Thursday was my 18th Back to School Night here. Some parents have seen my BTSN act a couple of times; I had all five kids from one family, so they got to see the bit a few times. I usually ad-lib most of it–I only have to kill 10 minutes each period–and still usually manage to say (mostly) the same things every year.

The night before mine, I attended my boy’s BTSN, and his teacher this year taught for several years at my school before moving down to the elementary level, and I had been in his junior high classroom many times. But his persona for the parents was decidedly different than the one he uses to teach. We’re talking PowerPoint and a tie. It was so…professional. ūüėČ

It did keep him ¬†less scattered than I can sometimes get during these things, and he had a lot more time to fill. I got to thinking… (I know; don’t hurt yourself.)

There was no way I was going to use PowerPoint, and I don’t even own a tie. But… Pretty much on my way to the gig, I came up with a new bit. I wanted to go with an acronym.

(Aside:¬†Technically¬†an acronym is an abbreviation that is also a word. Scuba, acronym. NBA, not. But I’m still going to call mine an acronym.)

I wanted to use RSVP. But I ran into a problem. I couldn’t think of anything I wanted to use that started with S. AND, as I was brainstorming along on my bike, I ended up with two R’s. So I had to “massage” things a little.

I called it R’sVP. Get it? ARRRRs-V-P. You could at least groan.


The first R is responsibility. This is where I give the old “you’ve already done 7th grade-it’s their turn shtick.” Old bit, new packaging. Make them check the homework on the website. Make them talk to the teacher if they have a beef. Etc.

The second R is routine. Middle schoolers aways complain that they hate routine (“This is boring” is the most used of their three word phrases), but they lie, and if they don’t at least halfway know what’s going to happen when they walk through your door, it will be carnage. You can always mix things up WITHIN the routine (I like to call it “variations on a groove” – sort of like reggae), but kids can’t cope with (seeming) randomness or a lack of ¬†set rules. Most of the time it doesn’t so much matter what the rules are, as long as they know there are some, and they can figure them out. The routine aspect of this class is why they have to do KBAR every night, why vocabulary is always due on Wednesdays, why we have a warm up first thing every day, and so forth.

The V is for vocabulary. For me, it’s the most important thing in junior high. I have been quoting (paraphrasing anyway) Ray Bradbury for years: ¬†“If you don’t know the words, you can’t think the thoughts.” Also, you can do “five paragraph essay” and “thesis” and “whatever” until the cows come home, but if they don’t have the vocabulary, the writing still won’t be any good. That’s one of the reasons I wait until the end of the year to do the research paper. Most of them would be practically unreadable if I did it this time of year. I’m working on doubling (or tripling) their vocabularies in the course of 7th grade. I know, I know. But a man can dream, can’t he? I mean, half of them couldn’t even come up with one slang word to write a paragraph about!

The P is for practice. This class is about skills and expression and thinking more than about who did what to whom when, or changing fractions into percents (although I won’t let them pass until they can do that). It’s about practicing the skills, and learning the language, and thinking/expressing the thoughts. That’s why homework is the major part of the grade in my class.

With the new material, I was a little pressed for time. In recent years, I have been doing a quick clicker demo, just to give them a taste, but this year I couldn’t squeeze it in. I guess it’s just as well; last year the one parent who got the sample wrong was a little embarrassed.

Even with the new shtuff, I still managed to include: scaring the bejabbers out of them with the timer, the three-word phrase bit, the homework speech, and the KBAR bit.

This year’s was one of the earliest BTSN’s ever. I’ve learned maybe about 1/5 of their names. All these people were introducing¬†themselves¬†as “so-and-so’s mom,” and all I could do was nod.