The Eiffel Tower incident


The long-awaited residential trip to France has arrived and our NQT is ultra prepared for any occurrence – even a student going missing on the Eiffel Tower!

And so the day of my first residential trip arrived, with 40 over-excited students boarding the coach. The few remaining parents wept as they said goodbye for the weekend and left their beloved child in my anxious hands for three days.

Slowly, we crawled around the M25 towards the Channel Tunnel. I had a sports carrier full solely of paperwork – risk assessments, dietary forms, vouchers, contact numbers, maps, tour operator details – it’s safe to say I was over-prepared, but in hindsight I am incredibly glad I was.

As one of my many registers worked its way around the coach and the students wrote their mobile numbers down (the wonders of technology to allow us to communicate with them that easily), even completing their allocated number count accurately first time (to save me reading names at each head count), I was beginning to praise myself for my organisation.

Then came what we refer to now as “the Eiffel Tower incident” – where after dividing into smaller groups per teacher and all walking up to level 2, on doing a number count to head back down I have only 39. Student X is missing!

Her staff member, her buddy and I have no idea where she is – last seen five minutes ago taking a photo and now gone. I’d have thought my reaction would have been one of sheer panic, after all half way up the Eiffel Tower isn’t an ideal place to lose a child, especially the one child who came without a mobile phone!

Yet, I am surprised at how calm and logical I remained in the face of adversity. Could she have gone up? Has she gone down? Is she on this level? So we divided and conquered all areas, poor sir drawing the short straw and climbing all the steps to the very top. It was only after 40 minutes of panic-fuelled searching across the ground and level 2 that a call came from the coach driver who tells me she’s returned to him. 

As my visions of a rerun of Taken disintegrate with relief, we begin the descent and I phone sir to tell him to stop the upper level search party. Voicemail, dead phone – great. It was an hour and a half of hopeful improvised football on the lawns until sir returned looking like an exhausted version of The Hulk, although a less vicious version than I myself had adopted to collect student X from the coach that’s for sure.

 And although “what the heck have I got myself in for” did cross my mind as I sat around a table of 40 students picking at flammeküeche (a French pizza), it was a blessing in disguise. Never again was a student late for their meeting time and Disneyland went as planned in glorious sunshine – I even shed a tear of pride at my drama boys singing Disney songs in the workshops, out of tune but giving it a damn good go. Completely inspired.

As I sat on the coach back to Calais, it erupted to the sound of Grease (once we’d got the DVD player working). Walking from front to back, seeing every student singing and laughing along was my teacher moment of the holiday. That was until a young lad came out of the toilet holding a bottle of urine: “Where shall I put this ma’am?” “Why the heck did you do that?” I replied, feeling the anger creeping up. “The driver said we were short of flushes so I wanted to leave them for the girls.” I had to smile. At least his heart was in the right place.

  • Our NQT diarist this year is a teacher of drama and dance at a school in Essex.


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