someone when I get inside and find out where the “auditorium” is. Picture an auditorium. Go ahead, I’ll wait. First Google result:
Yeah. That’s actually a bit smaller than what I had in mind, but whatever, right? She leads me through some hallways, stopping (still in the hall) outside a room where I can see some chairs are set up. A woman comes over and says hi. I am a split second from introducing myself as Luther Siler when she realizes I’m with my student and calls me by my actual name. Wait, what? You know me? How the hell do you know me?
She and the kid have this brief I’m right here I can hear you both kind of conversation where they’re discussing some sort of snafu with my email address, so apparently she was supposed to directly invite me, which is how she knows my name? Still, kinda weird. Then she tells my student to make me my name tag.
Wait. Why are there name tags why is this a name tag thing I thought there was an auditorium oh god do I have to mingle I am not prepared for this.
At this time another adult who I do not know comes over and introduces himself, but other than his name does not say who he is. In other words, yes, thank you, Steve Johnson, I’m glad I know you’re Steve Johnson, but why are you telling me that you’re Steve Johnson? Are you a teacher? The principal? Another parent?
He later turns out to be the headmaster– this is a school important enough that they have a headmaster and not just a principal– but he gives me no indication of this.
Anyway. Yeah. The “auditorium.” It’s twice the size of my bedroom, maybe. It’s got like forty chairs in it. People are mingling and it is terrifying. I do not do this well.
I go in and sit, resolving to speak to no one until my badly-shaken equilibrium is back.
And then the kids start talking. And the first two, at least, are so clearly preternaturally brilliant and poised and mature that I quickly find myself wondering if my gnome-book-writin’ ass is the dumbest guy in the room. Call me arrogant if you like: I’m used to being at least in the top half, right? These kids may as well be speaking Greek, and that’s before the kid whose research is literally in pure mathematics and whose presentation appears to be entirely in equations gets a chance to talk.
Luckily, the fourth or fifth kid was clearly a meathead, so I felt a bit better. And, of the fifteen or so kids who spoke, my student was the only one who managed to get a laugh out of the audience, which made me remember why I like her. (“She got that from me,” I later told her mother, who shot me a quarter-second of a forbidding look and then smiled.)
There was a question and answer period later, and interestingly my student fielded more questions about her work than any of the rest of them. She had another proud-of-you moment during the Q&A session, where a parent who I was starting to suspect was showing off a bit asked her if the students had to have any specialized training prior to being allowed into the program.
“Well, no. We’re teenagers,” she deadpanned, cracking up the audience– well, me, at least– and shutting up the showoff.
Maybe not recognizing orzo isn’t that big of a deal. 🙂