You might be hard pressed to determine how an early morning hike up Welsh hills, dotted with wildflowers and contented sheep, to ancient castle ruins could inspire anger, but inspire anger it did. It was hardly the setting that made me angry– I was hiking in Wales! To ruins! Nor was it the exertion of charging up the hill; nor was it the early start. The blue sky peeked through the gray clouds, and the sun hovered in the distance. The company that surrounded me was charming and equally enthusiastic. My anger was the anger of “what-might-have-been”.
You see, it was the fifth morning of a sixteen day tour through Ireland and Great Britain, and this hike was not on our itinerary. Daniel, our tour director and outdoor enthusiast, saw opportunity to offer this trek, and offered to guide us up to the ruins. He could have opted to sleep in, but why stay in the hotel when you’re in Wales? The night before, unable to take us out and about Llangollen, he asked if I would lead a walk along the River Dee that coursed through the town. I didn’t really lead, but I had the map and directions from the guy at the front desk and away we went. Again, why stay in the hotel? In Killarney, Daniel found us venues playing live music, and in Dublin, he took those of us that did not want to go back to the hotel just yet to Temple Bar. We weren’t just going to tour Ireland and Great Britain, we were going to experience it.
Flashback to a year ago when I took four students to London and Paris, and this is where the anger sets in. Our tour director for that adventure happened to have lived in both cities, but instead of giving him a wealth of knowledge of fun things to do and check out, he was befuddled, lost, and unenthusiastic. He was a slave to our itinerary, didn’t tell us any information about what we were seeing, and seemed out of his depth. He got us lost, and when he finally opened up to talk to us, no one wanted to listen to him. My group and I had a good time because of our own initiative and our enjoyment of each other’s company. But as I walked up the Welsh hills, I reflected on this time and wondered, “What did we miss out on?” What could have we seen or done had we had an enthusiastic leader with a “the world is your oyster” attitude?
This experience, like most experiences, reminded me of the classroom, our role as teachers, and our power to set the tone in our classrooms. This isn’t rocket-science, but it was good reminder how our own enthusiasm , flexibility, and willingness to try new things pushes our students to adopt the same attitude. Daniel wanted us to have meaningful experiences as a group and individually. He offered us a hike from William Wordsworth’s home at Rydal Mount to the next town. Seeing first-hand what Wordsworth saw and walked through everyday gave me a greater appreciation for the Romantic sensibility. In Edinburgh, Daniel pointed the National Gallery out to me, because he knew I wanted to visit it during my free time. As teachers, it is important to respect the class goals as a whole and those of individual students. When we support everyone, everyone will rise.
This adventure was pretty amazing. My mom joined me, and we had our first (and hopefully not last) overseas adventure together; one of my school’s counselors, Mary Jo, joined me, and we became good friends; Max, who went with me last year, accompanied me, and again we had more fun and laughs; and Maria, a quiet and reserved student, also came along, and it was wonderful to see her blossom, make jokes, and assert her independence. Then all of the other group leaders and their groups were so much fun. I now have friends in Florida, Houston, Tracy, and Colorado. However, I doubt all of this would have been possible if we didn’t have such a good leader leading the way.