The end of the school year means one thing – besides backpacks sent home filled with crumpled spelling worksheets, artwork, pencil nubs and capless markers. I’m talking about field trips. These school-induced excursions usually involve rain, along with a few other elements – namely a signed permission slip, $8 for admission to some museum, a bag lunch and chaperones.
Three out of five dictionaries define chaperone as: 1. "The parent who always sends permission slips back on time and volunteers every Tuesday to help kids with math." Or, more often: 2. "A parent, who out of guilt for not volunteering during the regular school year, justifies that taking one day to visit a nature center to learn about turtles, sharks, butterflies or fill-in-the-name-of-your-favorite-animal-here will make up for this huge and indiscriminate indiscretion."
I fit into definition number two. (Why do I always end up feeling like number two?) I do not, regrettably, volunteer on Tuesdays, and have never considered myself tutor-worthy – in just about any subject, including math.
Because of the aforementioned factors, I found myself on a yellow school bus, filled to the brim with fifth-graders, in the middle of single-lane road construction, en route to a museum and aquarium for a day filled with both historic and amphibious learning.
I was assigned a small group of six students. Teachers consider six small because they deal with 25 or more kids each day. They also have bionic ears and eyes in the back of their heads. I was born with only normal hearing. Moms like me do not consider six children a small group. To us, it’s more like the Brady bunch. I am proud to say I kept my group in tow for most of the day, except for once or twice when I misplaced a couple of them. But, hey, who’s counting? Has anyone seen Brady?
We spent the morning learning about history; the afternoon about watery ecosystems. We came. We saw. We touched. We splashed. We conquered.
After the aquarium personnel fed the otters, it was time to board the hot, yellow, crowded school bus for home. I could hardly stop myself from letting out a cheer. I was ready to sit in the less-than-comfortable, faux leather, all-too-upright bus seats. Who am I kidding? I was ready to sleep there.
But, our field trip wasn’t over yet. Hooray. Here’s one of the many things I learned that day: fifth-grade kids are still young enough to sit three to a seat in a regulation school bus. This means they are three times more likely to do something silly, loud or irritating.
One would think after several lessons about World War II fighter pilots and various water-loving critters, the kids would be a tiny bit tired. (Oh, please let them be tired.) At least you’d hope they’d be quiet.
They were neither. The ones in my small group were mostly wet. I found fifth-graders to be extremely hands-on when it comes to aquariums.
The parents on the bus, while dry, were exhausted. At least I was. We’d earned exhaustion. We’d spent the day trying to help kids learn. Do you know how difficult that is? God bless the teachers who do this on a daily basis, and I mean that with my entire, depleted being.
On the way home, after all this wholesome learning, one child – who happened to be in my small group all day – decided to yell the word "pop" over and over again. Mind you, this was in an already decibel-laden bus full of 11-year-olds.
I was seated no more than five feet from said popper. Through the glazed daze of kid overkill, I leaned back and prepared to close my eyes in attempt to get to my happy place. I didn’t even register the fact that someone was yelling the "P" word. Heck, as far as I was concerned, everyone was yelling. It was a gosh darn free for all, except, of course, everyone remained seated (Bus Rule #1).
The teacher sat in the front, about 15 seats from me appearing calm and nonchalant. Her ears pricked. She turned around in a manner that made me fear whiplash.
Her eyes darted like a viper in hot pursuit of prey. She caught my eye and mouthed the words, "Who. Is. Yelling. Pop?" I motioned vaguely to the right side of the bus. Teacher stood up like a whippersnapper, authoritatively and bravely ignoring Bus Rule #1.
We were on the interstate doing 60 mph at the time. Defying the propulsion of forward motion, she made her way to the back of the bus. Despite road construction and uneven pavement, she didn’t waver in her resolve. The heroism and endurance of teachers never ceases to amaze me.
She caught the culprit who’d been yelling what could only be considered a swear word in these circumstances and let them know they were on her super sonic teacher radar. I myself was scared. We all know teachers have super powers. I’m sure she could look right at me and knew I’d failed to keep my small group intact throughout the entire day, not to mention the fact I’d forgotten all my kryptonite at home. I kept my eyes forward and hands and feet inside the aisle and for sure followed Bus Rule #1 for the rest of the ride home.
(Jill Pertler is an award-winning syndicated columnist, playwright and author of "The Do-It-Yourselfer’s Guide to Self-Syndication" You can read more columns at the Slices of Life page on Facebook.)