Thursday 7 Jul, 2011

Setting Expectations for Good Behavior on Tour

London Eye

Before the beginning of each school year, I often have a recurring nightmare. I’m trapped in my classroom with no control or discipline over my unruly students. The soundtrack for these unpleasant school dreams would probably include the Beastie Boys’ “Fight for Your Right” and Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall.”  I bet a lot of teachers experience this. Perhaps it’s a way to assuage our anxiety about having to set our expectations for good behavior with yet another group of students.

After thirty-one years as a high school history teacher, I think I have my classroom management and discipline down pat. Taking a page from Nike’s advertising campaign, I “Just Do It.” I have a very simple list of classroom rules, but my number one rule has always been a variation of the Golden Rule:  “If you’re nice to Mrs. Ingram, Mrs. Ingram will be nice to you.” Civility and good manners are paramount to me in the classroom and on an overseas tour.


Over the years, I have learned not “to sweat the small stuff.” “Stuff” happens in your classroom and on a tour, and you have to muster your common sense and judgment in order to deal with it. If expulsion is the final consequence for misbehavior in school, then dismissal from the tour is the same for a tour. You don’t want to let things escalate to the point where a student faces either expulsion from school or dismissal from a tour. Establish your rules and make certain students know the consequences for breaking them. Be fair and be consistent. I know I’m preaching to the choir because all experienced teachers know what they need to do in the classroom.  A tour is your global classroom and the same rules should still apply.

My spring break tours are actually overseas field trips and my county school district discipline handbook is in effect. That makes things easier for me. Potential troublemakers generally do not show up at the tour recruitment meetings. If students want an opportunity to get away from their parents for ten days or more and engage in underage drinking or other youthful indiscretions, I advise them to spend their spring break at the beach, which is less than 100 miles from where I live and certainly less expensive for them.

Thanks to the bounty of EF materials for group leaders, teachers who go on tour with their students don’t have to reinvent the wheel when it comes to setting expectations for good behavior. The Safety & Travel Guide is an excellent resource for teachers, students, and their parents. EF’s Rules of the Road are very clear about what the regulations are for all travelers.  The Planning Guide-Countdown to Travel offers additional information about guidelines and regulations. The EF tour regulations are also in the Traveler’s Handbook.

One pre-departure meeting should be spent going over this information and perhaps requiring students and their parents to sign a behavior contract.  I emphasize the fact that any misbehavior can jeopardize the tour program at my high school. Would any student want to be singled out as the person responsible for shutting down all future overseas tours? My students are representing our school, state, and country when they go abroad.

Their individual behavior reflects upon the entire group.

Teachers can create their own behavior contract using the information provided by EF.  You may want to add a few rules of your own. My list also includes:

There will be no smoking, drinking of alcoholic beverages, taking illegal drugs, or engaging in sexual activities at any time. All of these activities are prohibited in my school district discipline handbook.

Students are not allowed outside their hotel rooms after the required bed checks. Some group leaders and their chaperones place a piece of tape over the door frame and sign it, and they will check on the tape while doing the wake-up calls.

New body piercings or tattoos cannot be acquired while on tour. It may be advisable to get information about students’ current status of body art before you leave the country.

The school district dress code will be enforced. No hats can be worn inside any building and no flip flops can be worn while touring.

Listen and pay attention to the tour director and local guides. Students should not be plugged into their music.

Be quiet during the hotel check-in process and on public transportation. You will be surprised what a difference the silence can make.

Do not drag your suitcase up the stairs in hotels and don’t let it hit the stair treads. If you keep the hotel management happy, your stay will be much more pleasant.

Keep the hotel rooms and tour bus neat. Even rats go crazy inside dirty cages.

Students must be in groups of three or more during the lunch breaks or any period of free time. All students should have the cell phone numbers of both their group leader and tour director, and the hotel information in case they get separated from the tour group.

Knock on wood, but I have never had to dismiss a student from a tour and send him or her home at the parents’ expense. I take into account the safety and well-being of the entire group and make my decisions accordingly. Short of calling parents collect or sending a student home early, you can devise your list of consequences for minor offenses such as requiring students to spend their lunch break or free time with you or requiring them to help the coach driver clean the tour bus.

Bell Tower of Giotto

Bell Tower of Giotto

I would certainly avoid reprimanding a student in front of their peers. In fact, try to see if you can spend most of your time complimenting or praising your students during the tour.  Their excitement level is going to be high on a tour and you need to allow for some youthful exurberance.

Conversations you have with your students in the evenings and during the bed checks will often reveal a variety of problems that can be easily handled with a few carefully placed words to the offending students. Travel is hard work and it can sometimes magnify minor problems and irritations. I had a young man on tour many years ago who was giving his roommates a fit due to his lack of personal hygiene. I did not want to hurt his feelings, so I just fussed at everyone in his room (the other guys knew I was going to do this) about getting rid of the “locker room” smell. I also volunteered to sit next to him on the bus and on the plane.

Setting expectations for good behavior should be one of the most important topics teachers should discuss with their tour groups. My favorite time on a tour is on the   flights. You can sit back and relax for a few hours because you know where all of your students are and what they are doing. However, you can also relax while touring if your students know what is expected of them. My advice is to simply kick back on your international flight to your destination and listen to some great travel songs on your iPod. My all-time favorite travel song is “Roam” by the B-52s.

I’d love to hear how other teachers set expectations for good student behavior on tour.  What are some of your own rules for international travel? What’s your favorite travel song (or school song)?

FLickr photo via J-E-S-S, Jim Linwood

(Editor’s note: Add Gail on Google+ If you have a question about for EF Group Leader Gail Ingram, or an idea for a blog post topic, you can email Gail here, and she will answer readers’ questions in future blog posts.)