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Why Teachers Take Kids on Field Trips (Hint: It Is Not for Extra Pay)

Last weekend took me to the capital again to visit the botanical gardens and the Library of Congress. I also wanted to see a couple of new exhibits at the Smithsonian.

Every venue was filled with large and small groups of kids and their teachers.  The boys were nudging and poking one another; the girls were rolling their eyes and surreptitiously checking their cell phones while teachers and guides worked hard to interest them in learning something.  The adults tried humor, story telling, and whatever else they could think of to engage kids’ minds.  The kids shuffled along Washington
looking bored.  The chaperones prodded stragglers and reminded everyone to be on their best behavior and for heaven’s sake be quiet!  It was hard to tell if the kids were actually learning anything or if they were just waiting to get back to the hotel and go swimming.  Probably both.

At the Library of Congress all groups had to stay together and listen to the adult in charge explain the façade of the building and the meanings of various sculptures.  Everything echoes off the marble in that building, so it was a little like Grand Central Station despite the kids’ attempts to talk quietly. But at the history museum, teachers gave kids freedom to explore on their own, and many of them meandered through the exhibits talking to one another about the cool things they were seeing.  The girls loved the First Ladies’ dress exhibit; the boys loved the stuffed horse.  They were kids being kids, learning in their own way.

Taking kids on extended field trips is hard work for teachers.  Not only are you with them 24/7 for several days, but you’re responsible for all the planning and perhaps fundraising beforehand.  You meet with parents to explain the cost, the itinerary, and the disciplinary procedures you hope you won’t have to implement.  You give up your own personal time and you don’t get paid anything extra.  I know.  I’ve done it.  It’s exhausting.

So why do teachers do it?

Because showing kids something important for the first time is an awesome experience.  Because kids generally rise to the occasion, especially if you tell them what the expectations are.  Because some kids would never get to see this stuff unless they went with their teachers. Because you want to give them something to aspire to.  Because that’s what teaching is all about.

Teenagers running around public institutions are exuberant, silly, and not always charming.  In fact, some folks were visibly annoyed.  But the  teachers in charge deserve a pat on the back for extending the kids’ horizons.  Even if it’s not immediately evident, the kids will never forget what they gave them.


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