Having taught high school for 20 years and the last 10 years at the university level, I have had many education adventures in my native United States, Europe, and even China. Field trips are a colorful, often exhausting part of being a high school teacher. It is made more challenging as a new, young teacher as this topic was never covered in my own graduate education to become a licensed teacher.
I attended an excellent graduate teacher education program at St. Mary’s College in Moraga, California near San Francisco. The program and professors were great. We covered many important elements of teaching such as dealing with students with special needs, psychology, lesson planning, lesson presentation, curriculum design, and even how to use the multi-media tools available in 1987-1988. What we did not cover was how to organize and carry out field trips.
The educator’s task to arrange a field trip, get all the parent permission slips, then deal with students outside of the classroom and school environment never crossed my mind doing my graduate work. It was never an issue for my first teaching position as lead teacher for California’s high-risk incarcerated gang bangers at a remote desert camp. They were the worst of the worst needing a specialized facility to keep them out of standard juvenile delinquent programs, but too young to put in the adult prison. Needless to say, we did not have any field trips.
A few years later, I was at a new position as department chair for a rural, small public school in Nevada. It was there I first came across field trips, permission slips, arranging a bus, and convincing some parents to help chaperone. The school was small with only 100 or so students and brand new. It is a gold mining town with the mine essentially owning it. The mine owned the only general store and restaurant that was available unless you were willing to drive an hour each way to shop or eat at the next nearest town that was only just slightly bigger, but not by much.
The gold mine paid for the new high school construction as most of the parents were mine employees and it was the same 1 hour, longer given school buses drive slower actually, to the nearest high school. One wears many hats as a teacher at a small school with one needing to take on duties outside of your experience, expertise, or training. That was the case with me.
The principle asked me to coach the track team. My focus was on academic extracurricular activities as a student and had no experience as a teacher with athletic coaching. I did have some experience as a substitute teacher for P.E. in college to make extra money though. The principal said I look like a track coach being tall and thin.
I still was not sure until he showed me how much extra it paid seeing I was hesitant to do it. The contract was to coach the 4 scheduled track meets for $1,000, which was very big money in 1991. “What about me not knowing anything about coaching track?” I asked him. He replied, “just go to the library and read up on it.”
I agreed, signed the contract, and found the perfect How To Coach Track book covering all of the basics. I memorized all of the events, various distances for each, and other such details. I was now ready to put the team together, boys and girls, and practice after school. I shared with them the various type of track competitions, had them choose the events, and if need be, teams. I was faking it until making it, and I did show them the proper way to hurdle. That was one of the few things I remember and was good at from my own high school student days as I have long legs.
I prepared them the best I could given the situation. Now it was time for the first field trip to the Saturday meet a few weeks later. I secured all the necessary permission slips and the school bus. We headed out at 5:15 a.m. because the distance is 156 miles and takes 3 hours to get there by school bus.
The girls on the team were freaking out, mostly the 9th and 10th graders. This is something else they don’t teach in graduate education, how to handle teenage girls screaming about a dead animal. I was able to calm them down with the promise to check if the deer was still alive or dead. I agreed to do so but could not until they promised to calm down. The boys were just saying that it was pretty cool.
Sure enough, the deer was dead as a doornail. I told the team the news, some girls cried, but at least the screaming stopped. The bus driver checked the front of the bus and all was well. We could continue our journey. I gave the upset girls “mourning” time and then knew I needed them to focus on our upcoming track meet and forget the dead deer. I said something along the lines that it was unfortunate, but our challenge is to harness our focus and energy to represent our school and ourselves well at the track meet, the first in our school’s history. The greatest challenge is not just physical training, beating the other competitors, and techniques. One needs to overcome mental distractions, doubts, and concentrate all of their being on the task at hand to win. It was as much mental as physical.
Within a half hour after our “death of the deer” incident, the students were excited to get to the meet and participate. We arrived well before the 9 a.m. start time. I met with the other coaches and it was discussed what the exact distance is for one of the events. I forget the particular event, but the other coaches did not remember. As I had just recently read the information and memorized it, I answered with the correct answer after waiting for someone else to give it. My plan was to keep my mouth shut, but after providing the correct answer, I was given a look of respect by my coach peers who had no idea I was actually clueless and attending my first track meet.
The track team did me and the school proud at that and subsequent meets. I came home late after a long, long day completely exhausted. The team did well for the other track meets, and qualified for the state competition 226 miles away near Las Vegas. My contract to coach was for the regular 4 track meets, but I was more than happy to take them to a 5th state meet without any extra pay being proud of them, their behavior, and performance.
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