Thursday, September 08, 2011

Glutton for Punishment

"Ms. Waterhouse, can you take us to New York?"

That was Cody's question during Business today in first period.  It wasn't one of their flippant, mostly-joking questions, like when they ask if I'll take them to Paris in my carry-on luggage.  Cody was serious, and I know her well enough to know she's been thinking it over for a while.

It's an idea that I've been thinking over for a while, too.  I even went so far last year as to contact a couple of student travel agencies for quotes.  But then they kept wanting to chat by phone, and my phone is in a completely separate room, and speech started up, and I had to sew and dye all of these tunics, and, well, the idea got away from me.

But Cody asked at an auspicious time - the speech after-school practices don't start until Monday, I'm only directing one show at the moment, and I was actually caught up on my grading.  So during my plan period I looked through a few websites and put in a few queries for price quotes for a trip in the weeks right after school lets out.

Once travel agency, Smithsonian, contacted me within 20 minutes.

I spoke to the representative for a while, talking about what kind of tour I was looking for (Shows!  Lots and lots of shows!).  The costs were higher than I expected - $1850 per student is what she quoted me for a 5 day trip.  That's all-inclusive - meals, airfare, tickets to two shows (which seems to be their definition of "a lot".  If you're in New York for five days and you don't see at least six shows, there's something wrong with your itinerary), gratuities, a full-time guide, night security, an improv workshop, everything.

So I took it to my students.  I told my afternoon classes about the trip, told them the price, and asked how many of them were a) interested and b) probably able get together that kind of money by the February payment deadline.

Over 30 kids raised their hands, which means probably 10 would follow-through with that.  Add in the students from first period and those who I don't have in class this year and I've got a good-sized group of students to take to New York at the end of May.

I've had two hesitations previously:

1) The Hassle

Oh, the hassle.  Organizing a simple day trip to DCTC to see a show takes several hours of phone calls and paperwork and planning.  Can you imagine a five day trip across the country?

This company, though, is the same one that another teacher in my school does an annual international trip through.  She's raved before about how well-organized they are.  For example, they set up a website for your group that the students log into to handle all of the paperwork and payments.  I don't have to touch any money - that's a really good thing.  It's a reputable company, and Tiffany assured me that it's got the best value for the dollar (and she shopped around much more than I did).

A few of the students asked about fundraising, and I answered them honestly.  I explained that between speech and drama and everything else, I don't have any more time to give.   "I can put together this trip, I'll gladly take you on it, but I won't do any fundraising."

The students nodded.  My goodness, do I love that I've earned their trust and respect!  They got it, and they didn't push me or question my choice.  Instead Kailey raised her hand, "What if our parents wanted to organize a fundraiser?  Could they?"  and I happily said, "Of course."

Frankly, I'm kind of proud of myself for drawing that line in the sand early on.  I'm doing a better job of being aware of what's reasonable and of allowing myself to say no when taking on something else will lessen the quality of my other work or, for that matter, my own personal life.

2) The Tour

Urgh!  The tour!  I don't want the kids to see New York from an air-conditioned tour bus!  I want them to ride the subway, to figure out the street system, to smell the city!  Inhale, my dears!  Every city, let me tell you, has its own smell!

To add salt to the wound, every single tour I found included a tour of the Statue of Liberty, of Ellis Island, and of Ground Zero.  What a waste of time!  If I were in charge, we'd note the Statue of Liberty from Battery Park and slow down our pace long enough to peer through the fence at Ground Zero on our way from the Irish Potato Famine Memorial to see a matinee.

I lamented the loss of time over Ground Zero in my fourth period class, and they were taken aback at my irreverence.  "It's a giant hole in the ground!"  I explained.

"But isn't there, like, a memorial?" they asked.

"To commemorate a hole in the ground!  Who needs to see that when we could be at the Natural History Museum or the Guggenheim or at a show?!"

They did not understand.

If I found a company that would book the hotel, the meals, and all of the tickets, both airplane and theater, but then left us to our own devices, I would be thrilled.  But, no, that's not to be.  So I'll let someone else lead the tour and I'll try not to sulk too much while we drive around town in a giant tour bus.

The thing is, I know this trip's for them.  If I wanted to go to New York, I would just go.  This isn't going to be my kind of trip, but it is going to be the first time most of these kids have ever been on a plane, let alone in New York.  I want them to go there, I want them to fall in love with it, and then I want them to go back again, this time on their own terms.

Oh!  Speaking of their terms, the students were quick to form their own agendas for the trip:

Cody: (Gasping with a sudden thought)  Ms. Waterhouse, if we go to New York will Jason come too?

Other students:  We get to meet Jason?!

Me:  Jason?  Maybe.  I don't know.

Cody: We should totally meet him!

Kailey:  I want to meet Jason!

Students: (Chatter excitedly amongst each other about meeting Jason)

JJ: If Jason's going to be there, then I'm definitely going.

Me: (Laughing) You guys make it sound like I should advertise the trip like "MEET JASON!! ...and see some Broadway shows."

Gretchen:  That's exactly how you should advertise it.

Kelsey:  Do you know how many students you'd get signed up for it if they got to meet Jason?

Me:  That's ridiculous!

Cody:  We're looking out for you, Ms. Waterhouse.  We want to make sure he's right for you.


Kailey:  It's only a matter of time, Ms. Waterhouse.

So, Jason, how would you like to meet me and 10-30 high school students in New York this summer?  They promise that they won't embarrass me in front of you....

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