Hey, Teacher!

I fell in love with interpretation for many reasons, but one in particular was its “wild child” relationship to the juggernaut of influence that academia was in my life. My father, the son of two professors, was himself both a college professor and a high school teacher focused on at-risk students. My mother was an award-winning high school Spanish teacher, and the only minority faculty member in the entire school system for much of her career. They both were heavily involved in extra-curricular and community education programs, and my brother and I were brought along as active participants in almost everything they did. The joys, trials, abuses, and triumphs of the region’s schools were an integral part of all our lives.Their friends and my mentors were all teachers, and it was expected by many of these excellent role models that I’d be following in the family footsteps. It was therefore very important to me that I rebel against these assumptions. “Not going to be a teacher! No way, not me!” With the wide world before me, reaching far afield in my quest to claim independence, I ultimately became…an interpretive educator. 

It was not quite as rebellious as I had planned. If I’d been Juliet, I’d have probably just picked Paris and called it good.

My father & his students

Vintage ’90s photo of my father and some of his awesome alternative high school students

Almost twenty years later, I’ve never stopped marveling over the interactions between my home culture of (specifically public) schools and interpretive sites. These so-called formal and informal institutions have had a very long, convoluted relationship with each other, often more acrimonious than I would have ever expected. How many of our programs and sites heavily depend on school visits to reach key populations, bring in much-needed funding, and fulfill the commitments of our missions and grant objectives? And how many times have those field trips been complicated, curtailed, or even eliminated, by either logistical difficulties or lack of successful communication? 

A few years ago I attended an informative but frustrating presentation for informal educators at a Seattle museum. The research, which focused on how formal and informal forms of education interact, gave a wealth of data, but the conclusions drawn were that they just don’t work particularly well together. Sadly, few suggestions were given on how to improve that relationship. According to the research presented, the crux was that cooperation was severely restricted by school systems’ needs for a greater level of control over content, format, and timing than museums were able or willing to cede.

Disturbed by the fatalistic tone of this panel, I began interviewing the teachers I’ve known and worked with across the country, focusing on the question, “What prevents you as a teacher from successfully making use of interpretive site programs?” The vast, vast majority of the answers came back citing a lack of useful information on how they can not only plan a field trip, but also justify it to their administration. Carrying a full workload precludes sifting through multiple websites to find the crucial information that will allow them to make timely decisions (and, it can’t be over emphasized, convince their higher-ups that this disruption of scheduling and investment of funds is worthwhile) about their classes’ field trip possibilities. 

One simple, vital request kept coming up, “If they sent me a basic sheet of information that listed their programs and site information in a clear, easy format, it would make a huge difference.” I picked their brains on just what information they’d need to be able to make this work, and the result is broken down below. Keep in mind that not all of this information would apply to your site or your potential visiting schools, but my hope is that it’s a useful template to create a clear and easy way to entice teachers to your programs this coming academic year. A link to a pdf version of this list is included at the end. 

Teacher Resource Page: Interpretive Site & Educational Program Summary 

Contact Information:

  • Museum name
  • Website
  • Phone
  • Address
  • Calendar of events (link, major event info / dates)
  • School trip coordinator contact
  • Department
  • Phone
  • Email

Program Information:

Permanent Exhibit Programs:

  • Subjects covered, state/federal standards covered, ages/grades appropriate
  • Description (inc. special permission needs for controversial/upsetting material)
  • Pre/post program materials available
  • Level of participation/activity expected
  • Level of teacher/chaperone participation expected

Temporary / Seasonal Exhibit Programs

  • Subjects covered, state/federal standards covered, ages/grades appropriate
  • Description
  • Pre/post program materials available
  • Level of participation/activity
  • Level of teacher/chaperone participation

Classroom Programs

  • Subjects covered, state/federal standards covered, ages/grades appropriate
  • Description
  • Live visit by museum employee vs “museum box” materials available for teacher pick-up
  • Pre/post program materials available
  • Level of participation/activity
  • Level of teacher/chaperone participation

Online Programs

  • Subjects covered, state/federal standards covered, ages/grades appropriate
  • Description
  • Any accompanying on-site programs or physical materials

Site & Logistical Information:

  • Available days & times for field trips
  • Advance reservation time requirements
  • Costs (Including possible discounts or funding, deposits, refund policies)
  • Minimum and maximum group numbers required for programs
  • Number of groups able to be accommodated / size of museum
  • Site description and safety concerns (indoors, outdoors, stairs, presence of water bodies)
  • Site rules and regulations
  • Are backpacks and book bags allowed? Are there lockers or a safe space for them to be stored if not, or do they need to stay on the bus?
  • Bussing / Transportation options (including if funding is available)
  • Size of parking lot / can busses remain parked during trip?
  • Presence, size, and hours of dining space or cafeteria (Are visitors able to bring own food or purchase lunches on site?)
  • Chaperones required or suggested
  • Presence of security, docents, staff
  • Bilingual resources with available languages and formats (audio tour, bilingual interpreter, translated materials, signage) listed
  • Accommodations for visitors with disabilities
  • Medical resources (Appropriate storage for insulin or other medicines, epi pens, any on site medical personnel)
  • Other facilities on site (IMAX, walking trails, playground, etc)

Field Trip Info Summary

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