Please don’t sue me!
I dug through my folder of permission slips frantically. Suzie, Suzie, where was Suzie’s paper? Please let me find it, I do not want to get sued. My thoughts were frantic and jumping from one worst case senator to another. Suzie’s mom suing me, going full Momma Bear mode; me scrambling to find a lawyer; my job in jeopardy. The charter school I worked for at the time was rather toxic in culture, and during my 4 years there I NEVER felt my job was safe. I had to find that paper. Suzie’s mom was… fierce. Was I scared of her? Of course I was! Fortunately, I’d been Suzie’s and her brother’s teacher for multiple years now. Maybe she wouldn’t hold me to fault? I genuinely didn’t know. Frantically, I searched and at last found it. Good, Good, her mom had signed it. Thank goodness for the generic
liability waiver my school used as a permission slip.
I tend to err on the side of caution, often at the cost of fun
My “Teacher Liability” class in college must have scared me silly because I am a very safe teacher. Now that sounds good, Who wouldn’t want their child’s teacher to keep her charges safe? But perhaps I take it a bit too far. I’ve been called a “stick-in-the mud” because I won’t let kids be barefoot during Water Day. I’m the one who would tape aisles on the floor during presentations so evacuation routes would be clear. I was teaching at a very small charter school in rural Utah; so small we didn’t have an admin on campus. We all fit in two poorly built portables and as the most senior teacher AKA the only one with a teaching license, much of the unmet administrative tasks fell to me. As did the responsibility and liability. Admin had a reputation for showing up unannounced and firing teachers on the spot. Perhaps it was this looming threat or the fear of god put into me by my college Teacher Liability class, but I was constantly in fear of a child harming themself. We had a creek next to the campus, which is a really good learning environment and opportunity. Can we go to the Creek? 80% of the time my answer was no.
Fantastically tall tree on our campus, can we climb it? No!
Can we ride our scooters? Take our shoes off for water day? Sled down the 3 ft hill? Each request made my stomach turn. I’m not against fun, but teachers who don’t keep their students safe don’t get to be teachers anymore. And my distant principal was not lenient.
But few things are as persistent as bored middle schoolers.
Never let middle schoolers talk you into ANYTHING.
The first few field trips I was talked into went just fine. We went to a local slot canyon and no one died, fell off the mountain, or twisted their ankle. We toured a mining facility and an essential oil plantation and processing facility. We visited a drag racing race track.
Then they talked me into letting them go sledding. A nearby town had a former school turned museum dedicated to the history of the local area. The majestic 3 story + a basement building sat on the top of a hill and featured some of the best steep sledding hills for 40 miles. One side featured a much more graduated slope, giving you a nice long ride with decent speed and without a feeling of terror. The other hill was shaped like a giant C, the length of a curved football field, large enough for everyone to have plenty of space. This steep hill descended into a long natural amphitheater making it great for sledding, with a pretty uniform descent across the whole field. A metal slide had been built into the hill giving a thrilling ride all year long. Want to sled in the summer? This was your hill for Ice Blocking. And in the winter, snow quickly became packed and slick, giving your already fast ride extra momentum. As a child, I had been run-over by an out of control sledder on this very hill.
Perhaps it was the constant nagging, or how the students teamed up with the other teachers to convince me, but I eventually let myself be talked into the field trip. First we would go to the Museum, learn about the people ingenious to the area, and explore local history. Eat lunch outside near the playground, then end the trip with sledding before returning to school.
We heard the story of the Payson teacher who crossed the ocean to get her teaching license and booked a return journey on the Titanic.
Everything went fine, at first.
So we decided to go. Both classes, Kids age K-8th grade, and it started fine. We heard the story of the Payson teacher who crossed the ocean to get her teaching license and booked a return journey on the Titanic. Local art work, clothing through the decades, authentic WWII military uniforms. It was a good field trip. No one fell down any of the 3 flights of stairs. Hands were kept to themselves, mostly. No children were lost. All was well.
Then we went sledding
Once again, things were going well. Students zoomed down the hill, then marched around to the adjacent stairs to go again. No one was run over like I had been, I even went down once or twice. I began to relax. Maybe everything will be fine. I would be returning happy and whole kids to their families in an hour. I gave the 30 minute warning. Then the 15 minute warning. 10 minutes, 5 minutes, Last run before we leave….With all the grace of a hippo on ice, my illusions of well being sled down and crashed. 7th grade Suzie took one last run, face first, down the hill.
She started gaining speed, then hit a hidden bump after achieving significant velocity. She flew into the air, clinging to her sled and collided face first with the ground. My anxiety jumped as I rushed down the treacherous hill to her. Other students who got to her first blocked my view. Was she hurt? I hope she’s ok. Oh no! I’m totally going to get sued.
Good News! No blood. I released a deep breath, then looked a little closer. Her lip was swelling, no big surprise. She was clutching her mouth. Moving her hand away revealed a chip in her front left tooth. I watched her wiggle her tooth slightly. She was alive. I was going to be so dead.
We bundled everyone into cars and fled back to the school. Suzie’s mom met us at the school and hustled her to an emergency dentist appointment. I clutched my pile of permission slips. Please don’t hold me liable. Please don’t hate me. Please don’t sue me.
How things worked out
Thankfully, Suzie’s mother didn’t hold me responsible. She put it back on her 14 year old. Suzie’s teeth finally stopped wiggling, but the chip in her tooth couldn’t be repaired. She would have it the rest of her life, unless she got cosmetic dental work. I didn’t get sued. I didn’t lose my job; I didn’t even get in trouble with my admin. But I did learn a valuable lesson. Never let middle schoolers talk you into anything.
Emily Tuckett has taught for the past ten years, and experienced every grade K-8. She finally landed as a Middle School Science teacher and loves her job and students.
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