I have led museum experiences both as a classroom teacher and as a museum educator. There are definite benefits to both perspectives. As a classroom teacher, you know your students. You know your curriculum. You know your goal for the trip. As a museum educator, you know the collection and content in depth. You know what hooks kids. You can take groups “behind the scenes.” Museum educators are seasoned and have great experience to share.
So, when taking a class to a cultural institution, should you lead your own tour or work with the educators at the institution? Well, that depends on the institution and the amount of time you have to prepare. When you first phone to talk about your trip, talk about your goals, and ask if the educators can prepare something that aligns with them. If they already have a program that aligns, great! If not, see how flexible the institution is about creating a personalized program. Some places, like the Metropolitan Museum of Art, are wonderful about creating individualized experiences. Others have set programs and will not stray from them.
If the latter is true, and the programs are not what you need, lead your own tour! This takes a lot of time and preparation, but your students will reap the benefits. Pre-visits are a must. I like to map out a tour path, and pick artifacts/objects that I want to focus on. Remember that in museums and cultural institutions, teaching kids to look is essential. So, begin with a model object and build those skills. You can also do this in a pre-visit lesson. Any object will do, you just want to give them the skills. Below is a trip sheet I used for an Object Study at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Museum Educators are a wonderful resource and should be used as much as possible! Just know that, if you need it, the option is there for teachers to lead self-guided tours.