In our transfer school, it's very difficult to find a teacher willing to chaperone students on a field trip, most likely because a day with our kids inside the building is already pretty taxing. Last weekend, I had the wonderful opportunity to chaperone this year's 3-day senior class trip to Virginia Beach, where students would get two full days of amusement parks, an evening of go-carting, and one beach day. In all honesty, I was really expecting the worst from the kids, based on how they behave in school. A part of me knew we were all going to get sent home, probably on the first day. Man, I was wrong.
The charter bus was scheduled to leave at 5 AM sharp Friday morning. I woke up at 4 AM, threw on some clothes, grabbed my already-packed bag and hopped into the subway tired as hell. I was expecting to arrive a little before 5 AM to a half-empty bus and a stressed-out field trip organizer trying to figure out where our kids were. I got on the bus at 4:50 AM and was shocked to find the bus was completely full, loaded and ready to go. We were only missing one student out of twenty-seven and by 5:15 AM, we had 100% attendance and were on our way.
How is this possible? I thought. I was impressed. Some of these kids have trouble getting to school by 2nd or 3rd period, yet when I got on the bus, I was made fun of me for being late. After a very quiet six hour bus ride, we arrived at the first park: Busch Gardens. The teachers got on the microphone and gave directions on where to meet, when to meet, etc. A part of me couldn't believe my eyes at how focused the kids looked as directions were being given. Later on in the trip, it would dawn on me that for some of these students, this was their first out-of-state experience. For others, it was their first overnight experience away from home. They weren't about to throw it away over some stupid nonsense.
This is the "intrinsic motivation" thing people talk and write about. How can we make school something our kids want to be on time for if parents aren't there to instill those values from the beginning? How can stakeholders other than parents build the school buy-in? I haven't figured this out yet, but as far as I can tell from the trenches of inner city public schools, teaching to outdated standards and constant skills testing isn't the answer.
Every single day of this trip, my kids exceeded expectations. They got to the bus relatively on time every morning and evening. They arrived at meeting points within theme parks on time. The hotel didn't have to kick the kids out of the indoor pool, or out of the hotel in general. We knew these kids weren't going to sleep early at the hotel and we knew they'd somehow procure/sneak in alcohol, weed, etc. Obviously, it's a bunch of older high school students from the city, exposed to "grown-up" things faster than they should have been exposed to them. The question was: how obvious would they make it?
Adults love playing the "don't you dare try it" game with kids, as long as the kids respect the game and do whatever stupid things they want to do in a smart and responsible manner. Most importantly, once they do said stupid things, the kids most certainly shouldn't announce it back to the world that they did the stupid things. That's the game and it hasn't ever changed. I played it when I was a kid, and now I'm on the other team. On the trip, I was worried my kids would be really bad at this game, based purely on the lack of effort they put into cheating in my class. I was scared they'd make catching them with alcohol or marijuana pretty easy and obvious. I was rather pleased that some of them had adapted and decided to act smart. Well, not that smart, but smarter than usual, which is a victory for both parties.
I'm sure the kids got to have fun, bond and experience something they'll never forget. We teachers, on the other hand, had the amazing opportunity to see our students outside the classroom context, which actually gave me more hope for them in the future. Human beings are intelligent, adaptive creatures capable of survival under the most severe conditions. I believe a lot of my students have the ability to figure things out and make something of themselves. In order for that to happen though, I think every once in a while they need to be plucked out of their comfort zones for some perspective. I hope to participate in more of these coming-of-age events with the kids, they need them.
Besides, it's fucking hilarious seeing the "toughest" kids in the school wuss out of roller coaster rides.