Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Banned from Field Trips for Life

During my seven-month tenure substitute-teaching at a public middle school (which followed three years at a behavioral site where I avoided restraining post-adjudicated youth by running from the building, screaming) I enjoyed my first Union-Oriented Field Trip to Boston’s New England Aquarium.

This event was responsible for my eventual exit from the world of unionized public schools.

It was also responsible for such a severe and traumatizing paranoia about field trips that one of my ‘Professional Goals’ in a charter school performance-review was to “contribute more regularly to off-site learning.

Not a goal I fashioned for myself, I assure you.

It was May of 2004 and, while I had been on Field Trips before, it was usually as a Mommy Chaperone.

Occasionally, when I was acquiring either an under or over grad degree, I was called upon by Blackstone Valley School Districts to substitute for a teacher-chaperone when one called in sick.  (You’d be surprised how regularly this happened. Or maybe not, read on.)

Being a field trip substitute-teacher is more nerve-wracking than you’d think.  But once you realize no one expects you to know or do anything, you pretty much buddy up with an adult-guardian, get free admission to wherever you’re tripping, and shop in the Gift Store with discount tickets before re-boarding the bus.

One year, I taught music at a local elementary school from September to June for grades 1-5. In that entire school-year, the only field trip I chaperoned was the summer-school kind when I got to teach a week of remedial math using 3-D geometric foam, and on that Wednesday, we went to some waterslides for Sun and Wetness Day.

None of these experiences prepared me for the trip to Boston’s New England Aquarium, despite the aqueous theme at the waterslides.

A 25-year old trip coordinator named “Mr. X” had volunteered to organize this trip. A now three-year member of this school system, he was eligible for union-based compensation for Trip Coordinating, about which he was excited.

Until he found no one helped him organize.

Early-Out Retiring Teachers vowed never to involve themselves in any field trip again. Motto: He Can Figure It Out Like We Did  Motto II: Let Him Earn The Stipend

One Early-Outter had a sub for the May field trip, due to purposefully scheduling elective surgery that day.   Motto:  I’m Not Ruining My First Summer Vacation as a Retiree

In fact, long-term subs filled the school that year, of which I was one, hired for teachers whose retirements began mid September, late January, the middle of February vacation, and in my case, on December 8th. MTA Motto:  Retire Teachers Efficiently:  Let’s Use Their Birth Dates

FIELD TRIP LOG:  Star Date, May, 2004

7:30 AM:  A veteran of this system enters my social studies classroom.

 "Mrs. Given. Do you still have the list I gave you? Of the names of the students in your group and the parent chaperones you'll have in your class who will help oversee your homeroom students, plus students from other homerooms?"

"Wait.  What students from other homerooms?  Who are THEY?”

“I see you haven’t read the list.  The homerooms are split up. Social issues… it’s for safety.”

“But I don’t know any of them…how can that be safe???   I won’t--”

“Just read your list of names.”

She leaves.
This completes my instructions for our trip.
7:55 AM, twenty minutes before boarding buses, another teacher comes in to say, "Clear out your green recycling bin, pick two homeroom students to carry it your bus.  Number THREE. Their lunches will go in the bins."

“But not in that order, right? Because of the kids I don’t know that are in a different homeroom? And the four other groups some of MY kids are splitting into??”

She stares. 

She leaves.
8:05 AM: A different teacher comes in. "Did you know you have to have your homeroom bring the recycle bin to your bus?  Number 3?"

"I do. I pick two students to do this."

"Put your name and ‘Bus 3’ on the bin."

"But do we put the lunches into it before... or after we get on the bus? Because of kids I watch that aren’t in my homeroom. And vice versa with my students."

-- pause —

"I don't know."
8:10 AM: A Lunch Crisis Team is assembled. Consensus:  kids carry lunches to their assigned BUS, then put their lunches into that empty BIN.
I make this announcement to kids and two chaperones. Everyone nods. We start to line up.
8:15 AM: A fourth teacher comes to my homeroom. "What are you doing? You need to have your homeroom put their lunches inside your recycle bin now."

"No, no. They’re splitting off into five busses, so they put their lunches in bins on the bus they ride.”

“No, that’s wrong.  Just have them fill the bins now. We’re running late.”

She was gone.

I instruct everyone to put their lunches into the bin – which a parent chaperone is smearing with Purell.

They place their lunches into the bin.

One student says, "I want to put my name on mine."


-- silence –

Due to the Lunch-Labeling Effort, we go outside to board our buses late. We are greeted by horrified stares from Protocol-Followers.

My two designated lunch carriers -- struggling with 23 lunches constructed with Cro Magnon Cheese -- are stopped by a Helpful Teacher alerting them that they are "Getting on the WRONG BUS. YOU TWO STUDENTS ARE WITH ME.  ON BUS NUMBER TWO!"

I intervene, "They will get ON BUS NUMBER TWO after they carry the LUNCHES to my bus: NUMBER THREE, and THANK YOU."

8:26 AM: We are all on the bus. I am uneasy that our bus (#3) is filled with students I do not know. 

But I am distracted by a more troubling thought.

"Um, how will we get lunches to all the right kids?" I ask two Helpful Inclusion Aides.

They respond by looking at each other, rolling their eyes and staring out the window.

A few of the students they are accompanying begin playing with cell phones they’re not allowed at school and wave hats out windows they’re not supposed to wear.  Or wave. They throw chewed gum at each other. This occupies us all until the Mass Turnpike Pile-Up.

8:41 AM: I find this a good time to bring up lunches.

 "I'm concerned we have lunches for owners who are spread out over five busses. And where are the lunches for kids on OUR bus???"

