The above picture was taken April 2004 in the new Globe Theatre, London. I’m the one grinning in the front row, not so much older than my students. I was leading those 27 Connecticut public school students and five other adults on a Shakespeare-centric tour of England, and I was having the time of my life.
Leading a trip to another country is not for the faint of heart, even if you engage the services of an educational tour company, which I did. Most of the students in this picture had never left the country before, and over the course of our 10-day trip, I dealt with homesickness, actual sickness, and culture shock.
One student cried herself to sleep the first three nights. Another threw up in the middle of a bus trip...and no one on the bus had paper towels. (The English tour guide looked politely off into the distance as I dashed among students and gathered extra napkins from their bag lunches.) We were traveling before the era of the smartphone, so keeping track of where all 27 teenagers were was not an easy task.
But man, was it worth it.
I had never taken students on an extended trip before this U.K. adventure, but I knew after this experience that I would be doing this many more times before the end of my career.
Spending time with these students outside of the classroom was so rewarding. As they wandered through Shakespeare’s birthplace, explored Anne Hathaway’s cottage, and figured out the color-coded map for the London Tube, I watched the world open to them.
History and literature came off the page and became real. Studying Shakespeare is one thing; watching the Royal Shakespeare Company perform Macbeth in Stratford-upon-Avon is quite another.
The trip also created a bond between us that we never could have experienced in the classroom. We laughed together and struggled together and bemoaned the exchange rate together. Although all of the students in this picture have long since graduated (some have kids in school themselves now!), I still feel close to them.
When we got back to the U.S., they presented me with a binder full of notes and cards and pictures from the trip documenting their experiences as a thank you for making it happen. It remains one of my most treasured possessions.
I haven’t led another trip outside of the country since this one, but I’ve had the opportunity to take students on other adventures. I’ve been part of numerous camping, rafting, canoeing and kayaking trips as well as leading trips to Washington D.C. and San Diego for journalism conferences. Sometimes I’ve been the leader; other times I’ve just been along for the ride. But I’ve always been glad I went.
Despite the challenges of travel and the amount of time it takes to prepare for a major trip, I recommend it to every teacher. It may take major fundraising or creative financing to make it possible, and it may be more practical to go on a camping trip nearby than on a tour of another country. You need to know your kids and make good choices about who you take--both students and chaperones--on those adventures.
But if it’s possible, do it. You’ll learn as much as they do, and you’ll come home with so many stories.
Better yet, so will they.
Here are some pictures taken during my travel with students over the past 11 years. I’ve selected images to try to convey the joys of this kind of travel (silliness and wonder and everything in between). I haven’t named any of the students to protect their privacy, but I hope some of them stumble across these images and smile.
“And though she be but little, she is fierce!” -A Midsummer Night’s Dream