Although it may sound stressful, middle and high school field trips are terrific opportunities to build on classroom work while interacting with your students in a more casual environment. Not only will you experience a higher level of discourse and a more varied range of interesting destinations than with the elementary set, older kids need minimal personal care and can generally be trusted not to wander into traffic or get picked up by strangers. This relative freedom can give chaperones a bit of peace- and an opportunity to enjoy the field trip as a participant and friendly mentor, and not only as a babysitter.
However, we’ve all heard the horror stories, and a teacher’s fear of risk may make any potential reward feel absolutely not worth it. Any teacher who deals with this age group understands the remote, but scary possibilities- the mature bodies paired with underdeveloped emotions, the speed with which something (or someone) can be broken or lost, and the level of liability and exposure a well-meaning teacher would bear if something were to go wrong. Understandably, many teachers say “no thanks,” but perhaps too quickly.
Madeline Shanahan, a principal at Pleasant View Magnet School (K-8), in Lansing, MI, has taken many trips with children of all ages. She especially enjoys middle school trips and says the trick is to rely on good communication and planning, “Older students need clear behavior parameters, a well organized scheduled, a small amount of independence and lots of adult contact. The payoff of good planning is that you can enjoy yourself and interact with kids in a different way- and they experience you differently. For the first time they may see you as more than just an authority figure.”
Top Tips for a Successful Field Trip
- Protect your trip legally. Make sure you understand what your school district requires of the chaperones, parents, and children. Although some schools require only one blanket permission form at the beginning of the year, any special or lengthy trip should necessitate a specific slip that spells out district liability, codes of conduct and family responsibility. If students under your care will be over 18 and therefore, legal adults- all parties should understand expectations under those circumstances. Meet with families and make sure that insurance information, contact information, schedules, and expectations are all documented. Some districts require that parent or community chaperones undergo a background check, but some don’t. If possible, err on the side of caution.
- If feasible, include an administrator on the trip. This serves as both an extra deterrent for bad behavior and as an extra level of protection for the chaperones.
- Have enough chaperones! If staying overnight, having an adult in each room can actually reduce everyone’s stress level- including students who may feel pressure to ‘sneak out’ or indulge in other risky behavior. If this is not possible, check the travel agency who books your trip. Very often, (at a cost) they can provide extra “security” at entrances and exits.
- Give your students as much off-the-wall information as possible about your destination. For example, age-appropriate stories of scandal, illicit behaviors, and shady personalities cannot fail to enrich the overall experience of a place. Think about the twisted trivia kids might appreciate to get them a context for learning more.
- Develop a phone tree for parent contacts and a compilation of students’ and chaperones’ cell phone numbers. Everyone will feel better knowing that contact with a student or responsible adult is just a few buttons away.
- Have a plan B for kids who refuse to follow the rules, get sick, or experience an unexpected trauma. Knowing there is an extra chaperone (or a plane ticket!) for a child who must remain on a bus, in a lobby or hotel room, or sent home early, can be a significant deterrent to bad behavior and a real comfort in the case of an emergency.
The good news is that more often than not, older students will surprise you with their excellent behavior. For every horror story, there are countless successful and enjoyable trips (or the very term would have long faded from our vernacular.) Get organized and enjoy!