In my defence, I was an NQT, and at that point trusted everyone who was senior to me. I thought that with experience came knowledge.
The other member of staff was on the senior leadership team so for me it was a given that he knew what he was doing.
It was 1994, so no mobile phones or wind-up torches. It had been a very, very long day. The children had been rather irritating. The other member of staff was rather irritated.
We were on day three of a four-night residential with a Year 6 class. The children had kept us up both of the previous two nights. The children were tired and grumpy. We were tired and grumpy.
Walking the children off their legs
On the day in question, it was raining. It had, in fact, been raining morning, noon and night.
My colleague decided that we would “walk the children off their legs” to get them to go sleep that night. So we walked them and walked them.
And then we decided to go on a night walk.
We set off in daylight. The children were already complaining, but we were on a mission: a mission to get these children so tired that they would be desperate for their beds and would have to be woken up the following morning.
My colleague led us into a wood of tall, tall trees, spaced quite far apart. Gradually, the trees grew closer and closer together. They seemed to join hands. They formed an umbrella for us against the night rain.
In safe hands
It soon became dense and rather dark. Very dark, in fact. As night does, it grew darker and darker.
But we were all right: we were carrying two torches with us. What could go wrong?
My colleague was an experienced teacher, with years of residentials behind him. I was in safe hands.
Then one torch ran out of batteries. Not an ideal situation, but we still had another torch with us. Everything would be fine.
I sidled up to the other member of staff to suggest that we should perhaps get out of the woods, sooner rather than later, while we still had a functioning torch.
His response was: “I’ve never done this walk before. I’m lost.”
I have zero sense of direction at the best of times. This was not the best of times. And the second torch was beginning to dim…
The longest night of my life
I couldn't decide whether it was better to turn off the torch and have it ready for an emergency, or keep it on to help find our way out.
After a whispered consultation, we decided to turn off the torch. “It’s to add to the experience,” we told the children.
At this point, we were walking in the dark with a class of 30 exhausted 10 and 11 year olds. All we wanted was to find our way out of the forest…while convincing all the children that everything we were doing was entirely planned.
It was the longest night of my life. Finally, after what seemed like hours, we felt hard tarmac under our feet. I could have kissed that tarmac.
It was the days before risk assessments, and it makes me realise why they were invented.
Thinking of that night still sends shivers down my spine. We were very lucky that it all ended safely.
I also realise that experience does not necessarily come with common sense. It is our right and job to question the decisions of others, whatever their experience or seniority.
The author is a primary teacher in the Midlands
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