[head shake] Can there be nothing sadder and more heart-wrenching than this story? It’s one of those stories where no one wins, everyone loses, and where people’s lives WILL.NEVER.BE.THE.SAME.
The NY Times article focuses on the fact that they didn’t have parent permission slips, and that the trip was poorly planned. It outlines that two of the people chaperoning couldn’t swim. Apparently the young girl who drowned couldn’t swim. It also notes that there were warnings about the water and no lifeguards were on duty. It says the teacher should have noticed. In other words, the teacher should have HEEDED the warning.
I imagine that everyone replays the day, in slow motion, in their heads trying to think of what they would do differently.
Yet, a first year teacher doesn’t know what she doesn’t know. While I’m guessing she read the signs (they were certainly pointed out by a student), she didn’t know what to do. I’m even willing to guess that the students even said, “Aw, it’ll be OK. We won’t swim or anything. We’ll just stand there.” I’m betting she didn’t have the nerve to say, “This isn’t happening. C’mon, let’s go back.” Her warning bells weren’t strong because she merely told the non-swimmers not to go in above their waists. The report is true, she showed poor judgment.
It takes a lot for a teacher to say, “This isn’t happening.” My school district (perhaps it’s even the state) mandates one chaperon for every 10 students. I explain that we are NOT going if we don’t get those numbers. To be willing to turn a class around, to disappoint them, to make a hard judgment call is something only the teacher can do. You have to be willing to do it. Yet, disappointing parents and parents is hard. Looking weak or inflexible in front of your administrator is incredibly hard. Having to return to school and teach people who are mad at you is miserable. Trust me, I know. Only my judgment was based on behavior. I was looked down upon for a really long time for it.
Yet, I’d venture to guess that had the teacher turned them back and returned to school, she would have been criticized. She would have been told that another school was there. Nothing happened to their students. She probably would have even been told that she just didn’t have good enough classroom management to take the kids on a field trip. I wonder if she even considered making the hard call.
We’ll know of course, since she’ll probably be sued by the child’s parents. But hindsight is 20/20, and at what cost?