Observations from the field

“I volunteer! I volunteer as tribute!”
Katniss Everdeen, The Hunger Games

I thought Katniss Everdeen was stupid. All she did was volunteer to take her sister’s place in a fight to the death.

This idiot here offered — once again — to chaperone a school field trip.

I don’t have a great track record with field trips. (See here.) But I had high hopes for this one. My daughter is no longer in a special needs classroom. Her classmates are, for the most part, neurologically typical kids without sensory issues.

A trip to the nature museum sounded easy.

Here are some of the conclusions I reached after that day:

  1. Teachers should be allowed to call off field trips without any warning if they feel like it.

The morning of my daughter’s class field trip, the temperature reached 94 degrees (34 degrees celsius) with 75 percent humidity. (It’s fall, y’all!) This wouldn’t have mattered except we had a 40-minute walk there and back.

“I didn’t realize it would be this hot,” the teacher said. “Oh well.”

Tack on the hour we spent playing outside at the museum and many of the children were exhibiting signs of heat stroke by the time we made it back to school.

2. Teachers should be allowed to do whatever they want, whenever they want.

Just, because.

3. Kids really do say the darnedest things.

This is one of those truisms that exist for a reason, such as, “Your children’s favorite restaurant will always be in the most crime-ridden part of town.”

(Seriously. I’ll never forget taking my niece from Scotland out to the Steak n’ Shake and watching her eyes light up when a sheriff’s cruiser pulled up out front.

“Sheriffs are real?” she asked with delight.

“They are,” I replied. “Maybe we could go out and say hi…”

There was a loud thump as two deputies slammed a skinny, bearded teenager across the hood of the car and cuffed him.

“Or not,” I said. “They’re, um, busy.”)

But back to kids saying funny stuff.

On the walk to the museum, a 7-year-old girl in glasses and braids sidled up to me and asked, “Did you do anything fun last night?”

“We played Uno,” I said.

“That sounds fun,” she said. “Me? I was in a car wreck.”

“What’s your name again?” I asked.

At lunch time, when I was speaking with some of the children about the Harry Potter books, I accidentally let it slip that Ron Weasley dates Lavender Brown.

“Spoiler alert!” one of the girls shouted.

Another shook her head and said, “That’ll never last.”

But the most amusing words by far were spoken by a chubby-cheeked, 6-year-old girl named Clara. When she fell off the swing, she soberly informed me she had hurt her booty. When some of the older girls told me in a panic that she was injured, pointing at a bright red patch on her arm, she gravely informed me, through a thick lisp, “It’s just a little psoriasis.” (Ith jutht a little thoriathith.)

4. Academic situations still freak me out.

Part of our trip included a lesson in the planetarium on the sun, the phases of the moon, and constellations.

It was all fun and games until our super chipper, heavily pierced tour guide (“Call me Britney!!!”) began asking questions.

“Does anyone know how long it takes the Earth to rotate on its axis?”

“How long does it take the Earth to orbit the sun once?”

“Can anyone point out the Big Dipper?”

Suddenly I felt the familiar panic these question-and-answer sessions always induced as a child. It didn’t matter that I knew the answers, or that I had zero chance of being called on. My palms still broke out in a sweat and butterflies flitted through my stomach.

I knew I had become too emotionally invested in the moment when a boy who had been blurting out correct answers claimed it took 35 years for the moon to orbit the Earth and I had to stop myself from exclaiming “Loser!”

5. There really is something in the water.

Kids these days grow up fast, and I don’t just mean metaphorically.

My daughter is in a mixed first-, second- and third-grade classroom, meaning her classmates range in age from six to nine. While I expected the third graders to be larger than the first graders, I was unprepared for just how mature modern eight- and nine-year-olds look.

When one boy asked me a question about the museum’s iguana, I could barely focus on his words, so mesmerized was I by his wispy, Menudo-esque ‘stache.

One of the third grade girls stood at my height. I am 5’ 4”. She is nine.

On a trip to the restroom, one second grade girl confided in me that she was menstruating.

I’m starting to think all my friends who eschew products from animals treated with growth hormones are on to something.

6. Teachers don’t make enough money.

I know, I know, everyone thinks this — or pretends to — and for a variety of reasons.

While I could say there is no paycheck large enough to cover marching kids through a heatwave or not strangling the ones who play that STUPID FRICKING bottle-flipping game, the one that comes to mind has to do with teacher training.

Before we departed for the museum, I was scanning the books on the classroom shelves, creased tomes with titles such Basics of Mathematics and What in the World is a Homophone? (Don’t worry, I read that one wrong as well.)

It dawned on me, not for the first time, that teachers have to know a lot of stuff and not just the actual subjects they teach.

There are thousands of people who spend their lives studying how children’s minds work. There are countless methods and techniques for teaching each subject. Teachers are expected to learn all of this, remember it, and apply it correctly without losing their minds.

I remember the textbooks used by my friends who studied education in college. They were as thick and dry as bricks, full of incomprehensible phrases they actually understood. I could barely remember to staple my papers before I handed them in and they were using words such as “metacognitive” in a conversation.

And let’s not kid ourselves that all the subjects they teach are simple. Basic addition is one thing but could you confidently give a lesson on the correct usage of the accusative form following a prepositional phrase?

In summation: kids are funny as hell; teachers are smart as hell; North Carolina in October is hell.

I’ll have more following the next field trip.

Photo
My expression when it was all over.

 

 

 

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