It is the best of times, it is the worst of times: the annual school trip to England. Each year in May, four teachers take approximately forty students with them to the country that we all love. From the moment the school year starts, we cannot help counting down the days until we take the coach, then the ferry, then the coach again to England, and walk around and dive into the English culture (and into the English food) for a week. I daresay it is one of the reasons I decided to become a teacher in the first place. We usually have a great time as it is us who decide the programme, but sometimes the students couldn’t care less about Shakespeare or yet another museum. So, did everyone enjoy themselves, or did it turn out to be the worst of times? Here’s a report, as told by the students and their teachers, including a good-time balance at the end of each day.
Monday morning – Early
The teachers (us): “The absolute worst thing, the nightmare, one of the reasons to stay at home and limit yourself to teaching only, is the journey. I’m so tired. But at least I got up early enough to fix my hair.”
The students (them): “I am so tired. I didn’t even have time to put on my make-up. Everyone! Don’t look at me! Really, I’m so tired. Let’s go to sleep.”
Us, after ten minutes: “Ok. We’ve just left Groningen. They seem quiet, which is a good thing, because so are we. We might even get some sleep, so we’ll be relatively alive by the time we arrive at our meeting point in ten hours.”
Them, after fifteen minutes: “Ok. I’m tired. Let’s talk. Let’s sing. Let’s have fun. Let’s eat smelly food. Let’s record funny videos and send them to our friends via snapchat. Oi, you! Come over here so they can hear you! Oh, and I need to use the bathroom.”
Us, groaning: “They’re so tired they’ve forgotten they are. It is like a supermarket and a gym have had a particularly colourful, odorous, and loud baby. What a boisterous babble of baboons. Let’s hope this won’t take too long.”
Them, during every break: “Good, I’m hungry. Let’s smoke. Let’s eat some more smelly food. Let’s buy new food to replace all the food we’ve already eaten.”
Us: “Ok kids, make sure you’re here at half past two.”
Them: “Oh darn, it’s late. Look, there’s Elke, she’s running towards us. Should we go back?”
Me: “Oh yes. Get back right now. Now I’m off looking for the others, see you!”
And on it went. Eventually we made it to Calais, took the ferry, and resumed our coach journey towards Sydenham, a district in South-East London, where the children’s host families would be waiting for us.
Them: “Oh, look at that one! I like her, let’s hope she’s ours!”
Us: “Let’s just hope they’ll all be picked up soon. There’s one more group.”
The one group: “Did they forget about us? Oh wait, there they are.”
So, the group was picked up, even though it took a while. Overall, I think it becomes quite clear that the children were definitely having a better time than we did. Teachers: 0, students: 1.
Tuesday, day two – Early
Us: “Did any of you sleep? I hardly did. I’m still tired. Breakfast isn’t that good either, is it?”
Them, when we’ve arrived at the meeting point: “You’re late. Also, two of us are missing. They were hungry and bought some more food.”
Us: “So, did you have a good time?”
Them: “Yes! No! It was ok. The parents hardly talked to us. Our mum has eight children! We really didn’t like it, can we sleep somewhere else?”
Us: “We’ll see what we can do. Good morning, ladies and gentlemen! Today we’re going to visit London. We’re going to start at Greenwich Park, where we’ll walk around and have a great view of the city, then we’ll walk through a tunnel underneath the River Thames. We’ll take the Underground towards Buckingham Palace, where we’ll witness the Changing of the Guards. Then we’ll do a walking tour along the Thames, and visit Tate Modern. That’s today’s programme. Any questions?”
Them: “Yes. I need to go to the bathroom. Ok, we’re at Greenwich Park, let’s walk. How long do we have to keep walking?”
Us: “For a very long time. If you keep going for about two more minutes, you’ll see the city right -…”
Them: “Ohhhhh! Look at that! What’s that building? And that one? Look at that! Elke, can you take a picture of us? Wait, not yet, I need to straighten my hair. The city is beautiful! Let’s run towards it.”
Us: “Oh no. They’re running. I’ll run after them and make sure they don’t get lost. Oi! Wait! The tunnel is right there, but please take it easy, ok? Not everyone can walk that fast.”
Them: “This tunnel is so cool. It’s also scary, though. Are you sure it won’t collapse?”
Us: “Absolutely sure. This bit was bombed by the Germans in the Second World War, can you see it? Also, please don’t run. And stay on the left.”
Them: “We’re hungry, can we have a break?”
An hour, two food and toilet breaks, an Underground journey with us shouting and running to make sure we all get out at the right stop later, we arrived at Buckingham Palace, only to find out no Guards were in fact Changing. We walked on towards Tate Modern, which took about two hours; the children needed yet another food and toilet break. Eventually we made it to the museum, where they had to stay there for at least an hour, and take a selfie of their favourite piece of art (so did we; see picture). One group showed up an hour late.
Us: “Clearly you didn’t, for you got lost. Big time. Now get into that museum, right now.”
Them: “We thought we could take a trip in the city. I’ve been here before and know the city really well.”
