Field Trip Information for the Substitute Teacher (page 4)
A good sub must be ready for anything. Whether you’re off to the zoo, the local science museum, or a play at the local university, a class trip makes significant demands on every teacher who participates. The safety of the children is your responsibility. Their good (or bad) behavior in public reflects on both you and the school. The parents who attend as chaperones can be a great help, but in their own way, they need to be managed in much the same way as the children do.
A day outside the confines of the school building can be fun, but only if you know what to do, how to handle the responsibility, and how you’ll need to prepare. In this chapter I’ll try to provide you with some guidance in each of these areas.
What Type of Trip Should I Expect?
The easiest field trips to manage are those that go to an entertainment or cultural venue such as a theater, ballet, concert, or opera. The students are seated in an auditorium, monitoring is relatively easy, and their movement is constrained. Trips that take the children to an outdoor venue—zoos, theme parks, and beaches, to name just a few—with many potential attractions are probably more fun for the children, but they can pose significant challenges for the teacher and the parent chaperones.
If your class is going to an entertainment or cultural venue, it’s a good idea to provide some background or context before the trip, so that the students understand the things they will see and hear. It’s also very important to have the students recognize that their behavior will be very important and will be monitored carefully.
If the class is going to an outdoor venue, it is critical to establish tracking techniques, assign a buddy system, define meeting times, establish groups with assigned chaperones, and specify other safety procedures. It’s also very important to provide name tags identifying the child, the school, and the location of the transportation.
What do I Need to Know about Permission Slips?
Virtually every school system demands formal parental permission for all out-of-school activities (and some that occur in school). Therefore, every child who will be going on the field trip must have a signed permission slip. No slip, no trip!
In most cases, slips are sent home a few weeks before the trip and are collected in the days immediately preceding the trip. If the slips are not in the classroom (check the teacher’s desk), be certain to check in the school office. Compare the list of students against signed slips. If a child does not have the permission slip, the office staff will try to contact the parent. If this is not possible, they will arrange to have the student sit in another classroom for the day.
Should I Divide the Children into Groups?
If you’re going on an outdoor field trip, it is critically important to divide the children into small groups and assign one or more parent chaperones and/or teachers to each group. Although there is no ideal group size, I have found that groups of four or five children are manageable and safe.
Children like to be with their friends, so try to keep friends together when defining groups. If you don’t know what friendships exist, I’ve found that it’s a good idea to work with a trusted student when dividing into groups. Assign groups in private. Do not allow too much class input. (Begging may occur!) If a parent chaperone has a child in the class, be sure to assign that child to the parent’s group.
Sadly, one or two children may not be wanted in anyone’s group. Be sensitive to this. Although you could force the issue, it’s probably better (for the child) not to insist that he or she be included with other children who might torment or be mean to that student. I always kept the “unwanted” child with me, along with a “popular” child. This gives the “unwanted” child some status. In addition, if there is a particularly difficult child, be certain that student stays with you.
How Can I Get the Most Help from Parent Chaperones?
Usually the parents who go on the trips are the room mothers or fathers and are active PTA members. They will be extremely helpful and will probably know the children better than you do. In order to get the most from your chaperones, I would suggest the following guidelines:
- Share cell phone numbers so that you can stay in touch throughout the day.
- Go over safety rules.
- Review special health precautions for individual students.
- Have parents help you keep track of students by “counting heads” often.
What Should I be Certain to Bring?
Many classroom teachers put all necessary field trip information and materials (such as tickets or vouchers) into a large envelope or folder. If you don’t find one, ask. But even if an envelope or folder does exist, be sure to go through the following checklist before you depart.
- If the venue requires tickets or some other proof of advance payment, be certain to bring whatever is needed.
- If any children have special allergies, bring appropriate medications and be sure you understand what precautions you need to take. Consult with the nurse.
- Bring an emergency medical kit for cuts and scrapes.
- Bring a class roster and the name and telephone number of any contact person at the field trip venue.
- Be certain you have a name and contact number for the bus company. Ask if the driver has a cell phone number for you to call in case of emergency.
If you take the time to prepare, you’ll be better able to handle any situation that might arise during the day.
Are Name Tags Necessary?
Whether or not you decide to use name tags depends on the ages of the students, the venue for the field trip, and general school guidelines. For children in Kindergarten through Grade 6, name tags are a good idea for all trips, and they’re essential when the students split up at an outdoor venue. For older children, name tags may not be as important because an older child can easily provide appropriate information if he or she is separated from the group.
Generally, the classroom teacher will have name tags prepared in advance for you. However, if name tags are not supplied, use a class roster as a guide for making them. Name tags can be pinned on or worn on a string around the neck. If you can get the self-adhesive name tags, use them. (Check in the office.) Put the name of the school on the name tag for better identification.
How do I Manage the Bus Ride?
The bus ride to and from the field trip venue can be the most unpleasant part of the day. It’s very important to review safety rules for the bus ride, such as staying in assigned seats and not putting hands or feet out the window. I always remind the students that the bus driver needs to concentrate on driving, and if he or she is distracted, no one is safe. I also tell students that I’ll be taking notes on bus behavior and will give out rewards once we return to the classroom.
Some teachers play games or sing songs during the bus ride. This works well for a while; however, it’s best to allow some relaxed “downtime” during the bus ride.
How do I Keep Track of the Students?
Count the students on the bus (twice) before you depart. Prior to arrival, it’s important to define certain times during the day (e.g., mid-morning, lunchtime, mid-afternoon, and, of course, departure at the end of the trip) when the entire class regroups at a prespecified location. The intent is to address any general problems, but more important, to take a head count.
Be certain that the parent chaperones realize that they should take their own group head counts on a regular basis. They should never allow students to wander without supervision.
What Rules Should I Have the Students Follow?
The Utah State University has developed a Substitute Teacher Handbook (Utah State University. Substitute Teacher Handbook. Available at: sti.usu.edu.) that provides a good set of rules for field trips:
- Be courteous.
- Stay with the group.
- Listen attentively.
- Follow safety regulations.
- Ask personal or irrelevant questions.
- Lag behind. Interrupt.
- Take samples or touch unless given specific permission to do so.
In addition to these simple rules, emphasize that students should keep track of the members of their group and immediately report any missing member to their chaperone or to you.
Most regular classroom teachers try hard to be present for a field trip, but sometimes an illness or a family emergency may intervene. That’s when you get involved. Managing a student field trip well is just like anything else you do as a teacher—it takes preparation and effort. Try to apply the following guidelines:
- Be sure that children have signed permission slips. No child will be allowed to depart without one.
- Check to ensure that you have all materials and information you’ll need. Bring tickets and contact information. Take a first aid kit, and find out if any children have special allergies that may require medication.
- Make the best use of parent chaperones. Be sure that parent chaperones are aware of the rules and time to meet at the bus.
- Divide students into groups. Be sure to keep the most difficult students with you.
- Provide name tags. This is particularly important for younger children.
- Be sure to explain basic rules. The children must recognize that they represent the school and poor behavior will not be tolerated.
- Count heads. This is critically important and should be performed at the group level for the entire class before leaving, during the trip, and when leaving the trip to return to school.
A day away from the classroom is something that most students look forward to for weeks. To help make it an enjoyable experience for everyone involved, take the time to prepare as best you can and then manage the trip as it unfolds.
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