Spring has sprung and summer is on the way, schools will be gearing up for the end of year trip. Children can barely contain their excitement at the first sighting of a bus pulling up outside the school, for teachers it is an altogether different experience. It can be a time of stress, far from the comforting confines of the classroom. A world of unpredictability lies out there and it’s your job to ensure the safety of thirty children in an unfamiliar environment. You count them out, you count them in and breathe an exhausted sigh of relief as you sit at the front of the bus, finally ready for the journey home. But the ordeal isn’t over, you have to cope with the disgruntled glare of the driver who hates kids and is in between cigarettes. Will the sick bucket filled with saw dust be called into operation? Will the traffic be bad and the triumphant return to school be delayed? Anything could, and sometimes does happen.
My first introduction to school trips as a child didn’t end well. We were travelling from Wales to Bristol Zoo. The head teacher, who had taken a shine to me, fed me a kilo of cherries on the bus and I rapidly turned a dark shade of green. The only animal I saw was a squirrel outside the zoo entrance. My dad had to leave work and come and collect me. Perhaps that was an omen; a glimpse through the curtains of the future.
Throw thirty miniature council workmen kitted out in fluorescent tabards into the equation and it becomes a sweaty tactical battle, fought on numerous fronts.
In modern times teachers have to undertake a risk assessment prior to any trip to identify any potential pitfalls. They check out facilities, locate the all-important toilets, identify meeting points and familiarise themselves with the walk from the car park to the destination. Armed with the requisite paperwork they return to school with a firm plan of action. Ah, if it was that simple, that smooth. Throw thirty miniature council workmen kitted out in fluorescent tabards into the equation and it becomes a sweaty tactical battle, fought on numerous fronts.
The big day finally arrives and, praise the Lord, it’s sunny. The kids have safely negotiated the steep steps into the cavernous coach. Half of them now claim they are starving and want to tuck into their enormous packed lunches. It’s ten to nine. This happens every time, guaranteed! Next the singing starts; usually familiar school songs delivered at lung busting volume. At this point the driver dreams of transporting murderers to the dock at the Old Bailey, anything would be better than this.
On arrival, the kids are blissfully reunited with their packed lunches and the route march to the zoo entrance is soon a thing of the past. Through the gates and we split into small groups, jaded parent helpers begin to question their own judgement as they walk their small posse towards the reptile house. They usually come out with the stock phrase – “I don’t know how you do it.”
So, what could possibly go wrong? Well over 30 years, quite a bit! Once, in a butterfly house, a child plucked a rare Peruvian butterfly out of the air and shouted – “look at this big bugger.” Luckily, wings intact, he was safely reintroduced to the steamy fauna and we left at pace, undetected.
Perhaps my favourite involved the dreaded packed lunches; the rucksacks of doom. After lunch is a high point as these bags become light and manageable once the lead weight contents have been swiftly dispatched down overly eager throats. This can, however, lull you into a false sense of security. One sunny day, lunch boxes light as a feather, I was walking with my group, with not a care in the world. One child began manically swinging his bag. Before we knew it, it left his hand at the velocity of a hammer throw and hurtled skywards. We watched its arc with baited breath. It landed in amongst the flamingos, startling them. A crowd gathered as if it was a pre-arranged show. Five minutes later, a kind hearted zoo keeper saved the day and fished out the bag with an extended net. The rapturous applause had swollen the crowd to three figures and we quietly walked away, all eyes on us.
Just remember – you count them out, you count them in. Tomorrow is a new day and we can write about it.
More tales from the table tops next time when I’ll explore the joys and tribulations of sports day.
Andy Williams qualified as a teacher at Reading university in the late eighties and has been ploughing his trade in the East end of London ever since. His sideline business is writing. He had his first poem published as a youngster back in Wales and has recently completed his debut novel.