Inside, the signs were cheerfully posted around the building: Welcome, Class of 2015. 2015?! It sounds like a sci-fi movie. Glancing around at some of the creative hair and makeup confirmed the genre.
On my way to the classroom, I fumbled for my keys—trying not to spill my coffee and drop my armload of books that I’ll enthusiastically store in my classroom as teaching references, but never actually reference—when I witnessed a new variety of a familiar species: the Class of 2015 Helicopter Parent. A kid was sighing and jiggling the dial on his locker. Another kid’s mom down the hall hollered, “Is it stuck?”
“Yes,” he responded.
“Ohhh,” she breathed as she rushed past me in his direction. "You know what? So was ours!”
Ours? Is she sharing the locker with her child?, I wondered grumpily. I mused for a moment about how mortified I would be if either of my parents had accompanied me on the first day of high school. It would have been bad enough if they had dropped me off in front of the building (they didn’t—I had to take the bus), but to come in and twirl my locker dial for me and then talk to others? That would have gone on my top-ten list of Worst Possible Fates. But this particular kid didn’t seem overly relieved or affronted, so he must be used to Helicopters.
This is my first year without any freshmen. I was gloomy about it originally—even a little bit this summer when I forgot what they can be like—for there are many aspects of freshmen that I enjoy. They are only months out of middle school, and since I’m one of the few people who grew to love middle schoolers during my student-teaching stint, I appreciate how raw they can be. Most of them aren’t jaded yet, and many that act jaded are, in fact, acting. Most tend to be curious about everything and haven’t yet learned that trait isn’t as cool in high school, so they fire out innocent questions and follow-up questions and think they’re getting me off track and don’t realize they’re learning. It’s cute.
However, I got over the gloom of missing out fairly quickly. My room is home each year to one of many groups of freshmen that meet there throughout the day during orientation. And every year, there are a few butts who make it, seemingly, their goal to establish themselves as The Rudest Person. Two years ago, it was Fernando, whose name I learned quickly as I watched him mouth-off to his group leaders and irritate or unsettle his peers. Later that day, when the freshmen met their teachers, he was surprised when I—lo and behold, his English teacher—greeted him by name and said, “I already know who you are.” This year, it was a girl named Samantha who thought it was acceptable to sigh loudly and interrupt anything she deemed boring (including a peer whose turn it was to talk) with an irritable “Anyway!”
Of course these rude little pupils are only revealing a façade to cover the fact that they’re likely terrified of high school and of fitting in, and when I remember that, it does make me lower my hackles. Especially when I consider that they’ll be terrified into silence when 1,500 other students arrive the next morning. But it never ceases to amaze me that there are some students who will choose to be dysfunctional on Day One. On the day filled with get-to-know-you games and tours of the building—the day in which it’s impossible to fail at anything (when you get lost, there are blue-shirted upperclassmen who lovingly escort you to the proper location)—some freshmen will insist on failing because that’s what they’re used to doing, and that’s what makes them comfortable.
The phenomenon drives me nuts, and those particular students drive me nuts, but they also tend to be the ones I don’t forget: they’re the ones that challenge my classroom management skills, my compassion, my patience, and they’re the ones that make me proudest at graduation four years later.
Anyhow, I don’t have any freshmen this year. I have a long list of sophomores, juniors, and seniors, however, and if the first week with them is any indicator, this year should be interesting. As of today, I’ve gone through half of their questionnaires and have met, through their responses, about a hundred students whose lives range from rich with blessings to hopeless and homeless. Late Friday night, I received a desperate email from a dad who mentioned a student whose name I don’t yet recognize. It read:
Hello, Could someone please help Michael to find his way? Nearly every day from his freshman year until now his senior year I have received a phone call from the attendance office letting me know my little boy is lost. If someone can point him in the right direction it would be appreciated.What a sad plea. It is, presumably, one of the most profound worries of the parents I saw driving out on Tuesday morning. They send their children off each day and hope that we don’t lose them. And perhaps that’s why Helicopters are the way they are: fear that if they cease hovering, their child will stray and not find the way back. Then again, perhaps it was parental hovering that drove Michael away. In 15 hours, he should be in my class. If he’s not, he’s another missing senior who likely won’t make it to graduation. It makes me wish I had known him back when he was a freshman.