Thinking of Taking Your Entire Class Camping? Here Are Some Questions You Should Ask.

Sixty 13-year-olds. Three bathroom malfunctions.

Sixty 13-year-olds. Four chaperones. Three days. Four hundred eighty arrows shot. Approximately 90 Band-Aids used. Five family-size bags of marshmallows roasted. A combined six hours of sleep. Fifty thousand steps on my Fitbit. Three toilet malfunctions … repaired by me. Zero deaths.

We’ve done this field trip for four years now, and every year I simultaneously dread it and look forward to it. We don’t stay in tents—I don’t hate myself quite that much—but I did share a cabin with 27 seventh grade girls … and three bathrooms stalls.

So, you’re considering a three-day camping trip with your own students? Great! Here are a few questions you should ask yourself beforehand.

1. How do you react to the sight of blood?

Because you’ll see blood. Lots of blood. And just when you think the male chaperone helping with Capture the Flag has taken care of the main injury, the victim will walk into the cabin and pull her pants down, requesting that you patch up the three-inch gash on her left butt cheek. Develop a close personal relationship with Neosporin.

2. What are your feelings on personal hygiene?

When almost 30 people share three showers, things get messy. Does the sensation of your shower flip-flops sliding around on other people’s hair nauseate you? How about the smell of bodily functions covered in a heavy fog of Bath and Body Works Night-Blooming Jasmine? If these things appeal to you, you’re ready for your trip!

3. What’s your tolerance for teen drama? 


Here’s the breakdown. Day 1: Everyone is happy and excited. Kids want to prank each other and stay up all night. Day 2: Half the kids (the ones who pulled said pranks) are still going strong. The other half (the prankees) are exhausted and begin to take things personally. This is a bad combination. Day 3: Everyone cries.

4. Are your organizational skills and Spidey senses both on point? 

You spend hours organizing groups. You know that everybody is in a group with at least one close friend and, more importantly, you know that no couples will ever be alone together. You even made sure that Amanda’s group never plays Capture the Flag against Paul’s group because that provides too many opportunities for a poison-ivy-filled make-out session. But then a new couple forms. Or you find out the two guys who you thought were best friends are more than friends. Can your ears detect sweet nothings being whispered at a range of several hundred yards? If not, perhaps seek out professional development before your camping trip.

5. Is your lawsuit liability insurance paid up? 

You’re sharing a bunk bed with a middle schooler. Over these three days, you will repeatedly hear yourself say, “Put a shirt on! Nobody wants to see your nipples!” and “If you’re going to pee in the woods, remember the 50-yards rule!” Not to mention the previously described butt wound. Just say a prayer and pay your union dues before you get on the charter bus.

6. Do you enjoy the aroma of Cheeto farts at 3 a.m.?

7. Do you want to see your students in a new light and allow them to shine in a way they can’t at school? 

The moment when that kid who failed your class and is functionally illiterate dons his camo and climbs into a tree to defend the flag is pretty unbeatable. And the weird, undiagnosed-autism-spectrum kid who befriends the camp horses and looks so intently at them that you’d swear they’re communicating … that’s a good one too. Or the too-cool-for-school kid you almost didn’t bring because you were afraid he’d cause trouble? Just wait until you see him almost fall out of a canoe laughing because he and the smartest kid in the class somehow managed to paddle into the low-hanging branches of an oak tree. There are some things you just can’t experience with uniformed kids in a fluorescent-lit room with administrators patrolling the hallways.

I’m glad to be home. I like my own bed, which has no plastic cover on the mattress, and I like my nice clean shower and food that isn’t, you know, camp food. Every year I come home and collapse in weariness and relief that, once again, nobody got bitten by a snake. But next May, I’ll be back out in the woods, checking kids for ticks and watching them chase bunnies by the lake. And once again, it will be an eye-opening and smelly and exhausting and an incredible experience for all of us.