Experience is the Best Teacher

For the past several years, one of my favorite colleagues, a Spanish teacher I have worked with when I started in our district eleven years ago, has been bringing a group of students from the Spanish 4 (and sometimes Spanish 3) classes on a trip to Chicago.  While I have taught Spanish on and off for the all of those years, this year was the first year that the stars aligned and I was actually able to go on the trip with her as a chaperone.

Earlier last week I sort of started regretting that I agreed to go on the Spanish trip when I realized I would have to set my alarm for 4:30am. I am of the belief that anything before 5am is still “night time” and just thinking about being tired was enough to set my anxiety all the way up to eleven.

After seeing the itinerary, however, I started to get excited for the trip.

We were set to depart at 6:30am from the school parking lot for our three-ish hour trip to Chicago.

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After boarding the charter bus, I almost immediately regretted not bringing a pillow and blanket for the trip. I also wished I had some coffee. Other than that the ride was a breeze. The twenty-one teenagers slept almost the whole time.

Our first stop in Chicago was a Latin Dance studio. Our appointment was for 9:30am, and some of the kids had to really work to wake up after their bus nap. Once our instructor, Charles, started class there was no time to be tired!

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After our lesson we bused over to the Magnificent Mile for lunch and shopping.  Man, teenagers are awesome. You hand them their lunch money and say “meet back at the bus at 1:30pm,” and then that’s it.  Gabby and I headed to the Rain Forest Cafe because she had giftcard credits to spend and we indulged in a really yummy lunch and then shopping in the gift shop. We wandered back to the Mile just in time for it to start raining, so I bought and overpriced pocket umbrella from Walgreens and we met the kids back at the bus.

It took us just over an hour to get to our hotel where we checked in and all changed our clothes so we could head to the Fiesta at Sea that was hosted for all the groups on the Spirit of Chicago at Navy Pier.

The fiesta was a blast. As the ship toured the the bay, we ate from a buffet of Mexican food, took in a live dance show that included Flamenco and Salsa, and took to the dance floor ourselves with the moves we learned that morning.

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At the end of the evening, there was the annual dance contest. Gabby told me that our school ALWAYS wins the contest, but I was so nervous for our kids!  One of our couples made it to the final four (the judging was by the dance school instructors and some of the other staff of the tour group we were with). The final four were judged partly by the judges, but also by audience cheers. We, by far, had the smallest group there.

But we. are. loud.

And we are full of school spirit, and we shouted and chanted and cheered so loudly we blew everyone else out of the water (pun intended).  We totally won.

After the excitement of the fiesta, we went up the observation deck of the John Hancock building.

By the time we got back to our hotel it was almost midnight, local time. Everyone was exhausted.

The next day was the culture part of the trip. We arrived in the Pilsen neighborhood where the National Museum of Mexican Art is and where we had a walking tour of the murals in the neighborhood.

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The walking tour and the Art Museum were some of my favorite parts of the trip. Had I been alone, I could have spent hours looking at all the art and reading about each exhibit.

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After all the art, we boarded the bus and headed to Little Village, the Little Mexico of Chicago.  There we would have a couple hours for lunch and shopping and exploring.

This was the place we felt the students really needed to explore on their own, so Gabby was quick to tell them they could not eat with us.  She wanted them to use their Spanish and explore the area.

We ate at Mi Tierra and then hit up the panaderia (bakery) for some special treats.

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Our last stop before heading out of the city for home was Millennium Park so the kids could see some sculptures and artwork that is famously “Chicago”. They took some pictures, but really everyone was so tired they just lounged on the grass.

It was time to go home.

On the bus ride I reflected on what a wonderful opportunity this weekend was for our students, and how proud of them I am. There was very minimal whining, even when I knew their feet and legs must be sore from all the walking and they had to be exhausted.

When I saw hyper teenagers from other groups falling into the stereotype of everything that drives people bonkers about teenagers, I looked at our students who carried themselves so well the entire trip.

They were respectful and responsible.

They were appreciative and polite.

And they were so much fun to hang out with.

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Experience really is the best teacher, isn’t it?

If you would like to see all of my photos from the trip–along with commentary on the murals and other artwork–check out the album I made on Flickr.

About Katie

Just a small town girl...wait no. That is a Journey song. Katie Sluiter is a small town girl, but she is far from living in a lonely world. She is a middle school English teacher, writer, mother, and wife. Life has thrown her a fair share of challenges, but her belief is that writing through them makes her stronger.


  1. What a wonderful opportunity for the kids – and what a fun time it was for you!!

  2. Just lovely. I can’t imagine letting kids go off on their own, but in a few short years that will be the case. I think it’s great that dancing was part of the trip.

  3. Sounds like such an amazing trip! I know that your students will cherish the memories of the Spanish class trip to Chicago! 🙂

  4. What a great trip! You saw and did so many things that the average tourist would never do. I’m sure all the students will have great memories of that trip!