Saturday, March 28, 2015

Teachable Moments, Part 1 (field trips)

A large part of teaching relies on being reflective of one's practices.  Some lessons I've bombed and that's alright. I made corrections and retaught it with a different strategy with a different outcome.

Sometimes I embark on various different tasks and when I'm done, I realize there was a much more efficient way to get the job done.  Here is part one of teaching lessons I've learned the hard way.

Field Trips

I completely messed up paperwork for my first field trip.  I didn't know I was supposed to collect permission slips by a certain due date and that you're supposed to call and remind parent chaperones a few days ahead of time. I didn't know you should have a back-up wait list in case the parents are unable to attend. I didn't know you had to clarify a dress code with chaperones and inform them that infants and other small children are not invited.  Reading the list, most of these things are common sense...but they weren't to me.  

My undergraduate degrees are not in education.  I started teaching at 21.  I was a first year teacher, on track 1 (meaning I started three weeks later than everyone else due to year-round schedules) and I didn't have a good mentor.  My mentor teacher was quite hostile and took it upon herself to try to make me look incompetent at any given opportunity.  So many of the things "I should have known"...I didn't.

So, newbies, here's your field trip helpful hints:

1) Have your permission slips spell checked by admin.  

2) If you're taking chaperones, make a note that just the chaperone is welcome (and not younger siblings).  Have chaperones fill out contact information.  Include a blurb that indicates if more chaperones volunteer than are allotted, you will be holding a lottery system and have a wait list.

3) Send reminder slips and/or phone calls to those chaperones a few days ahead of time.  It's very frustrating to learn the day before that the mom you were counting on is no longer attending.  Have a backup plan (and a back up, back up plan).

4) If you have to collect money, check with your office administrator about receipts.  One school just wanted a white receipt turned in daily while another has the teacher write out receipts for each child.  In most cases, money is turned in daily. Ask first to make sure you know what's expected of you.

5) The print roster option that's available in most electronic grade book systems?  Use that.  Print off one and use it as your master list for who has turned in what.  Way more efficient than a post-it note list of who's done what.  Even better, staple that list to the outside of a folder or manila envelope.  Keep everything (except the money) related to that field trip inside.

6) Reward students that bring back slips or money on the first day they can.  The more that are turned in on time means the less work you have to do (tracking down the slips, sending home second and third copies, making phone calls, etc).

7) Make sure you tell the specialists that you are taking a field trip, that way they aren't looking for you.  They appreciate the heads up (and in some cases, the extra prep).  If possible, see if you can switch preps with another grade and have your specials when you return.

8) Make sure to check the master calendar before scheduling to make sure there aren't any assemblies.  Again, speaking from experience...ask first.

9) Whenever possible, schedule field trips for a Thursday or Friday.  It's difficult to get kids mentally back to classroom procedures after an exciting field trip, so choose your date carefully whenever possible.  

10) See the nurse and get trained on any emergency medical procedures beforehand.  One of my students has diabetes, so I learned how he checks his blood sugar, what to do if it's low or high, and who to call when.  See the nurse before you leave for a field trip to take the necessary materials with you.  Take band-aids and tissues just in case.

11) The emergency backpack that's in most classrooms?  Take it.  For me, it's obnoxiously red and quite old, but inside it contains student information in case of emergencies.  Put any medical supplies inside along with a set of flash cards.  

12) Plan for a debriefing period after the field trip.  I like to set aside 10-15 minutes to let students talk out what they learned.  Set a timer and after that, move on with instruction.

13)  Inform the cafeteria and order sack lunches just in case.  For the most part, field trips will be taken in the morning.  In our district, buses are expected to be back by 1 pm (to start making pick up rounds at schools).  Depending on traffic and where lunch falls, you may want to order sack lunches for everyone.  The ideal situation is that you're back in time to have a normal recess and lunch, so you get your teacher lunch too.  However, on field trip days this isn't always the case.  Be prepared to have the kids eat outside, picnic style, while you and the other teachers take turns running to heat up your lunch.  Eat outside with them. It's one day, it'll be okay.  Plus it gives them the chance to run off their extra energy before continuing on with your day.

14) Wear appropriate shoes and take your cell phone, just in case.  Sunglasses and sunscreen aren't a bad idea either.

15) Make student groups strategically.  Those troublesome students? Don't put them together.   If possible, don't give yourself a group of students.  Plan to be the emergency chaperone and take any students who are off task and need to be separated from the class.

16) Speaking of chaperones, check how many you're supposed to take.  Special education classrooms and general education classrooms have different legal quotas in terms of chaperones to students for field trip purposes.  Some students may need a one on one chaperone.  

17) Ask if there is an additional fee for chaperones.  Include this in your budget numbers and for bus purposes.  Make sure any cost for chaperones (like admission price) is disclosed ahead of time, usually on the field trip paperwork.

18) Whenever possible, try to have both male and female chaperones.  This makes the bathroom situation much easier to manage, especially if at an event with the general public.

19) Make sure you fill the chaperones in on any expectations before the field trip.  An easy way to do this is to send a reminder slip to the chaperones before the field trip, outlining what to expect.  Be sure to include if there's any behaviors to watch out for in your students (behaviors, medical situations, etc)  One year, we took our fifth graders to a baseball game for an anti-smoking presentation.  One of the chaperones bought a beer during the game.  We had to quickly intervene and share that this wasn't appropriate for the field trip.  Again, a lesson learned the hard way.

20) Enjoy yourself!

Veteran teachers, anything to add to the list? 

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