During my first year teaching, I was loosely required to take a field trip to see how maple syrup was made. I had taken over for a teacher who left suddenly at the beginning of December and I had very little support learning the ins and outs of the school. Figuring out classroom management was tough enough.
So when I overheard my team talking about permission slips, I casually inserted myself in the conversation. I was hoping this wasn’t another instance of me looking like I had seriously dropped the ball.
“What’s this field trip you’re talking about? Should I be doing something with permission slips too?”
After too long of a pause and a quick exchange of looks, I received my answer.
“You probably should have already sent out your field trip forms. We’re going to a family-run maple syrup farm on Monday.”
Swallowing a surge of panic, I asked if anyone had a permission slip template I could use. I was told to expect an email with the details and the requested template by the end of the day.
I wasn’t exactly sure what the theme of the field trip had to do with anything we were currently learning, but I didn’t think too much about it. I had yet to create a parent permission slip for this field trip, let alone any permission slip at all. While I had found out the hard way that there were plenty of things that we just did at this school, I figured I would have been given more than a week to prepare.
Nope. So this was it.
I planned out a timeline as best I could. If I could get permission slips out in the morning, parents would have three days to get the forms turned back in. Was that enough? No, of course not. Many of the parents were already skeptical of me as a teacher, so the late notice wasn’t going to do anything to earn me more points.
Since there really wasn’t another option, I stayed late at school to perfect both my field trip cover letter and the actual permission slip. I had been given enough details to share with the families, but still had quite a few questions for myself. And a quick bit of googling had given me more information about the farm we were visiting.
I made sure to include the timeline for the day and a reminder about what to wear. The buses would be at school to pick us up by nine and we would be back at school by two. Just enough time to get everyone ready to go for the long-ish trip. It was March so the weather was unpredictable; the forecast called for clouds and a potential drizzle. I was hopeful it would change between now and then or that the sun would make at least a small appearance in the morning.
We planned to eat lunch inside the barn after the tour and maple syrup sampling was complete. Parents needed to pack a lunch or order one through the school. Even though the cafeteria staff and I were on good terms, I worried we wouldn’t be able to get those lunches for the trip. They required a good amount of advance notice, and chances were slim that the staff would have time to fulfill the order. I had a stash of snacks and pre-packaged lunches for students who needed them for various reasons. I planned to replenish the supplies before Monday in case students were without food for the day.
I had skipped the part about chaperones in the letter and needed to circle back. How many volunteers could I realistically get on such short notice? Even though the field trip was free, the farm wasn’t close to school. Parents couldn’t ride on the bus with us and would have to drive themselves. Additionally, many of them worked jobs where they weren’t able to take off time with such little notice. I decided to call a few parents right away to see if I could talk them into helping us out. The moms I had on speed dial might be able to help out.
I winced at the due date. Friday was so close. And so was Monday. If the kids didn’t have their permission slips in by Monday morning at the absolute latest, they couldn’t attend.
Feeling like I had done everything I could to prepare for the next day, I headed home to calm my anxiety with a healthy dose of reality tv.
* * *
I didn’t want anyone to miss out on the trip so I made copies of the permission slip for whoever needed them that week. I put extras in each folder that had come back empty in the morning in hopes that they would return signed the following day. I sent emails and made phone calls. I was determined.
But by Friday afternoon, I was still four permission slips short. I hadn’t been able to reach a parent or guardian who could bring in the forms that day, but each promised to do so bright and early Monday morning.
Reminder slips were placed in each Friday Folder. Students needed to be on time on Monday with water bottles, warm coats (the predicted temperature for Monday had now dropped), and lunches as needed. I wrote myself a reminder to check the prices of Lunchables before heading to the store.
The weekend was spent with friends, mountains, lesson plans, coffee, and lots of reading on maple syrup. I felt prepared for our trip on Monday, and went to bed Sunday night confident that everything would come together in the morning.
* * *
My early arrival at school did nothing to delay the inevitable. The lunches had not been prepared in time. There was nothing that could be done about that. I crossed my fingers that I had enough food in my classroom refrigerator to keep everyone’s bellies full for the duration of the trip. While we did have a maple syrup tasting planned, I didn’t think the small, sugary snack would be enough to tide them over until we got back to school.
But those slips. Those much-needed-but-also-deeply-despised slips. By the time the first bell rang, I still didn’t have the ones I needed. One of the students was absent, but the other three now needed a plan for the duration of the trip. I had anticipated this outcome and prepared work packets and traded favors with the second grade teachers for spots in their classrooms, but my heart hurt a little as we lined up for the bus. This was going to be such a neat experience, but hopefully we could bring back enough of the syrup to put smiles on the faces of our classmates who reluctantly headed down the hall as we lined up for the buses.
The trip truly was great. All the stress that came with the planning dissipated once we arrived at the farm. We got to learn about sugar maples then went on a scavenger hunt to identify their leaves. As we were checking out the trees, we noticed some of them had already been tapped to get the sap out. The owner and his daughter explained the process of extracting the sap and how to boil it to turn it into maple syrup. We even got to watch the process as the spiles sent the sap from the trees into the buckets.
Afterwards, we headed to the sugarhouse to see the sap being boiled down into maple syrup. We learned that the cleaning and testing process takes a long time, but the results are delicious!
Homemade french toast sticks were used for the syrup tasting and they didn’t last long. My students were begging for seconds with bites still left in their mouths. The small farm kitchen didn’t stand a chance against our three classes.
But it was cold. Memorably cold. Snow-on-the-ground-still cold. Our icy hands unwrapped leftover pizza and shakily stuck straws into juice boxes. I passed out the food I had packed and was thankful that I had more than enough.
After lunch, we got back on the moderately warm buses to return to school. I ended up on the same bus as one of the other first grade teachers, who pointedly ignored my smiles until she finally spoke up.
“We really didn’t do much to help you. And I’m sorry for that. I should have told you when we first found out the dates. It just kind of slipped my mind to say something until you popped in the other day.”
I didn’t mention that the other day was really less than a week ago. I also didn’t bring up how this wasn’t the first time she had failed to mention something important that I needed to do. I left it short and simple, then returned to the back of the bus where my rowdy group was revving up.
“It all worked out. It was a great trip. And now I have a great parent permission slip if it happens again.”
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