Summer term has arrived and with it a sense of joy at the prospect of light nights and warm days stretching towards the long summer break. In the words of Buddy Holly, the sun is up, the sky is blue, there’s not a cloud to spoil the view. But my happiness is tinged with anxiety. It may not be raining in my heart, but there is a depression forming.
Our Year 4 trip to the nearby Tropical Butterfly House should be the highlight of our rainforest topic. They have sent us free lesson plans, a detailed risk assessment, and a promise that our children will learn about living things and their habitats, as well as animal senses and adaptations, in a fun, engaging and hands-on way.
Let me be clear: I’m not afraid of creepy-crawlies. Getting up close and personal with a Madagascar hissing cockroach, a giant millipede or even a tarantula the size of a small child doesn’t worry me in the slightest. In my experience, no collection of oversized invertebrates, no matter how grotesque and deadly, can be half as scary as Year 5 on a wet Friday afternoon.
It’s school trips in general that I have a phobia about.
Once upon a time, when I was a naïve young probationer, I took my children to a musical extravaganza in Huddersfield. At the time, maintaining authority in the classroom was not my strength (and still isn’t), so any hope that I might exercise control outside of it seemed recklessly optimistic.
Thankfully, my year partner was experienced in such matters. Being old-school (even by old-school standards), Mrs Drago took a no-nonsense approach to all matters educational.
She frowned upon my efforts to use practical problem-solving in maths, scorned my use of drama in English, and made it very clear to me that school trips were not about inspiring children to learn.
“Their primary purpose is to test your ability to control behaviour,” she warned.
So, to prevent overstimulation – which would inevitably lead to bad behaviour – she applied the following rules:
• While on the coach, the children will not leave their seats, sing annoying songs, eat sweets or throw up without prior permission.
• During the performance, the children will not talk, go to the toilet, kick the backs of chairs or show their appreciation by making whooping noises.
Harsh, perhaps, but in fairness, the day went without a hitch until the journey back. That’s when several different schools tried to get on several different coaches in the middle of a heavy shower. Taking charge, Mrs Drago rapidly counted the requisite number of children onto the bus and we set off before I could finish completing the register.
To lose two children may be regarded as a misfortune; to acquire two from another school looks like carelessness. Which is why, even today, I have an irrational fear of school visits. What if trouble were to break out on the back seat? What if I were to discover Lucy being eaten by a praying mantis? What if the African land snails refused to put their seatbelts on?
Steve Eddison teaches at Arbourthorne Community Primary School in Sheffield