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.
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: