What they don’t tell you when you become a teacher is that a class field trip can be among the most stressful days of the entire school year. Oh sure, it looks like it’s all a fun and happy adventure, a day away from the classroom, cute little faces peering out the bus window. But in reality, it can be nothing short of nightmare.
I kept waking up the night before our annual apple picking field trip – do I have the epi pens for that child who is allergic to bees? What if someone throws up on the bus? Do I have everyone’s emergency contact numbers? What if I lose a kid in that stupid maze they have at the apple orchard? It’s all so unpredictable and virtually impossible to be prepared for the myriad disasters that could occur with so many little bodies out in the world.
There we were. 17 kids. Three teachers. 6 parent chaperones. On a school bus heading up to the apple orchard for our annual fall field trip. It was loud. The kids were beyond excited. They kept unbuckling their seat belts to get a better look out the bus window and I was on hyper vigilant teacher duty. I mean laser focus don’t-get-in-my-way teacher focus, rushing down the bus aisle every time I saw a head pop over the seat to remind them to sit down and buckle up.
Once we arrived, the orchard was crawling with children from other schools. Like swarms of ants. You had to wade through them just to get from point A to point B. I was becoming increasingly anxious about keeping track of my kids. They were all over the place and the chaperones were chatting with one another and happily wandering the orchard eating apples.
At one point, I found myself sweating and carrying two gallons of apple cider, three boxes of cider donuts, and some silly and VERY heavy coloring books courtesy of the orchard, when one of our chaperones approached me with a strange look on her face.
“I lost the boys,” she announced. “What?” I responded. “Are you joking?” She had an odd, indiscernible smile on her face that I was having difficultly reading. “No,” she said. “They ran off and were like a mile away. I couldn’t get them.”
My head was ready to pop off at this news. I looked beyond her and all I could see were stretches of apple trees. Acres of winding trees and branches and bushes. The boys, one of whom was her son, were gone. While I was on the verge of imploding and expiring into a poof of smoke on the ground, I calmly put my apple orchard tchotchkes down and began my search.
For the next two minutes, while I marched up and down the rows of apple trees, I went through a litany of scenarios, not the least of which included calling 911 for a professional search and rescue mission through the apple orchard. I know I appeared calm (this is something teachers learn to fake even in their worst moments), but inside I was in full-blown panic mode.
Eventually I saw two tiny specks in the shape of boys on the horizon at the end of the row of apple trees. I screamed their names so loudly and maniacally that other school groups stopped and stared to look at the crazy teacher. The boys obediently and immediately came running to me in a full sprint.
I must admit, the image of the two of them running toward me through the trees on this beautiful sunny, fall day was quite beautiful. But I was stressed out, exhausted, and slowly turning into a basket case. When they arrived, I read them the riot act about staying with their chaperone, the danger of getting lost, and the responsibility of taking a field trip. I even threatened that they might have to stay at school for the next one. Later, when I had collected myself, I felt guilty about this. They were just being normal kids in a place that is all too perfect and tempting for running free.
So why in the world, you may ask, would any teacher in her right mind bother to take a field trip when they could stay in the safe confines of their classroom? Truth be told, a field trip is one of the most bonding experiences a class can have together. It is an adventure of epic proportions (relative to their life experiences). It’s equivalent to a junior year abroad program in college.
The shared experience of a field trip is one of those memories the class remembers fondly at the end of the year. It is a growing and learning experience – together as a group. It is exciting to leave the confines of the classroom, to see one another in the larger world, and come back to tell about it.
Dazed and back on the bus at the end of our field trip, I counted 17 little heads, thanked god everyone was accounted for, and gave my assistant teacher the thumbs up. As we headed back to school, the bus was quiet with exhausted children. When I finally sat down to eat my cider donut next to two sleeping kids who had become fast friends that day, I couldn’t help but feel a little proud for getting through the day. And when I heard a little boy proclaim to his mother that afternoon, “I had the best day of my life!” I knew it was all worth it.