I’ve hosted hundreds of plays and productions, but my very favorite performance is the one I’ll get to watch tonight – from here, behind the curtain. Yes, it’s me, the one you don’t pay much attention to when your friend is standing at the mike or dancing across my well-worn surface. I’m ignored, but you’d never guess that I take a lot of pride in the fact that if there was no me, there’d be no play. Usually during a performance, the curtains are opened wide and the bright spotlights beam down at me as they illuminate the cute little actresses, singers, and dancers as they strut around or sit neatly in rows. I’m usually right in the center of things, but tonight all the acting will take place right down there at those tables, where the audience usually sits. So I’m just going to sit here and watch the spectacle from here, upstage. Ha ha! Get It? I am the stage.
Anyway, the fun is beginning so I better stop joking and start watching.
All the teachers are pilling in, and right off, I notice that they all look their very best. I guess I would too, if I was meeting 30 or more parents in one night. They’re smiling at one another, but you can tell their focus is on the folders they lay out, and the files they’re holding.
It’s pretty quiet for a few minutes, and then the parents start to come in. Mrs. B. (hey, you can’t expect me to use real names here, can you?) is the very first parent on line, as usual. She has a daughter in just about every grade, and she is pretty much the first one at every single PTA night, play – you name it. (I don’t know how she does it. Then again, what do I know – I am just a stage.)
Morah C. greets her. I can see her glancing at her notes; she’s had to prepare carefully for this one. “Rina is a very sweet girl,” she says. “Very inquisitive. You can tell she likes to learn. I think we just have to work with her until she learns not to be quite so….enthusiastic during class.”
Excellent performance, Morah C. Well done.
I happen to know that Rina is not just “enthusiastic.” She’s wild. I cannot tell you how many food fights I’ve witnessed in this very room that were launched by her….enthusiasm. I can just imagine what she’s like in the classroom.
The show goes on.
“Devorah seems pretty happy in your class,” says another mother, who is standing at the next table talking to Morah W. “Though she says the day feels very long sometimes. Is it possible that they don’t get enough breaks?”
Now I happen to know that Morah W.’s class lost their recess time for two days in a row this week. I heard two girls from her class discussing it yesterday as they walked past me. One of those girls was Devorah – who seems to have shared that information with her mother.
Very smooth, mom.
But enough of this one. I direct my attention elsewhere.
Over there at the corner, at that long table, Bluma’s mother (she looks just like her daughter, at least a very frazzled version of her) is peering down at another morah, one I don’t know well. “Bluma is very creative. Her middos are spectacular; really, she’s a gem,” the teacher says. “I’m wondering: does she spend a lot of time doing homework? I mean, I can tell she’s putting in time, but her papers are not always legible. And the work is usually not complete. She’s a great girl, I’m just wondering about this one issue.”
For your information, the reason I know Bluma so well is because I see her cramming in her homework every single day during lunch. She scribbles away while ignoring everyone and chomping on a whole-wheat roll. I guess she doesn’t manage to finish everything, though.
Not surprisingly, Bluma’s mother says, “Homework? I don’t hear a lot about homework. Bluma usually says there is none.”
Uh-oh. I don’t want to hear the end of this one, so I turn away.
You are trying to detect the scorn in my voice as I share these observations – I can tell – but there is none. I’ll tell you why. The teachers and parents in this room? They are all following the same script, but it’s not the one you’re thinking. These people care deeply for the each of the students in question. They really do. I get to see the lunches packed with care, the eager parents who can’t get in fast enough to see their children in the limelight. I hear the teachers laughing with their students, taking care to bring a smile to the face of the one who always ends up at the end of the bench. I know the concern and love that permeates this room each day.
It’s fun to watch these PTA conference exchanges, to hear the delicate phrasing of questions, the carefully posed answers, but I know the people here are all on the same page. They care about the kids, and they care about each other.
So the teacher who says a girl is “enthusiastic” when she really means the kid is so wild it can make your hair stand on end, is doing more than trying not to offend the mother. She is trying to tell the mother that she knows her daughter is amazing. A great girl. She can see that beneath the wildness.
And the mother who so carefully hints at missed recess? She is trying to tell the teacher, “I know you have good intentions. I just want you to see the other side – that maybe losing recess is not a good thing for my daughter.”
Yes, this is really the best performance of all.
Because at this performance, the script is carefully edited so everyone’s real intentions show.