A great field trip is an informative, and perhaps exciting journey of discovery, in which students can obtain a hands-on or face-to-face encounter with experts or high-value ideas related to a specific academic subject or study.
However, an undisciplined and unstructured field trip can ruin the excitement as well as the learning opportunity involved, resulting in a possible bad reputation of your school.
Therefore, you must have a solid student management plan for dealing with potentially disruptive or strong-willed students who are bent on challenging your authority.
In my first year of teaching, I fell into the trap of disregarding a discipline plan. Instead, I trusted my students who promised to keep themselves under control, even the most challenging of my middle school students gave me their word.
My Nightmare as a First-Year Teacher
The goal of the field trip was to familiarize my students with the great achievements of famous black Americans. The trip involved a meeting with a Liberian specialist on the subject, watching a documentary film, and checking out books for a short midterm report.
However, the trip was known other than the definition of chaos. The girls were pretty manageable (initially) until they started mingling with the boys. The boys were definitely not to be trusted. Several of them took off through the library, running from librarians and hiding under computer tables. Others had exited the library side door in a dash toward a nearby Duncan Donuts in downtown Milwaukee.
Eventually, my entire class was thrown out of the library into the lobby and prevented from reentering the main entrance.
Embarrassed, the school called and apologized to the library for the field trip disaster. But this was the final time I ever took this group anywhere. I learned a valuable lesson, resulting in a series of successful field trips from then on.
To successfully manage a middle school field trip, three essential resources should be in place to provide any sense of security:
- A behavior support person
- A Container for disruptive students: preferably an empty school bus
- Parental support for the most challenging students
Behavior support person
Taking a challenging classroom on a field trip alone is recipe for disaster. I discovered this the hard way, but other newer teachers learned from my mistake. In fact, the administration assigned a behavior support person to chaff iron teachers who had disruptive students.
Teachers could basically focus on guiding and helping students understand and achieve the purpose of the field trip instead of worrying about student behavior.
In the past, the school would keep challenging students at home, especially if parents did not accompany them on the field trip.
Container for Disruptive Students
One of the responsibilities of the behavior support person is to contain disruptive students in a space where they cannot interrupt others. Having an empty school bus to take highly challenging students away from the group is a godsend for the success of an important field trip.
Such students, uncontained, can cause havoc and ruin the trip for everyone involved. No teacher wants to end a special trip after all the planning and demanding work that goes into the project.
Parental Support requirement for the Most Challenging Students
This was the approach taken by the administration at my school. Some students may be so disruptive that even behavior support would have a tough time controlling them.
If parents desired such students to participate, these parents would need to accompany their child on the trip, with full responsibility for that child’s behavior.
Taking the above measures to ensure that your middle school field trip is a success is important. Such a strategy can provide a sense of security from public shame and embarrassment.