I was just one of the crowd of people on the trip—old and young, fat and thin, First Nations and white people, male and female. We were off by bus and ferry to Saltspring Island for the day. My job was to blend in, to let myself be represented by students. They were in charge, and I was along for the ride. I didn’t know it would be so hard.
We had spent hours in class planning the trip, all of the class working together and having a say. There were many decisions to be made.
Would our grant cover a bus and ferry and gas for the day? Yes, because my co-teacher, Christina Patterson, would be driving the bus, so we wouldn’t have to hire a driver.
Which Island craftspeople and artisans would we visit? We read many brochures and searched tourist information sites and finally agreed on a glass maker, a basket maker, a potter and a woodworker.
We read the map and figured out a logical route to their studios, including an important item, lunch in the village. Mickey, a friend of mine and Saltspring resident, had generously offered to meet us at noon and buy us all lunch.
We picked a day, e-mailed the artisans and requested studio tours. We read the ferry schedule and decided when we’d have to leave the school in order to get there; we wrote up the field trip agreeement and made sure everyone signed. We figured out which parents would need money for extra child care that day, because we would be back late.
We picked four students, one for each studio we planned to visit, to be our guides. Each one would lead the way into a studio, greet the artisan, introduce us, say thanks at the end of the tour, and give the artisan the card we had prepared. The four did a little rehearsing in the classroom to get ready for their roles.
The field trip fitted in well with the work Christina and I were doing to give students as much authority for making decisions as we could. I was glad to give up the decision making while we were in class, where everyone knew anyway that I was the teacher, and where I was facilitating the discussions that led to the decisions.
But in the field, on the ground on Saltspring Island, I was tested to the core.
Four times we went into a studio led by our student guide. Four times I got to practice giving up control. Four times I found out how difficult it was.
Somehow, I wanted those artisans to know who the teacher was. When a student guide was less skillful than I hoped, when the introductions were halting or the thanks less than effusive, I wanted to make it right, to apologize, to explain that I had done my best to prepare that student for the role of guide, and I couldn’t say what had caused him to go off the rails.
I wanted to give a signal, a roll of the eyes, or a gesture that might seem to be aimed at helping the student but was really meant for the workshop artisan, a secret signal that said, “I’m the one in charge here.”
And when the student guide did a great job, speaking well, explaining clearly, asking interesting questions, summing up the experience as she said thanks, then too I wanted to signal my pride and my relief.
Sharing power. So much harder than it appears on the surface.
So much easier to pretend to share power while grasping the core ever tighter to myself.