Inclusion Teacher 1:  "I’m not in charge of lunches." 
So I pondered, “Perhaps we should keep the bins with us when we arrive."

Inclusion Teacher 2: “We’ll have to check on that."

"How do we do that?"

Inclusion Teacher 1: (sigh) "When we get to the Aquarium, we'll ask Field Trip Coordinator, Mr. X."

"I see."

Traffic abates -- we move at 65 MPH. Gum-wads fly on. I am gum-angry, so shout, "Miranda! I SAW you throw the chewed gum wad on the bus floor. TAKE this napkin and PICK IT UP," to which an Inclusion Enabler responds, "Mrs. Given, I just SAW Miranda spit her gum out the window... it wasn't her."

9:20 AM: We get to the Aquarium where AquaStaff boards the bus to deliver the Litany of Rules: 


I grab her. "Is there a place we can put our lunches?" 

"Yes, most schools store student lunches under the tent we have out back.  You'll find it after your group gets off the bus and goes forward about 20 yards."

"Okay!!  The first four students to the front... please grab the lunches. We're bringing them to a tent up ahead."

I am stopped by an Inclusion Confounder. "WAIT! Hold up on that, guys."  Whispering: "Carolyn, I told you we have to find OUT what we do with the lunches."

She leaves. Comes back in three minutes.  She has no idea.

The group has waited on her Lunch Edict.

 9:28 AM: Aquarium Staff is mad for the delay and informs me to “Deal with your lunch issue AFTER the kids get off. The bus has to move to make room for more schools coming in.”

"But the bus will LEAVE with the lun--"

"PLEASE move your group along!"

An Inclusion Teacher releases the death grip I and four students have on the lunch bins.  The lunches go on two seats.  She pushes me and kids out the door.

9:30 AM: The bus drives off with lunches.
We take up our places in The Aquarium Ashtray and Refuse Receptacle-Lined Waiting Area where all of the other groups are wielding green recycle bins with lunches.

This is where I hear a teacher yelling at a Bus THREE student I’d never met, "What do you MEAN you didn't bring your lunches!!!? Your bus is GONE! You have the lunches for students from FOUR OTHER GROUPS."

I grab the Bad-Decision-Making Inclusion Person. "Whaddup with the lunches?"

She sighs. "I GUESS they'll eat em on the bus ride home."


Due to the fact that Aquarium Staff reserved IMAX seats for only 180 out of 198 kids – (plus 12 parent chaperones never calculated), Union-Compensated Trip Coordinator Mr. X was stressed from dealing with 30 angry folks who didn't view the IMAX movie and his arm was tired from passing out Lunch Vouchers compliments of the Aquarium for effing up the reservation numbers, but which came in handy for those whose lunches were on Bus Number Three.

Meanwhile, as a trained English teacher subbing for History, I used mathematics to determine a Very Bad Sum.

After building a Venn Diagram out of stones from the Lunch Tent Play Pit, I discover a set of folks who did not view the movie, another set whose lunch was on Bus Number Three, and only five intersecting students inside the central elliptical orb.

These represented those who both did not see the IMAX movie AND were on Bus 3.  Their lunches were comp’d by Reservation Glitch Food Vouchers.

This yielded a total of 18 Lunch-Less students.

I excitedly raced to our Intrepid Trip Coordinator Mr. X to show him my gravel. In a tired voice, he declares, “The rest of them will have to eat their lunches on the bus."

I was so tired of hearing this.

Me: "But Mr. X.  Lunches on Bus Three are for five different groups. Spread out among five buses.  For ‘safety.’”

Coordinator X:  “Fuck.”

Me:  “Hang on, I circled all of MY kids and chaperones on my Master Itinerary List, so we can track em down and have chaperones retrieve any available lunches for their kids. Pass em out."

“Sure whatever—” … he ambles off into a tree.

This is when we discover Four Bins With Un-Labeled Lunches.

I begin helpfully holding up unlabeled lunches and having kids claim them.

Inclusionists begin helpfully tackling my Holding UP Arm whispering, “You do NOT wanna do this.”

Which is when the bus drivers appeared in their buses.  Sweating.  Pointing at their wristwatches.

“Pass em out ON the bus!!”

Bins are pulled from various teacher-hands and brought to Buses w/corresponding Bin Numbers. Students and chaperones and teachers get on buses.
BUS #3:  Reunited With Our Lunch Bin

Kids refuse to eat a lunch they did not bring. Some weep that their lunch is being consumed “by a stranger.”

 I look at the hungry faces and make this announcement: "For those who GOT no lunch, who would like a LUNCHABLE???"

ALL hands go up.  I rephrase: "Raise your hands if you had NO LUNCH."

Inclusionists roll their eyes.

Eleven hands go up.

I prepare to deliver lunches to them -- but I am stopped by another Inclusion Arm.

They sigh. They text message to each other.

One whips lunches out of my hand, then passes them Bucket Brigade Style to the other aide who personally delivers them to children they know had no lunch.

I sit back down, chew gum, adjust my new Sperm Whale Beer-Can-Holding Hat With Adjustable Mouth Straw, and make prank phone calls with my cell phone.

When I get home, I get on the internet to look for a new job. I send my resume via email to alternative education sites throughout the state, plus some in Rhode Island and Connecticut.

Got an interview two years later in Marlborough.

The rest is history. 

(Oh, if anyone recalls me twitching whenever the prospect of organizing a field trip came up – OR the times I ‘called in sick’ and had substitutes for field trip days, I hope you can, in hindsight, forgive me.)