Curious what it’s like to be a teacher trip leader while on a class trip with NationsClassroom?  Middle School teacher John Wheeler first started taking students to Washington, D.C. in 1993 – and has never looked back.

In today’s blog post, John shares his experiences traveling with students and NationsClassroom tour guides.

As a teacher leader, my partner and I have discovered one way to increase student enthusiasm and enjoyment of student tours:  Have fun and get involved. Kids don’t realize that one thing that is really fun is to learn stuff. And learning through discussion, interaction and fun make the tour a joy for everyone.

Jefferson Memorial statue

NationsClassroom uses excellent tour guides; they are storytellers who can entertain, call the shots and do everything necessary to make the tour work.  But we have discovered that the best tour guides understand that through relationships, students learn more and have more fun.

My partner and I are history teachers who have relationships with our students at school, and we enjoy building on that on tour.  We share the mic with the tour guides, sometimes engaging tour guides in friendly arguments or debates over national political or historical issues. My favorite tour guide is a huge fan of John Adams, so when we come to the Jefferson Memorial, I enjoy teasing him and debating with him about whether John Adams or Thomas Jefferson is the greater founding father.   He shares the platform, and I review Jefferson’s three favorite achievements, the Declaration of Independence, the Statute for Religious Freedom in Virginia, and the founding of the University of Virginia.

When we tour Gettysburg, we ask, “Who wants to recite the Gettysburg Address at Gettysburg?”  And we always get a few takers. One might think this sounds geeky or dorky, but our experience is that many are eager to take the stage and recite those famous words:

“Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal…  But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground… the brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract  The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here….”

Gettysburg civil war camp

And then we discuss what Lincoln meant by four scores and seven years ago.  And we ask them how has the land been consecrated, made hallow. And we discuss the irony of Lincoln’s idea that no one would remember what he said there.  And the power of these ideas is awakened within our students, and they realize, THIS IS THE SPOT… this is the very land that was consecrated by the blood of the soldiers. This is cool!

We also enjoy quizzing and reviewing with students as we travel in the motorcoach.  When approaching Philadelphia, we ask, “What was one of the key events that led up to the American Revolution?”  And when they answer, “The Boston Massacre” or “The Boston Tea Party,” we throw them some candy. When approaching Gettysburg, we ask them, “Where were the early battles of the Civil War, the ones that preceded Gettysburg?”  Or “Who were the generals that led the Union? And the generals that led the Confederacy?” Thus, we are connecting with classroom learning and engaging student interest.

If you’re a teacher interested in taking a group of students to Washington, D.C., or other historic East Coast attractions, please contact us or browse through our popular itineraries.

Originally published January 2019, updated July 2021