So, I’m going ‘out on a limb’ here. Hopefully a parent of my previous students does not read this article. However, with that being said none of my students were harmed or were in any potential harm. It’s just that my mental health (riddled with anxiety) before this specific field trip is what makes me worry that they would be disappointed. In addition to potential disappointment, I remember so many parents telling me I was “so brave” to teach Pre-School. This comment was taken graciously, but it still left me secretly confused. How was I “so brave”? I loved my job and my students were so well behaved (most of the time).
- Spring of 2017
- Chengdu, China at Quality Schools International.
- Grade level: Pre-School (ages 3-4)
- Field Trip destination: My Rules.
- a jumbled mix of English and Mandarin
- facial and physical pantomiming when translation is not readily available
The Pre-School Department had just recently completed the Learning Unit for Community Helpers. We had just concluded 3 weeks of facilitating games, songs, and fun activities with this Unit. We made Firefighter hats, decorated Police Badges, role-played as a Baker, and made ‘play-dough desserts. “My Rules” deemed the perfect fit for a fun field trip and to hopefully reinforce the learning concepts for the Community Helpers Unit.
In my previous experience field trips were fun. Correction: They were fun, productive, and slightly exhausting. However, this was my first field trip in a foreign country! The required components of my field trip kit were completed: permission slips, bus schedule, sack lunches vs. school lunches, student allergy list, comfortable shoes, and a list of parent volunteers. Nevertheless, my particular field trip kit for a foreign country included additional and required amenities: a portable phone charger battery, an actual phone charger cord, cash, Chinese bank card, and hyper-vigilant tracking abilities to make sure my ‘translator’ is within speaking distance. AKA: my anxiety was surging through the roof!
Then the thought of the previously mentioned comment “You are so brave” came to mind. I certainly did NOT FEEL BRAVE. Being around 15-23 kids in a classroom was just something I was simply accustomed to for work purposes. Teaching simply felt like a ‘calling’ and so natural. Moms are the ones who are brave! Schools have immediate medical help if needed. They have school walls and gates to contain ‘strong-willed’ individuals. I see Moms leave the house with a purse, a duffle bag consisting of ‘child-related’ items, and their biological child. This to me is brave because there are no walls to confine the child impulsively running into the street or eating an enticing poisonous plant that looks like last night’s salad leaves. You are vigilantly ‘on-alert’ without cease and you don’t have the luxury of telling children ‘See You Tomorrow’ at School Dismissal.
My panic continued to surge as I also remembered that I wasn’t fluent in Mandarin. What if one of my students has a meltdown and I am not able to communicate with them? What if Rebecca (my amazing Teaching Assistant and translator) is nowhere to be found? Will my facial and physical pantomimes be enough to de-escalate any potential meltdowns? Is my portable phone battery charged? Do I have sunscreen? Where are my sunglasses? Did I pay my monthly phone bill? If I didn’t, then I can’t make any phone calls or communicate.
A few more minutes of this uncomfortable panic ensued until I finally realized that no amount of worry was going to make or break tomorrow’s field trip. I had read over my field trip kit multiple times and would carry the list of the needed items in my backpack. The next best step was a good night’s rest and a strong frame of mind for the upcoming day.
If you are curious as to if any of these ‘panicked thoughts’ turned into reality, please keep reading.
Every student came to school seething with enthusiasm AND every student wore their field trip shirts. We even had an extra parent volunteer. I counted all 15 students correctly and in one place before, on, and after the bus ride.
We visited five career stations: Firefighter, Policeman, Doctor, Baker, and Cashier. I have memory of visiting and engaging with 4 of the 5 stations.
In each of the stations the students got to dress-up in career-related clothing and use ‘play-items’. The Firefighter Station included a red and orange jacket stationed with water guns that shot water to painted fire mural. The Police Station involved dressing up in uniform pieces and using a magnifying glass to peruse some scripts. They also enjoyed using the ‘walkie-talkies’. In the Doctor Station, there were three plastic mannequins dressed in hospital gowns with each of them lying on a hospital bed. My students enjoyed playing with stethoscopes and plastic thermometers to ensure the ‘safety and health’ of these plastic patients. The Baker Station was my absolute favorite. Each of my students went into a Baking Room and were presented with a pre-cooked cake. They were given frosting, a spatula, and a candy melt in the shape of a Panda Face for the décor. The cake mount was made to spin so that spreading the cake frosting was ‘kid friendly’. Each student was given a ‘take-home box’ for their cake so they could enjoy it later.
At this point maybe you are curious if there were any ‘mis-haps’. Despite the expected surges of excitement, my students were very well-behaved. The day just continued to naturally unfold as it did because children as just as human as adults. Each child has their own unique personality, quirks, strengths, and areas to improve upon. I am in no way ‘pointing a finger’ or implying bad behavior. Children simply live in the moment and make their choices based on who they are as an individual.
However, I will say despite the day being overall a positive day, here are the more memorable and unplanned moments.
- One student was so engaged with the cake mount spinning, all she wanted to do was watch the cake spin. Frosting was applied, but she was content without any decor. Watching the frosted cake spin on the cake mount was absolutely sufficient for her.
- One student decided that cake decorating was no longer a priority. Somehow, she had snuck a banana in her backpack and ceased any and all cake decorating. I decided that her eating a healthy snack was better than eating the cake and hopefully would prevent any ‘fits’ derived from being hungry or tired.
- Despite being warned twice, a student stepped into the fire station area where he would be subject to getting hosed down by water by many of his classmates. Luckily the My Rules employees were patient and understanding when he got drenched from head to toe.
- In the Doctor Station, one student was very concerned as to why all three of the plastic mannequins were not wearing socks. “Ms. Miller, they are going to be cold!” This statement warmed my heart to know that there are still kind and thoughtful souls in this world.
- Another student ate his cake that was made in the Baking Station for lunch. There are times when I choose to firm, but kind about following directions, but I choose to relent this time. Choosing one’s battles is wise and is worth the flexibility.
- Some tempers flared and unkind (Mandarin) words ensued when two students lost their place in the line for sliding down the Firefighter Pole.
- I sampled a slice of pizza with cheese and corn because one of my students insisted on this. Hopefully my ‘poker face’ went as well as intended. China is full of unique flavors and ‘taste at your own risk’ experiences.
I don’t remember Station 5 very well simply because I was mentally exhausted. My students were still safe and content though. They got to pretend they were cashiers with plastic food items at a grocery store.
In conclusion I decide that in fact I am “so brave”. Whether the individuals who spoke those words were implying a compliment or a sugar-coated insult, I choose to make meaning for it on my own accord. New experiences and responsibility can be both scary and rewarding. My feelings previous to the field trip were valid, but I was being too hard on myself. I remember giving Moms credit for being brave, but Teachers are brave too. Despite our differences, we have threads of similarity. As much as we plan, the day simply unfolds at its own will. Anxiety and worry happen to the best of us, but a good night’s sleep and strength of mind go a long way. So, to the moms with ‘Mom bags’ and teachers with ‘Teacher bags’: I may or may not know what items are being transported, but I respect your hustle and your dedication. We do the best we can and love with all we have.
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