Surely this level of exhaustion is relevant and understood with most teachers: the dreaded ‘final month stretch’ of the school year. The specific name of the month varies depending upon the school or cultural norms. However, the symptoms are the same: hitting the snooze button more than twice, dark under-eye circles, demonstrating forgetfulness that parallels to that of an Alzheimer’s patient, and basically feeling like a sleep-deprived zombie. Personally, the best part of waking up is NOT Folgers in my cup. Coffee makes me feel more anxious than I naturally am on a decent day. If I’m being brutally honest though, it’s mostly likely the perfectionist aspect of my personality that piles on added pressure and stress. This year of teaching in China was particularly stressful though because I was also ‘hanging by thread’ for the final class of graduate school.
Typically, in the beginning of the school year field trips are required to include some kind of academic relevance to the curriculum. The final field trip of the year is always a fun choice though. I compiled a list of options on the Field Trip Report to my supervisor. This list consisted of Jinli Street, Home of the Pandas Tour, Mike’s Pizza, or Happy Valley. Secretly my hope was Mike’s Pizza. It was within 5 miles from the school, a small venue, and a well know restaurant venue for most expatriates in Chengdu, China. Even so, my supervisor would ultimately be the one to ‘throw down the grovel’ for all field trip decisions.
Luckily the enthusiasm and adorable grins of my class was able to persuade a ‘yes’ for Mike’s Pizza. This was perfect! My students would get to make their own pizzas from scratch AND take them home. My co-teacher and I could make one and take one home too! Tomorrow would be fun and easy! This kind of field trip is every teacher’s dream: the employees at the venue are introducing and facilitating the lesson. Well, I would of course help. But it’s nice to enjoy participating in an activity with the students. Plus, I loooove pizza! It was my ultimate comfort food in China.
My checklist was complete:
-Field Trip Report: signed and approved
-home lunches vs. school lunches: accounted for all 30 students
-allergy List printed
-signed permission slips
-extra cash and Chinese bank card
-hand sanitizer and baby wipes
-snacks and water bottles
-field trip shirt washed and ready
The next morning, my ‘snooze button’ was hit only once. I was ready in record timing. The universe had an incredible day planned ahead for me and my students. I wanted this day to be perfect.
So perfect, right? Perhaps you’re wondering if the day was actually exemplary? Well…. maybe Mike (the owner) was expecting differently. Maybe industries outside of Education aren’t sure what to expect. Maybe they assume teaching is as blissful as a stroll in the park on a crisp, sunny day in the Fall. In all honesty, I can’t assume or speak for other people. I can only speak for the fact that this day wasn’t exactly flawless.
The day wasn’t a bad one; our students didn’t demonstrate poor behavior either. But there is inherent truth in the fact that when an individual is experiencing a ‘swirl of emotion’, there is little to no avail in being able to rationalize their passionate tirade. This is true for both children and adults. Just to portray the intensity of our students’ enthusiasm and excitement for the day, it felt like maybe how Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI may have felt when the French Revolutionaries threatened to destroy Versailles in the late 1700s. I will make it known that neither my co-teacher or I are guilty of depriving these children of needs like the Marie did to the common people of France. However, like Marie and Louis, we felt powerless to being able to diffuse the surging and perpetual swells of emotion that day. To be clear, the difference is that instead of weapons, rage, and resentment simmering in front of a royal property, there was shredded cheese, parmesan powder, globs of tomato sauce, and gooey pizza dough sliding off the table and being high-fived from one student to another. My co-teacher and I thankfully would not be facing an impending doom of the guillotine. However, I had an inkling that we would be facing an impending doom of ‘thou shall not return to this venue.’
Typically, in the beginning of the school year field trips are required to include some kind of academic relevance to the curriculum.
Needless to say, this isn’t the extent of the silliness. It is also noted that despite additional scenarios, there were 5 parent volunteers who graciously donated their time. I was immensely grateful for any and all parent help that day.
- One student refused to wash his hands because the liquid soap because was not the color he wanted. His ‘home soap’ was white. Mike’s Pizza soap was clear.
- Another student proceeded to point out which drinks (at the bar) that his Dad also had at home.
- Some of my more shy and reserved students choose to observe the ‘madness’ instead of participate. Or they went to a quiet table on their own.
- One student ate his pepperonis instead of placing them on his creation of marinara sauce and cheese.
- Trigger warning: Those with a sensitive stomach may need to pass over this next sentence. The worst of it all was when I caught a student in mid-reach to ‘dig for gold’ (aka: pick his nose). If it makes any readers feel better, he was asked to wash his hands immediately. My co-teacher even gave his peers permission to ‘call out’ any future ‘gold-digging’ attempts.
In regard to our previous Winter Holiday party, it did not reach this level of noise volume and energy. I felt so much guilt for sake of the Owner.
In addition, there was also one more memorable moment of the day. **However, with that being stated, it is my hope that you accept this disclaimer and understand my intent is NOT to stereotype or invalidate the owner’s frustration. The only reason I’m sharing this upcoming moment is because children are blatantly honest at times and often naïve of social etiquette. This equation is what leads to innocent, yet humorous statements.
Every Friday before dismissal we watched a Disney movie in English. The movie of the previous week was The Little Mermaid. Imagine the French cartoon character, Louis, from the movie. Remember the chef character trying to force Sebastian, the crab, into a boiling pot of water? He’s singing “La poisson, la poisson he he he haw haw haw”.
So with this image in mind, add two exhausted teachers, 5 parent volunteers, and 30 exuberant students. Students were asked to say ‘Thank you!!’ in unison and wave goodbye. As soon as our students said ‘Thank You’, one student whispered to me that he looked like Chef Louis.
If there was any moment to portray a passionate, fed-up French man, this was it. His eyes bulged with fatigue and relief that we were leaving. He wore a white apron and black pants too. Oddly enough, Mike is a native of France and was respected for teaching the local culture (Chinese) this form of western cuisine. Chef Louis, I mean, Mike was a very gracious and patient man for this day.
Students were safely loaded onto the bus and I double-checked my Supply List. Nevertheless, I was also somewhat embarrassed from the day. I prayed for grace to be given if either class was mentioned to my supervisor. The 10 minutes back to school felt like 30. Would Mike’s Pizza even be an option on the next Field Trip Report?
Our students did have a good time though. Everyone ate their pizza for lunch and/or went home early with parents. I am so thankful for parents that choose to help and enjoy the day with us as well. The goal was simply for our students to have an exciting new experience. I hoped that was the case for every student.
Upon reflection of that day, this field trip reminded me a lot of about expectations. It’s odd how I planned for the day to be perfect and it was not even close to that expectation. My intent is not to reiterate the zeal of enthusiasm again; the point is to convey is that expectation rarely matches reality. But that is ok. There are good moments, frustrating moments, and unplanned moments with any day of the week. That day definitely included a fair share of all. The ‘pizza-creating’ moments were messy, riddled with blunders, creativity unique to each person, and an enjoyable process. I would conclude that life is about the same.
Oh, and if you are curious: Mike, the Pizza Owner, graciously allowed more classes to visit the very next day.
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