Survival tactics

23rd October 1998 at 01:00
Pack plenty of enthusiasm when you help to lead a residential trip, says Luke Darlington

The opportunity to join the team supervising a residential visit should not be undertaken lightly - it is a huge responsibility - but it is immensely rewarding.

You will be committed to living out of a suitcase for perhaps a week, with maybe 40 children, most of whom have never been away from their parents for an extended period before. As the coach leaves school there will be an atmosphere of great excitement tinged with a few tears. You don't know what to expect either.

If you think too hard about the responsibility you have undertaken you may not sleep well - you probably won't anyway - but it should never be far from your mind. At least at this stage in your career you won't be in charge of the whole group. Imagine how the leader must feel.

No matter how weary you may feel, your own needs come last. While one of the objectives of a residential experience is to help the children to fly the nest and to fend for themselves in a spirit of co-operation, they still have to be watched and supported as needed.

The most important aspect is the experience of living with their classmates and teachers rather than their families, and enjoying their companionship to an extent which is not possible in school. Many of the children will visibly grow up. Your own perceptions, both of the pupils and colleagues, will also significantly sharpen, .

Find out as much as possible about the venue and its environment in advance and what the leader expects from you.

Don't expect to have undisturbed nights or a lie-in. You will develop a keen ear for whispering and for footsteps in the corridor. You have, moreover, brought lots of human alarm clocks with you, pre-set with a very early call. Restrict them to their rooms for as long as possible. Once on the loose, they will need supervision.

As the week goes on, the children may settle more quickly. Talk of midnight feasts may only be optimistic, but if they have some controlled fun within safe boundaries why not turn a blind eye?

Don't forget such useful items as a large torch with fresh batteries, a bagful of small change for the telephone, a whistle, compass, assorted pens, sticky tape and reference books. A mini-cassette tape recorder is also useful, plus facilities for making your few private moments more comfortable.

A bum-bag is almost essential. And allow yourself the luxury of two rucksacks to choose from, one small and one large, depending on the day's activities.

You may have at least three sets of money to look after - your own, the children's and contingency, including postage stamps - so have some way of keeping them apart and be meticulous about it. Beware of the child who despite being limited to Pounds 10 pocket money also carries a Pounds 20 note handed over at the last moment by mum. When it is mislaid (you will be told that it has been stolen) somehow you will feel that it is your fault. Keep a note of your expenses and support them with receipts.

Some children will be homesick, not necessarily those you expect. Think how you will cope with it and look out for them. "I've arrived safely" postcards are customary.

Since at least one adult known to the children should always be on call and accessible, you can expect your turn.

Some children can be extraordinarily faddy at mealtimes. The more choice they have, the worse they are. Limit the menu if you can. It is preferable to encourage everyone to begin what could be an energetic day on a full tank. If packed lunches are provided, the children making their own is a good idea since there is less waste. Sitting socially at a table for meals may be rare for some, as will eating without watching television.

You will become expert at dealing with malfunctions in strange cameras and changing film. Take plenty of spare film for yourself.

Make a fuss of anyone who has a birthday, and take a photograph for mum and dad.

Brace yourself before you enter the boys' dormitory. Not because of unopened windows, unwashed socks or stale bedding. Boys are far more sophisticated nowadays. It will be due to the over-powering smell of deodorant.

School journeys are addictive. You have been warned.

Luke Darlington is a recently retired headteacher

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