You might have clear idea of what you want students to take from their experiences on a school trip, but it rarely turns out the way you planned, explains Kate Jones.

 

School trips are one of the aspects of school life that have been most impacted by the global pandemic. It can be exciting to venture outside of the classroom and make memorable experiences with students in a unique setting. But organising and leading a trip can be stressful with administration, risk assessments and the added pressure of constantly trying to account for a large group of children in an unfamiliar place, or even a foreign country.

There will also be many Early Career Teachers who have yet to experience a school trip as a teacher and are looking forward to the opportunity, when it is safe to do so. But school trips aren’t always remembered for the reasons we think when we plan them. Early Career Teachers might want to bear that in mind.

If you ask any teacher who has led or supported a field trip, whether that be local or international; they will have a story or two to tell. The last school trip I supported was an A Level History trip to Berlin and below are some of the tales from that experience.

Although the trip was led by three History teachers and we had all been to Berlin before, we were still unfamiliar with the area so we arranged for an experienced tour guide to escort us around the city. They were local and told us fascinating stories that only someone who lived in Berlin through recent years could share.

It wasn’t just Berlin though, it’s fair to describe our tour guide as “interesting” too. As we stopped at one point it appeared our guide had begun arguing with another guide. They were speaking German and at first I reassured my students they weren’t arguing (after all, we couldn’t understand what they were saying to each other). However, it quickly became very apparent that we were wrong. The students watch open-mouthed and we weren’t sure what to do! After deciding to move on and take the students with us, our guide did eventually catch up with us. We can only assume that the conflict was resolved!

Once home and despite all the rich history and stunning architecture, our students kept recalling (and of course exaggerating) the story of our tour guide ‘kicking off’! That often happens on a school trip, sometimes the most unexpected event becomes the most memorable, whether we as teachers like it or not.

It’s very likely that someone (student or teacher or both!) will at some point be unwell on a trip. This could be due to the travel itself or perhaps eating or drinking something different but it is quite common. In Berlin, we travelled around via the U-Bahn (the public transport system), where I was sat next to a student who had been feeling slightly unwell all morning; unsure of what was causing it but determined to carry on and not miss any of the planned activities.

The student confided in me that they felt they were going to be sick. Naively I asked if they could wait until we got off the U-Bahn, but they simply couldn’t. Not to fear, as I had a spare plastic carrier bag to hand, ready for exactly this type of emergency! The student sat next to me, leaned across and vomited straight into the bag I was holding. Sadly, the bag was nowhere near as strong as I hoped and it immediately split, with all the contents of that bag covering me. It was already stressful and so embarrassing for the student, so I put my brave face on and insisted it wasn’t a problem. Fast forward a few years and that same student looks back at their experience and laughs. But, perhaps more importantly, they gained an appreciation of their teacher’s capacity for supportive smiles in such an unpleasant situation for us both.

School trips are of course, first and foremost, about providing educational experiences. In Berlin we went to Sachsenhausen memorial where we read about some of the horrific experiences and treatment that so many people endured both during and post World War 2.

At one point, I was stood next to a student as we were reading about children who had been kept prisoners at concentration camps. The details really were heartbreaking. I felt a tear run down my cheek and as looked to my side I could see one of my students crying too. We didn’t say much to each other but it was a touching moment that we shared, where we both felt comfortable enough to express our sadness in one another’s company. As is often the case on school trips, students get to see another, usually much more private, side to their teachers and vice-versa. This was ours.

The pandemic has put a temporary halt to trips, but in the future, whenever that may be, I think both students and teachers will gain a renewed appreciation, cherishing an invaluable experience that has been taken away from us in recent years.

Author

Kate Jones is Head of History at The British School Al Khubairat, Abu Dhabi. Kate is also the author of Love To Teach: Research and Resources for Every Classroom and the Retrieval Practice collection. Kate can be found on Twitter and Instagram @KateJones_teach

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