Teachers have been taking their students on field trips for almost as long as there have been schools. Field trips are a great way to enhance the curriculum and give students experiences that they couldn’t get elsewhere.
For teachers, getting ready for a field trip is pretty straightforward. Just decide where to go, arrange a date with the field trip destination, schedule the buses and cafeteria lunches, have each student get a permission slip signed by a parent or guardian, find some chaperones, and you’re good to go.
Or are you? About 7 or 8 years ago, I was the substitute teacher for a third-grade teacher who wasn’t. She, for whatever reason, couldn’t go on the field trip, so, they called me to fill in for her.
I should have figured something was up when I accepted the assignment online. There was a note that said to wear comfortable clothes, including tennis shoes. I thought it sounded a little odd, but I had no idea what that innocent little line really meant. I mean, maybe it was PE day and I needed to be able to teach a lesson on soccer or track. No, the truth was much, much worse.
When I got to the school that morning, I checked in with the school secretary as usual. She gave me the classroom key, and I headed to the room. As I began to read the lesson plans, it hit me. I was in for a very interesting day.
“Thank you so much for covering my class today,” the teacher began. “I really appreciate you taking my class on their field trip.” My heart sunk. I was going on a field trip. With a classroom full of 8-year-olds that I had never met. To a place that I hadn’t been to in a very long time. I thought about going back to my car and driving home, but decided that I was already there, so I should just suck it up and go on the field trip.
Lucky for me, the other third grade teachers were very supportive and helpful. They gave me a heads-up about the students who would be helpful and about that one child who was most likely to act up and gave me their cell phone numbers so I could call or text them if I needed their help.
Then the morning bell rang. I gathered the class on the playground and walked them to the classroom. One boy forgot to get their permission slip signed, so I made a quick phone call to his parents to sort it out. After that, I took attendance and tried to match their names to their faces. I learned exactly zero names. I counted how many kids were present (there were twenty-four) and we lined up at the door to walk to the bus.
I counted the kids again as they climbed the steps of the big yellow school bus. Twenty-four kids got on the bus. My fingers were crossed that twenty-four kids would get off the bus when we returned to school at the end of the day. I was nervous, but it was too late to turn back, so I got on the bus and took my seat as the bus pulled out of the school’s parking lot.
Fifteen minutes later, we arrived at our destination. We were at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, California, home of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. We were there to see a “show” about Orange County history that reinforced the state’s social studies standards for local history. It sounded like fun—well, it would have if I wasn’t responsible for a bunch of kids I didn’t know.
My job now was to get everyone off the bus, into the stadium, and to their seats. I counted them (again) as they got off the bus. There were still twenty-four students—I didn’t lose any on the bus between school and the stadium. Yay, me! We lined up and followed the other into the stadium to find our seats.
To get there, we had to wade through a sea of eight-year-olds. There were kids everywhere. Schools from throughout Orange County had sent their third graders to learn more about the county and how it had grown from a sleepy agricultural area full of orange groves, dairies, and lima bean, strawberry, and beet farms to a busy and modern metropolis with two major theme parks and one of the most diverse populations in the United States.
We found our seats and sat down with the other classes from our school. I counted them. Yep, there were still twenty-four kids with me. I probably let out a big sigh of relief. I had successfully navigated the class to their seats without any major incidents, and without losing anyone. So far, so good. I sat down and began to enjoy the show.
Just as one of the local high school cheerleading squads began a tumbling routine, it happened. One of the girls asked me if she could go use the restroom. I asked one of the other teachers what they would do, and it turned out that she had a couple of kids who had to go too, so she took her kids and my girl to the restroom. The teacher didn’t want to send anyone to the restroom unsupervised in such a large and crowded place, so she ended up taking one small group after another to the restroom for about the next hour.
After a couple of hours of learning about local history, watching performances by high school cheerleaders and choirs, participating in a sing along of “Let It Go” from the Disney movie Frozen, and an appearance by none other than Mickey Mouse himself, it was time to go. This was the most stressful part of the outing for me. I now had to get all twenty-four of these kids from their seats high up in the stadium and navigate them safely through the crowd to our school bus.
I counted the kids to double check how many there were. There were twenty-four. Then they stood up and we climbed the stairs to the main hallway where I counted them again. Still twenty-four. We then shuffled our way to the main ramps that would take us down to the ground level. I re-counted the number of kids in my line at the top of the first ramp, the bottom of the last ramp, and several times in between. Yes, there were twenty-four kids in the line each and every time I counted.
Counting kids became my obsession and was the only way I could think of to keep from losing anyone, because if any of them wandered off or got separated from the group I needed to know as soon as possible. The one time a kid did start to walk away from the line, one of the other teachers from the school wrangled him back before I knew anything was wrong.
Before I knew it, after what seemed like an eternity, we made it to our bus. One last count before boarding revealed that I still had twenty-four kids with me. Queue big sigh of relief. Everyone found their seat on the bus and a few of them even fell asleep on the quiet ride back to school.
When we got back to the school, it was just about time to go home. We went to the classroom, packed up our things, and had a class discussion about our experience at Angel Stadium. Once all the kids were picked up by their parents, I wrote a quick note to the teacher, attached it to the stack of papers with the permission slips signed by the students’ parents, and turned in the classroom key to the office. The secretary was very glad to hear that the field trip had gone well.
Then, I drove home and had a nice relaxing evening on my couch. I toasted myself with a well-deserved glass of wine to celebrate the fact that I had successfully taken a group of kids I’d never met on a field trip. And I didn’t lose anyone, not even for a second. Yay, me!
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