As a parent of teenage children I am only too familiar with that feeling you get when they want to go into town without you for the first time or they are going to go on a school trip to Amsterdam and are going to be given a hour of free time to explore. You are kind of excited for them, but at the same time anxious.
That’s the parent’s experience with their own children. A teacher’s experience (with someone else’s children) can at times be somewhat different.
Teacher training teaches you about your subject, about didactics and, if you are lucky, about classroom organization. It doesn’t teach you much about the burden of responsibility you sometimes feel for other peoples’ children and the finer points of crowd control. The importance of these last two points was brought home to me recently on a five day school trip I went on.
In short, we were travelling from the Netherlands to Oxford in the UK by bus and boat. Staying in a sports an education complex and on one day making a trip into Oxford for a tour, a boat trip and some shopping. It all sounds quite nice so far, until I mention that our party of children was 135 twelve year olds…..yes you read it right! I should point out that I was one of a team of ten staff members, but that is still an awful lot of little faces to count!
Looking back, the trip went very well, mostly only minor problems of homesick children to deal with. But there is always in the background that weight of responsibility I mentioned at the start, coupled with skills in crowd control. On no day did I feel these factors more than on our day in Oxford.
135 excited twelve year olds in the busy Oxford city centre for the day. I word be lying if I didn’t say that I felt a bit stressed by the responsibility at times. At the end of the day we amassed the whole group again before heading for the bus park, head counted again and then once more, just to be sure, before making our way through the packed streets in the drizzle just as it got dark. Our sprawling crocodile of children of children being shepherded by myself and my colleagues. If you have ever watched one of those films of huge clouds of birds swopping through the air together, the overall mass of the flock constantly changing…..well yes it was kind of like that, except perhaps the birds are a little more in control of their situation than it felt we were.
You know you are doing something exceptional, or possibly crazy, when you notice people stopping in the street to watch. On their faces a mixture of disbelief and pity. One couple stopped to watch and as I passed simply said “how many?”, “135” I said, the lady said nothing, simply stared with mouth open, and the man laughed and “good luck!”. When we got back to the buses, it was time for the umpteenth head count of the day, 135 onto the bus, on more count once they were all sitting down, 135 again. We could leave with the whole flock.