Friday, June 5, 2009

Travel Agency 101

Or: Things They Don't Teach You in Grad School

Every year in June our sixth grade team takes a trip to go dolphin watching. It's about three hours away, so we charter buses, spend a couple of hours at the beach, and then board a really big boat for a 2-hour cruise skirting the capes of Delaware in search of marine mammals. Next it's back on the bus, and a few hours later we're home. It's usually a nice day and a pleasant way to end the year. It also offers experiences that many of our students have never had: the beach, the boat, or both.

It's my job to organize this trip, and over the years it has gotten easier, but even so, every year there seems to be a new set of complications. Part of the challenge of planning it has to do with pricing. Your typical charter bus has 55 seats, and the boat charter is based on a minimum of 100 passengers. Depending on the year, we have had anywhere from 80-100 students, plus 8 teachers. Although it is always our goal, we have never had 100% of the students participate on the trip. The trick then becomes estimating the number of students and chaperones who will pay to come and pricing it accordingly. We have to break even... there's no reserve fund to cover it if we don't. BUT, we know that some kids won't be able to afford the trip, and so we solicit donations for scholarships, and we know that every passenger over that original estimate will also subsidize a student whose family can't afford the whole cost.

Some years I'm sweating it out because we haven't got that minimum number of people. Last year, I accepted a check and permission slip on the morning of the trip, because I knew it would get us out of the red. (Plus, the kid wanted to go... I have a hard time saying no to that after we went to all the trouble to plan such a great trip.) This year it's the opposite; we're short on seats, and I've been in the difficult position of telling some parents who have paid to go that, as much as we appreciate the support, we need their seat for a student. This new situation is just as stressful as it was to worry about staying out of debt in the past. Despite the refund, there have been some unhappy folks.

I received an e-mail this afternoon from just such a parent. It read in part:

I worked for (another school system) for 6 years and never seen a situation like a school system doesn't have a plan for their trip. It is not I don't believe what the excuse for (my son's) mom involvement but it's hard to believe. I expect to be treated fair, though this is a tough time. I hope your school and you understand my pain. My son was talking about the trip and now he can't go.

He continued:

Nothing personal, I feel like very much insulted and humiliated but what I can do? nothing. In my culture teacher is consider to be the highest respected person...teacher is the designer of child's life path. You are all same respected force of educator. But This is what I believe. Something totally wrong in this trip turmoil.

I regret the misunderstanding with this family, but I stand by our goal to have as many students participate as possible, and does anyone appreciate how above and beyond our job description this whole thing is? Chalk it up to end-of-the-year fatigue, but I am officially aggravated.


  1.'s ironic that earlier in the year we (my team) were wondering if we should go at all, due to the tough economic times.
    Today, I also announced that I was in fact, "so frustrated!" Not about the same thing as you specifically, but in general about trying to be fair and make everyone happy.
    It must be June...
    Could the parents drive separately and still go on the boat? An answer to the smaller question, certainly not a solution to some of the larger problems.

  2. I was going to make the same suggestion as Mary. You can't please all the people all the time. That their kids are going to this opportunity and experience is a bonus. Sorry you have to deal with difficulties. Such is life, eh?

  3. It makes you want to say to the parents, Wah. OR Grow-up folks.

    Sorry about that--I'm lucky that parents don't figure into my teaching equation, after hearing your stories and the tales from my local friends.

    Are you finished yet?