Among the words that instill rampant anxiety among teachers even more than testing, evaluations, PLC’s, class sizes, salaries and indoor recess is the queen mother of all stressors, yep, “field trips.” Mention the words “field trip” to any teacher and they’ll either roll their eyes, develop a nervous facial tic, stare off into space or simply ask if you’re volunteering.
The word “chaperone” literally translated means “herder of cats,” which is pretty much close to the truth. If you are considering chaperoning for your child's field trip and wish to know what it's going to be like, go down to our local IFA store or Cal Ranch, open all the chicken and bunny cages, close your eyes and count to a hundred. Like magic, poof! Virtual field trip experience. Perfect.
Actually, field trips have been around for centuries. Our relatives from pioneer days went on field trips from their one-room school houses all the time but it was generally to retrieve buckets of water, gather firewood and shoot a buffalo.
I don't remember going on many field trips as a youth. I think my 3rd grade class went to a Wonder Bread bakery in St. Louis, which I only remember because we all got our own loaf of bread to take home (free advertising). “Helps build strong bodies 12 ways!” Ha!
Our 5th grade class went to an amusement park (also in St. Louis) where half the class spent most the afternoon on the bus for spitting on people from the sky ride.
Field trips for kids are exciting because 1.) They get to spend a day away from the routines of regular schoolwork 2.) They get to eat their lunches and sit with their friends outside the cafeteria and 3.) They start the whole boyfriend/girlfriend drama thing and find new and creative ways of performing stupid human tricks to show off in front of their friends. Aflac should change their company motto to “Hey Mr. Hawkes, look what (fill in name) is doing!”
My personal goal after 25 years of field tripping is to one year actually get to finish MY lunch. After the first two bites, kids start running past me hollering “What do we do when we’re done eating Mr. Hawkes?”
“Hmmm, play dead for 30 minutes on the bus?”
Bus drivers are a patient bunch (for the most part) and would have to be; otherwise they’d all end up like “Thelma and Louise,” laughing hysterically as they speed off a cliff.
As much as I remind students who get motion sickness to sit in the front of the bus, peer pressure takes over and everyone crams into the seats in the very rear of the vehicle. Never fails: Someone snarfs down a five-pound bag of Skittles and a quart of Mountain Dew before we even get out of the school parking lot, then half way through the canyon everyone in the back experiences “taste the rainbow” regurgitated all over their seats.
I used to be tempted to put thick, padded headphones on to block out the annoying choruses of “Take one down pass it around, 99 bottles of pop on the wall!,” but I soon realized it would also block out calls for assistance for severed arteries, decapitations out the bus window and of course the kid taking pictures of his friend eating a booger and posting it on Instagram. So, my ears remain unplugged as my mind wanders to a solitary evening on a remote trout pond somewhere in Idaho. Heavy sigh.
Believe it or not, we do try to tie our field trip experiences into the curriculum somehow. This can be a challenge if the closest attraction within district travel policy in your state happens to be the “Worlds largest Tater Tot shaped like the head of George Washington.”
A few years ago my dad and I took a trip to New Orleans to spend a week touring the “National D-Day Museum” over spring break. As often was the case, we got busy looking at exhibits and became separated. I finally located Dad with a group of kids from a local Junior high who were on a field trip to the museum. They were stopped in front of the exhibit explaining the German defenses at Omaha Beach. Dad was explaining how the Germans used a range finder (the kids were looking in the end of it like it was a telescope) to triangulate concentrated fire along the beach. The kids were fascinated and so were the teachers. Even on vacation, Dad found a field trip to participate in.
This past week my elementary school class visited the Hill AFB Aerospace museum. I was impressed when after learning how entire bomber crews of 10 men were lost over enemy territory during WWII, one student responded to a question I had put in their study guide which asked, “If you could be be the pilot on any of these planes you’ve seen today, which one would it be and why?” The response of the student both took me aback and touched me as she indicated the smallest two-seater aircraft in the museum. She wrote “I’d fly this plane because if I were shot down it would just be me that died, not my entire crew.”
Maybe they do learn something on these trips and there's hope after all.
Chad Hawkes is a fifth grade teacher at North Park Elementary School. He can be reached by email at email@example.com