Teachers will tell you that one of the hardest parts of any school year is the planning and execution of field trips. While students are looking forward to a “day off” from the classroom, teachers and administrators are scrambling to get permission forms returned and figuring out driving and chaperone arrangements. Though I didn’t have to make arrangements for this all-school field trip, I was still in charge of leading my children through the museum.
For anyone who has never taken 14 students on a field trip before, it is the equivalence of herding 14 hyperactive kittens. Add onto the initial struggle of keeping the students in line while trying to spark their interest, we had horrible weather and a health scare. None of which made my job any easier. By the end of the day, my feet were dragging as I herded my students back to the bus for the cold drive home.
So why did I title my post “Best Field Trip EVER”? Definitely not for the actual time in the museum. I saw little of the exhibits as I tried to keep my eye on my children. Though, I did beam with pride when one of the museum workers complimented me on how well-behaved my children were (even as one of my students raced by me). In fact, by the end of the visit I was near my breaking point, mentally and physically exhausted. I desired nothing more than to be done with the day and be curled up in bed.
But it was something on the bus rides to and from school that made me reevaluate the entire experience. On our trip over to the museum that morning seats were scarce, so I sat by one of my students, Eva. Halfway through the trip she produced a series of empty note-cards she had stuck in her pocket and proceeded to hand out a plethora of writing instruments to the girls around her to draw pictures.
As she concocted crazy creations of the “Geraldson” family, I asked if I could join in the fun. With my own notecard I drew a caricature of a bunny, which Eva immediately praised as being “Sooo cute.” The other girls around us all wanted a glimpse of said-cute rabbit, and one girl begged me to keep the drawing. I then asked Eva which animal I should draw next. Not surprisingly, she asked me to draw her favorite animal, the horse. I warned her that it was probably going to turn out quite badly, but I gave it my best shot.
Like a burst of sunshine through a wall of grey clouds, Eva gazed at my horse and declared, “You draw really well.” (I really don’t. I have no training, and my drawings are all two-dimensional sketches that bear some feeble resemblance to their actual inspiration). But she was adamant that it was good. The other girls around her echoed her sentiments. Suddenly, I had a list of students who wanted me to each draw them a horse of their own.
I started filling in their requests. One time, the horse I was drawing went wonky, so I turned it into a greyhound. A girl not on the wait-list for a horse took that picture instead. By the time we reached the museum, I had drawn three horses with several more promised to students (which, by the way, I did deliver to them before the end of the day).
At the time I didn’t think much of the drawing incident, but on the bus trip home, I clung to that feeling of contentment from earlier in the day as I sank wearily onto a bus bench. Teacher-bot whirred down into a recharging cycle. About halfway through the ride back, I managed to rouse myself from my stupor and survey my class.
They were much more subdued than on the trip over, probably tired like I was. The students were also more scattered among the other grades. Two of my girls seated behind me were looking bored. An idea forming in my beleaguered brain, I flipped over my itinerary for the day and asked the two if they wanted to play hangman.
We took turns coming up with messages. The messages were mostly banal, but then the one girl Grace wrote, “Ms. S___ is awesome!” A couple of turns later, she penned the sweet message, “My favorite teacher is Ms. S___!”
I felt my heart bursting with pleasure from the compliments. Suddenly, my energy was fully restored. This had been a great field trip, after all.
There’s so much expected of teachers. So many lessons to plan, prepare, and grade. So many hoops to jump through. So many parents and officials to appease. So many field trips and other “fun” activities to orchestrate. Sometimes amidst the chaos, we lose track of why we’re doing what we’re doing.
But any educator will tell you that it’s those moments of connection and warmth that make the job worthwhile. A child’s small arms wrapping you in a hug. A student drawing you a picture to hang on your wall (mine’s getting quite crowded). A boy telling his mom he’s going to try to be good this year for you, his new teacher. A girl telling you you’re a wonderful artist. Or, in this case, a girl letting you know she’s your favorite teacher through a game of hangman.