Larry Efird: Field trips

Published 5:59 pm Sunday, November 13, 2016

There are numerous things which are universal for teachers, one of which is going on field trips.

What kids don’t want a free day away from school where they can have fun and acquire new knowledge without thinking that they are having to learn something? Elementary and middle school teachers tend to go on much more of these adventures, but even high school teachers get to share this experience occasionally.

Teachers can enjoy field trips too, but they aren’t as free as the kids, because they’re still responsible to ensure that everyone is safe and everything runs smoothly.

When I was an elementary school principal, trying to keep up with which class was going where, and when, presented a continual challenge, especially when dealing with transportation. But all in all, field trips were worth all the headaches and added stress they often caused, because the students were given a unique learning opportunity that brought the classroom experience and textbook to life, by being able to see what they were learning first-hand and not just having to read about it. They also created a sense of bonding through a shared experience.

Over the years, I’ve been to the zoo, the beach, the mountains, art museums, plays, concerts, state historical sights, colleges, and even a few pumpkin patches. Every time I came home completely exhausted, but I was always glad I had been able to go. But sometimes, unfortunately, field trips don’t go as planned.

A couple years ago, another teacher and I made our annual excursion to the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh with our classes. We usually went on a Thursday in early spring, and after a few years, we had this trip down to a science. It was always a good experience, and hearing a kid say upon entering the art museum for the first time, “This is cool!” made all the permission slips, insurance forms and travel itineraries worth the effort.

For some reason, a quirk in the school calendar caused us to change the day of our trip to a Monday. It was really no big deal, other than the fact that we were accustomed to going on Thursdays. The day of the trip rolled around and we boarded the activity bus for Raleigh, full of adrenalin and the anticipation of having an entire day away from school with a group of energetic students who would, hopefully, soak in some culture and art appreciation.

Upon our arrival at the museum, we noticed the parking lot was empty, except for a couple of stray cars parked in a remote location. Something just didn’t feel right as we pulled our bus into the almost empty lot.

I suddenly got a sick feeling in my stomach, thinking that maybe the museum wasn’t open on Mondays, but then I figured why wouldn’t it be open? After all, Monday was a school day.

When we tried to open the oversized glass doors to enter, they were locked. I won’t say I panicked, but I did wonder what “Plan B” I had up my sleeve for this unexpected situation. I was also embarrassed because I had not double-checked the hours of operation. I had merely assumed the museum would be open as usual, but it wasn’t; so there we were, all dressed up with no place to go.

I made a few quick phone calls, but to no avail, afterwards coming to the unwanted conclusion that practically all the art museums in the Raleigh area were closed on Mondays. Based on other frustrations I had experienced with my profession at that time, I wanted to blame the state government. But this was my fault. I had to blame myself.

You might ask what we gained from that field trip. Not what I had expected, I assure you. But we were able to salvage the day by heading over to UNC- Chapel Hill and taking our own self-guided, architectural tour of the campus on a gorgeous spring day. And to be honest, the kids were more worried about where we were going to eat lunch!

Our field trip may not have gone as planned, but another mission had been accomplished instead. And to be honest, many regular school days are like that too.

Larry Efird teaches at A.L. Brown High School in Kannapolis.