As we move in to June, and the end-of-year party invitations pile up in my school mailbox, I am forced to dig deep into my list of polite, socially-appropriate regrets. "Your party sounds lovely, and I so wish I could come, but I have my son's graduation ceremony that day." Or I have to pick my nieces up at the airport, visit my parents, attend a birthday party...insert appropriate excuse as needed.
I am an honest person, and while my default move is usually to stick with the truth, the truth of this matter truth is ugly. This truth, particularly when explained at drop off or pick up or in the moments between classes, is a box of unruly, writhing worms I can't contain once I lift the lid.
But this morning, while I was copying the day's class handouts, a parent expressed her disappointment that I RSVP'd regrets to what promises to be a lovely end-of-year school gathering. I inhaled, prepared to make a face of disappointment and utter some false excuse, but instead, the truth popped out. The moment was right, and if anyone had the gumption and self-esteem to handle this news, it was this particular parent, so I came clean.
I've been teaching for a long time, long enough to have become wary regarding parent-sponsored, school-related social events, particularly when the ominous descriptor "wine" appears with the otherwise innocuous pairing of "cheese." Don't misunderstand; I'm a huge fan of both the wine and the cheese, but a glass or two of chardonnay and the informality of a social occasion has the power to untether words and resentments that have otherwise been kept well in-hand. The email that a mom never sent - even though she really, really wanted to - about the injustice of little Janey's midterm C will re-surface at the party in the form of a casual, "Just so you know..." comment delivered with a smile as you swirl your baguette cube in the fondue pot.
At least I have some quality horror stories to share at non-school sponsored parties. The drunk mother who sternly reprimanded me in front of twenty other parents for a long and challenging homework assignment I'd assigned her son a month before. The dad who loudly outlined his daughter's negative opinions of Latin - the language generally and my class specifically. The mother who threatened - albeit with smile on her face - to report me to my boss if I did not ease up on her daughter in English class.
Make no mistake about it, these moments are party-killers.
So if you invite a teacher to your house this graduation season, don't take it personally if she or he responds with regrets. Assume that the teacher appreciated the invitation, and remember that polite regrets expressed on an RSVP card are preferable to regrets expressed angrily, under one's breath, on the way out the door.