Several weeks ago, my colleague across the hall and I were offered what sounded like a sensational opportunity for our impoverished students, something they might never experience in their lives: a trip to see the Broadway show Wicked. We were thrilled up until the point when we were told “the catch.” We each have 28 kids in our class, but, unfortunately, only 43 tickets were available.
Ouch. Talk about a punch in the gut. I am staunchly against ever withholding the experience of a field trip from my students, even for behavioral issues. (I’ll clarify: I would never disallow a child to attend the trip based on a transgression in school. I don’t believe in taking things away without warning, like some teachers do. I would however, if cause arose, make the child earn the right to go on the trip. The latter scenario has not occurred in my career thus far).
Given the news that only 43 out of 56 children would be getting this once-in-a-lifetime gift, I knew I would be forced to make some difficult decisions.
There was another wrench in the plan. Our two other colleagues in the grade were not offered any tickets, effectively shutting their students out. We rectified this though, and extended invitations to them to select students they felt should go, saying we would chaperone. One colleague, who teaches an ESL class, felt her students would be uncomfortable with us, given the potential for communication barriers. (There are no issues among us in school, but we all agreed a trip without their patient, strategy-equipped teacher could be difficult). The other chose 12 students.
I spent about an hour one night agonizing over which of my students I would offer the trip to. There were some absolutes, students who always do homework, demonstrate effort, and respect themselves and others (my core ideals for my classroom). The others I chose were the students who came pretty close to those standards.
The day came when I had to tell the class everything that was going on, and when I brought them to the meeting area to do so, I was terribly nervous. Leaving nearly half my class behind goes against what I believe as a provider of memories and unique experiences for my students. However, I was fair in the way I chose the ticket recipients. I asked the class to tell me what I look for in my students, to name those traits I value.
They were able to tell me: respect for self and others, homework completion, and effort in class (which can be measured by the amount of pride a student takes in his work – something that I feel is evidenced through handwriting, depth of thought, neatness, etc). With those attributes listed on the board, I explained that the only fair way for me to select students for this special trip was to choose the ones who best embodied them. And so, 15 permission slips were distributed, and 13 pairs of eyes were cast downward. I felt terrible, but I took it as a teachable moment.
“There are rewards in life for hard work,” I told them. “Right now, some students are being rewarded with a special trip. In the future, it could be the middle school you want to go to, or the college, or your job. But whatever it is, when you work hard, you receive rewards.”
Was the message lost on those students who were left behind for the trip? I don’t know. I don’t think I’ll ever know. But I have no trouble sleeping at night knowing what I did. I could have easily made a list of “good” and “bad” students, but that would fly in the face of my belief that there are no such things, only “students making choices”. I could have taken my highest achievers, but why penalize the ones who go to work with their parents on school nights, or who’s parents aren’t able to help them at home? I could have taken my “favorites” — oops! We know no teacher has those!!
You get the point. No, I am confident I did the right thing. In an ideal situation, every one of the students in every one of the classes in the grade would be going, but the solution at which I arrived was fairest. My students left behind may think that makes me wicked, but I think they realize and appreciate my reasoning.
The trip was awesome. The kids all dressed like handsome young men and lovely young ladies – ties, shoes, and all! The flipside of it is that the kids who weren’t coming looked emerald green with envy as the other munchkins strolled in. I definitely felt badly for them, but I received good news on the bus ride to the show. Seems like more tickets are on the way, so everyone will get a chance to see the show.