Today I got to go on a field trip with the 6th grade class. We went on a hike up Mt. Liyu to a waterfall, a hike literally right down the road from our school. It was a beautiful day: sunny and warm. I was not originally scheduled to go on this trip, but one of the Taiwanese teachers got sick so I was asked to step in as a substitute. I was thrilled!
First of all, I love going on hikes, especially when the weather is perfect. Secondly, I was looking forward to seeing the students and being with the students outside of the classroom. One of the challenges of being an English teacher here in the public schools is that we don’t have an opportunity to create relationships with the students. We just don’t see them often enough.
So we all gathered in front of the school and made our way down the road to the mountain area. We took the obligatory group pictures then wound our way down, past a stream and over a bridge (no joke) to the trail leading up the mountain. One girl slipped on the rocks and cut her leg as we crossed the stream, but it only caused a short delay.
We passed a temple then left a dirt road and started climbing. The setting was jungle-like with trees tangled in vines and huge plants and the stream from the waterfall down the middle of it all. We’re climbing stairs because that’s how you hike in Taiwan, and we’re passing the older generation who are hiking for exercise and meditating on rocks and in front of mini waterfalls and doing stretches. It is impressive.
We crossed another bridge then made it to the main area of the waterfall. Students started taking off their shoes and getting in the water. I really wanted to jump in with them because I was now dripping sweat.
I saw some of the students climbing higher and going through a cave and followed them. We went through an enclosure and came out the other side higher up and looking at another part of the waterfall even higher up the mountain.
It was breath-taking. Butterflies were soaring around, some in pairs, others alone, and baby lizards were running across the rocks. I swear, if 90 sixth graders hadn’t been running around, it would’ve been idyllic. But there were 90 sixth graders running around.
The chaos didn’t seem to disturb the two women meditating on rocks in different areas. The kids ran around them, screaming and splashing, and the only thing moving on them was their lips as they silently chanted. I can barely meditate for five minutes in a quiet room. I’d love to reach their level of concentration.
We stayed there for about 30 minutes while the kids climbed the rocks and played in the water. They pulled snacks and water bottles out of their backpacks, and it was relaxing and fun. I didn’t see any of the rebellious attitudes or the bullying behaviors I’d seen in class. The students were all happy and relaxed.
We walked back down the mountain. During the four hours we had spent together, not one child had been yelled at or scolded. And I had about five students take the time to come talk to me, even though carrying on a conversation in English isn’t easy for any of them.
I wondered how to bring this experience into the classroom. Or if it is even possible? Were they at their best because there was no pressure, no restrictions, no challenges or competition, no expectations?
I’m not sure. But I am happy I had the chance to see them in a different light and plan to try to bring at least the memory of this day into a lesson or two. After all, the best teaching is when you can connect new material with something they already know.
Too bad we can’t have all our classes outdoors in the mountains by waterfalls.
But, for now, I can be grateful for this day!
*If you are interested in this hike, it is an easy and beautiful waterfall hike off the brown (Wenhu) line of the Taipei MRT. For details on how to get there and distance of the hike, go here.