Them: “We’re done, can we go now?”
Us: “Yes! Ok, gather round, children. We’re meeting at Tower Hill in an hour and a half. Make sure you’re there, in an hour and a half!”
Even though some were late, the journey to Lewisham Station went fairly well. We made it back to the meeting point, dropped off the children, and had dinner close to our hotel. We shared our opinions of the day, and concluded that we all had fun. Best of times only. Us: 1, students: 2.
Wednesday, day three
Us: “Children, today is a long day. We’re going to Canterbury first. We’re visiting the Cathedral, you have to do an assignment on the Canterbury Tales – …”
Them: “The what?”
Us: “The Canterbury Tales. Read the booklet, please. This is a lovely city, and you’ll have plenty of time to walk around and have fun. We’re going back to London at four, because we’re going to the musical tonight.”
Them: “Ok. This is definitely not as big a city as London. We won’t get lost here. Let’s wander off. There Elke is again, she’s running towards us. Yes Elke, we’re slowing down.”
Us: “This is Canterbury Cathedral. It’s really, very old, and very interesting, so take your time. Put your phone away, it’s not allowed. No, it really isn’t.”
Them: “Ok, this is more interesting than I thought it would be. Cool. But I’m hungry now, can we go?”
Us: “Gather round! You’ve got three hours to do whatever you want. See you at four at the coach!”
Them: “Let’s eat. Let’s smoke. Let’s shop. Let’s take five minutes for the
Us: “Let’s have lunch, and buy books. It’s so great when the kids aren’t here.”
Them: “We got bored, so we went back to the coach a bit early, where we’ve been eating and smoking.”
Us: “We’re off to London now. We’ll be at the West End at five thirty, and you all better make sure you’re at the Cambridge Theatre at seven. See you!”
Them: “Sorry we’re late. We got lost. We ordered the wrong food. We had to wait for the others.”
Us: “Urgh. You’re here now, that’s ok. Here are your tickets for Matilda.”
Everyone: “The theatre looked amazing, it was like a giant library! And Matilda was great! They were all great, and the songs were so funny! I almost cried a little! But the Trunchbull, she was hilarious! Oh, and do you remember that song? Can you mimic that dance again? That was the best thing I’ve ever seen in my life!”
We eventually made it back to the hotel (more running was necessary for the children were too excited and wander off, again), but we decided not to bother making up the balance for this day. The very, very best of times: 2 versus 3.
Thursday, day four
Us: “Children, final day. Busy day. The driver will drop us off at the Museum of London, then you have to visit two Boroughs of London and compare them – yes, you can have lunch, yes, you can go to the bathroom there, and then we’ll visit Shakespeare’s Globe. Remember last year’s lessons? No? Ah.”
Them: “I don’t like this museum. Let’s sit down and play with our phones.”
Us: “I love this museum! It’s all so interesting, and there’s so much information on the Suffragettes, and the way people lived in the Victorian Age! I could stay here all day, ”
Them: “It’s been an hour. Can we go now? Give me my Underground ticket. See you later! Where? The Globe? Four? Ok, bye!”
We decided to go to Covent Garden, where we watched some hugely disappointing street artists, and had lunch in a lovely churchyard we had no idea existed. The weather was nice, lunch was good, and soon it was time to go the Globe Theatre. This is part of our programme every year, since we like it, and Shakespeare is on the school curriculum.
Guide: “I heard you like the gruesome stories. Let me tell you about this play we’re doing right now. Almost everyone dies. We’re going to watch the rehearsals soon, and I’ll tell you some more about the theatre and the Bard himself.”
Us: “This is so interesting.”
Them: “I fail to see the cultural importance of this museum. I hate it. Let’s keep talking while the tour guide tells her stories. Also, I had this great lunch at Kensington.”
They’re tired, we told ourselves. That’s when the students become rude and self-obsessed. Thankfully, the Globe was our final activity, and we rushed home (I had to do my final bout of running between train compartments to make sure all children knew where we were getting off the train), and went to sleep right after we decided whether a good day was had. It was by us, but not so much by the students: 3-3.
Friday – the return journey
I will spare you the details. Needless to say, everyone was tired. There was more food, there were more toilet and cigarette breaks, the children were loud again. But a good kind of loud, as they kept discussing all the wonderful things they had seen, all the things they had bought, all the people they had talked with. The host families were nice, the assignments were good, they had learned so much, about the city and about their classmates, and roaming off was a wonderful thing to do. They didn’t even care that it was another ten hours of bus journey, because they had enough to talk about.
And we kept smiling, too, despite being too tired to function properly. We looked back on a chaotic but great week, with a great programme, with kind, interested, but sometimes annoying and rude children. They were on time, and they were late. They stayed with us and wandered off – and I had to run after them, again and again. They had fun, but they were bored too. And they were loud. And oh, did they eat a lot. There were some things that might have gone better, or should be left out of next year’s programme, but all in all, a great time was had by all. Let’s forget about the daily balance and just rank this trip a ten out of ten. The best of times, indeed.