In my 13-year career as a teacher, both in North America and England, I have been on a lot of off-site trips, residential sleepovers, and days out. I know children love them. I know they can make the learning “come alive.” I also know they can help to consolidate concepts learned in the classroom. Plus they are memorable experiences. Right? Yes. I know all of this, yet I still don’t like them.
My distaste for field trips isn’t really because of a particular incident. No, it’s rather been a series of standout low points over several years. The highlights include a full-on brawl among a group of sixth-grade boys, a broken arm, and a missing child alert that was actually an adult math error.
It’s drama like this that make us teachers nervous about field trips—away from the backup of administrators, the school office, and other colleagues. Here are some of the things I dislike most about field trips, along with some tips that I’ve picked up along the way to help me deal.
1. All the Prep
Many teachers are expected to research, cost and book field trips themselves. This adds even more work to a teacher’s overflowing list of responsibilities and ensures the anxiety starts even before you choose chaperones.
How I deal: I save all contact information, websites and program details to make repeat visits easier to book next year.
2. The Crazy, Over-the-Top Excitement
As much as field trips fill this teacher with dread they seem to make children especially excited, making them louder and even more energetic than normal.
How I deal: I don’t give students too much advance notice of an upcoming trip. Anticipation can breed hysteria!
3. The Traveling
I have taken groups of children on public buses, coaches, the subway and even on a horse and buggy. It might sound fun, but they all have the potential to go horribly wrong, especially if one of the kids gets motion sickness.
How I deal: I take a couple of sick bags and a spare shirt in my bag, just in case I get puked on. Most of the time it’s not needed—but when it is: priceless.
4. Working With the Onsite Educators
Many museum educators are a fantastic resource but every teacher has encountered a leader who throws all your normal behavior rules and expectations out of the window and lets the kids run wild.
How I deal: I get in touch with the educator who is running the program by phone or e-mail before the big day and explain my expectations. I also try to give them a heads up about any student issues or problems.
5. Parent Volunteers Gone Rogue
One of the elements of a field trip that is supposed to help the teacher is bringing along parent volunteers or chaperones. Yet, these “helpers” can often be a source of yet more anxiety. I led a trip to an animal sanctuary where there was a food ban in place, and one parent completed ignored the warnings. He fed his child dry cereal from his pocket, like a squirrel! Also, I once had a particular parent who insisted on coming on every trip with the class. When they were politely informed that it was someone’s else’s turn, they simply showed up at the location uninvited!
How I deal: I now prep parent volunteers with expectations for the trip, including any learning goals, what I expect the kids to be doing, and what parents can do to help.
6. The Heart-Pounding Headcount
The time it takes to count a bunch of wiggly moving heads before you get to your total, is about the most nerve-wracking experience for an educator. The possibility that there might be one missing drives teachers to double and triple check again and again, which only serves to heighten the tension.
How I deal: I ask all the kids to put their hands on their head for the headcount. This usually means they stand up tall and are easier to count.
As much as I might dislike field trips, I know how truly beneficial they are to a rounded and balanced education. Especially for students from low-income backgrounds who may not have these opportunities without an organized field trip.
When faced with an impending school trip, do what I do- slap on a big fake smile and get through it for the kids. You never know, you might even enjoy yourself!