Trips Week: What it should and shouldn’t be

Making prehistoric switch blades with 6th graders.

Making prehistoric switch blades with 6th graders.

Trips season for International schools is upon us. From May to July, schools all over Europe send teachers and students to a variety of cultural and historical sites. Some trips focus on outdoor experiences, some on in-depth lessons in history, and some are a miss-mash of everything you can possibly jam into a 5-day trip.

School trips are my favorite part of teaching overseas. It is not just because I get paid to go to exotic locales. It is because school trips are a time for teachers and students to see each other in a whole new light.

We laugh together, we hike together, and sometimes we make artistic creations together.  We stay up late and rise early.  At the end of a long and tiring week, I feel like I love my job and my students much more than I did on the first day of the trip.  All the stress and strain of taking 60-140 kids on a trip melts away when you look into your students’ smiling faces and know that they just had one of the best weeks of their lives.

But this year, trips seem to be tainted. All of this William James Vahey business leaves me sad. Mr. Vahey was a veteran teacher who spent his teaching career in various schools around the globe. Even though he was a convicted sex offender in the United States, he somehow never had to reveal these police records to his employers. He committed suicide last month when he realized that the FBI was investigating him; they had Vahey’s USB drive of photographs of recent victims.

Yearbook photo from Vahey's first teaching position.  c/o Yahoo news

Scan of the yearbook from Vahey’s first teaching position. From Yahoo news

According to most of the articles I have read, Mr. Vahey was a popular teacher. He was beloved by both students and parents. But when he took his students on trips, he drugged the boy students and sexually molested them. Most of his victims were/are completely unaware that they had/have been molested.

My first reaction to this story: Horror. Those poor boys, those poor parents, Vahey’s wife and children: what must they be dealing with right now?

My second reaction: What if this happened on a trip I was helping to chaperone?  If I had been on one of these trips, I wouldn’t have known about the abuse, but I would feel responsible.

My heart goes out to Vahey’s colleagues as they wonder…did it ever happen on my watch?  All those trips where kids seemed to sleep so soundly. All those trips where he may have said “Hey, why don’t you go out to dinner tonight, I’ve got the Youth Hostel covered.” All those trips where the boys seemed groggy and sleepy in the mornings and you accused the boys of staying up too late talking and messing around.

Those of us who teach know that we work alongside a misfit hodgepodge of souls: introverts, extroverts, funny, serious, verbose, quiet, early birds, night owls, liberal, conservative, etc.   We don’t have to like all those that we work with, but we do need to be able to trust those that we work alongside.  We need to be assured that our administrators hire only teachers with good credentials and clean criminal records, from all of the countries in which our colleagues have lived.

The Vahey scandal is a wake up call for all of us in the international school community: teachers, administrators, and parents. More needs to be done within the International School circuit so that abusers cannot hide from their criminal records by moving to a new school or country.  Schools around the world need to work together to make sure that this kind of tragedy never happens again.

What was your favorite school trip as a kid?  Do you have a favorite place to take your students?  What are your thoughts on the Vahey story?


Other articles on Vahey:

Pedophiles Among Us

FBI: hundreds of potential victims of William Vahey have come forward

Child molester William Vahey applied for outside school activities with pupils


10 replies

  1. I read the story in the Guardian, it’s just shocking. In Britain right now we have a huge scandal where many of the celebrities from my childhood have been found to be pedophiles. On one hand, it must be some kind of mental issue that makes seemingly nice people do such terrible things, but on the other hand, many people have bad urges sometimes (“grr if this person doesn’t walk faster I’ll hit them” …or something like that) but there’s a difference between thinking terrible things and doing them.

    In Japan, they have pedophile comic books. When I studied in Japan my boyfriend at the time worked in an adult shop and when I went to pick him up one day I saw rows upon rows of the books with just disgusting images of adult men and very young girls. All drawn – no one was harmed in the making. I had an argument with him because I said that they were wrong and disgusting, but he said that they help people “let out” their pedo energy that way without harming children in real life. It’d be interesting to know whether it actually does make a difference.

    As for my favourite school trip… It’s a tie between the trip to Berlin, where we saw Sachsenhausen, Checkpoint Charlie and so on (and before Berlin turned into a terrible hipster haven) and the south of France, where we (aged 12) were given some francs and told to go buy our own food by asking for pieces of ham, rolls of bread and so on. If we didn’t try to speak French, we didn’t eat.

    • You are welcome. I find it hard to separate myself from this guy’s story. Not because I am seeking drama and intrigue, but because it feels so close to home. He could have been my colleague, he could have been on a trip with me, those could have been my students.

  2. I scheduled and ran a few trips during my teaching years. I also had a bad taste in my mouth. I scheduled seven trips for seven years in a row to Epcot. That is a branch of Disney. It was better than the plastic mouse land but what did we accomplish. It was a grand affair but is it educational. Except as behavior modification was it worth it. Did the children learn from it or was it money in the drawer of Disney for their insipid look at life. Glory to a mouse, adulation to cartoons, and an aversion to reading. Why read when the cartoon network is on.

  3. I was one of William Vahey’s students, and went on three of the school trips during which it is thought that he abused my classmates.

    I don’t know what has happened to the other schools that he taught at, but mine is still deeply traumatised even a year later.

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