Permission slips are standard and required for high school field trips in the United States. Yet, what about high schools in other countries? As a teacher who has taught in Europe many years and in China for one year, I went on many field trips outside of the U.S. What do they do different and why?
You may or may not be familiar with the phrase “loco parentis,” which is Latin for in place of the parent. All teachers have this responsibility no matter the country; it is a universal standard. Teachers are responsible to apply the authority and responsibility of the parent in school and outside of school in the absence of the students’ parents. It is also a matter of trust that the teacher will always act in the best interest of the students as their parents would.
There are two realities in play with field trips. First, being outside of the classroom a teacher has a greater challenge to keep problematic students with behavior issues in line. You don’t have the finite classroom of behavior standards with the principal’s office down the hall. The United States is a very litigious society that will automatically blame the teacher if something happens during the field trip despite the student being in the wrong. That is a major reason for field trip permission forms to legally confer parental agreement.
Having taught overseas, I saw there was a very different approach to field trips. The school’s communication with parents was not for permission slips, rather for paying for their child’s participation in the field trip. Obviously, if the parents are paying for the field trip their consent is implied.
If you have ever taught any period of time, you know a teacher and the school district need the direct permission slips, but that is not the case outside of America. I taught as a Fulbright teacher in the former Soviet Republic of Estonia 1993-1994. They of course had field trips, and I participated.
The trust in education institutions and teachers are far higher than in America. At the same time, communication was not good. I did not know we had a planned field trip, and only learned of it at the last moment. The Estonian culture is “speaking is silver and silence is gold.” That means I did not know about in school events let alone field trips until that very day. You go to class with your lesson plans and find out at the last minute classes have been cancelled.
My first field trip in Estonia was with their last minute notice about 30 minutes to the south in a nice, countryside setting by train. There were no field trip forms for parents to sign; we just took the classes to the nearby train station for the short ride south.
I’m on the train surrounded by my Estonian students standing or sitting by me with no clue as to our destination. We talk in English with them too not sure of the details about this spur of the moment field trip. An older, Russian speaking lady is curious about why all of us are speaking in English. She does not know English and asks my students why we are speaking English.
Remember, this is 1993 right after the fall of the U.S.S.R., and I am the first American to live and teach in Estonia’s second largest city. My Estonian students could also speak Russian and told her they were speaking English with me because I am an American. The older lady was surprised, said she never saw an American as translated to me by my students, and she gently touched my knee.
There was natural disbelief that I was American. I was later accused of not really being American, rather an Estonian pretending to be for various advantages. Now in 2021 it is no big deal or surprise, but in 1993 it was very different.
It was a pleasant field trip allowing me to see a lovely, small town outside of the city. Discipline issues and class control were not issues as this was and still is one of the elite high schools in Estonia. If a student was seen smoking outside of campus by a teacher, they could be expelled for hurting the school’s reputation.
At the beginning of my Fulbright teaching in Estonia, I often walked downtown and saw my students. The Estonian teachers would report the students if they saw them smoking or drinking. As an American teacher, I figured it was none of my business being outside of school. These Estonian students realized my attitude was very different than their other teachers.
So in the fall of 1993, I was taken to their “mountain.” I grew up in northern California and northern Nevada with real mountains, the Sierra Nevada Mountains. They took me on this field trip with students to see their little hill. They have pride in that it is higher than the other Baltic countries of Latvia and Lithuania. I tried not to laugh at it, was respectful, and walked up to the top of their hill. You could see into Russia to the east and Latvia to the south.
I used this field trip to explain that their word for “mountain” was actually just a hill, a very small hill at that. They built a tower on their little hill for emphasis. When you are hosted for such, one needs to be diplomatic. I took the middle ground, appreciated the experience, but used it to define the major differences between a mountain and a hill.
In conclusion, this hill is a big deal for them. It is a yawn for any American who grew up in the western U.S. A field trip in eastern Europe or China is very different than in the United States. Just wait and read on.
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