Why Should Teachers Travel?

Back when living abroad was but a mere twinkle in my eye, I kept a teaching blog called The Apple A Day Project, which is where this post originally appeared. As you can see, I was already a big proponent of teachers getting engaged in their very own experiential learning. I still am, and here’s why…

Traveling, experiencing new places and seeing as much of the world as I possibly can is intrinsic to who I am. I also believe that travel is an integral part of my identity as a teacher and just as vital to my professional development as taking courses and reading books.

Travel can also be time-consuming and expensive. There are lots of excuses not to travel, especially if you are on a teacher’s budget. When your inner curmudgeon starts to make excuses, here are some of my top reasons why teachers should absolutely make time to travel:

1) Travel is part of being a lifelong learner:

The Globe Theater, 2006

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If you are a teacher, being a lifelong learner should be something you are always striving for. Travel gets you out of the classroom and into the field, actually doing. When I teach a lesson on Shakespeare, I can give my students the history of Elizabethan theater and I can also describe to them what it feels like to see a show at the Globe Theater because I’ve been there. When we discuss World War II I can share my experience visiting Dachau concentration camp in Germany or standing before the brutal majesty of Picasso’s Guernica in Madrid.

You don’t need a passport though. To me part of my professional development is having as many new experiences as possible. Check out the National Parks in your area and never pass up a chance to go to a local theater event, gallery opening or even try some new cuisine. Travel can be as simple as loading up the car for a day trip to those untapped treasures in your area.

How many of us are guilty of totally ignoring the cultural and historical heritage that we grew up around? I’m guilty of this too. I grew up in a place where you couldn’t throw a rock and not hit a Revolutionary War artifact but I’ve never walked the entire Freedom Trail and didn’t hit the Louisa May Alcott house or Walden Pond until I was well into my 20s. The shame!

Bottom line: you never know when a new and different life experience is going to become something that you bring back to your classroom.

2) Travel exposes you to new perspectives:

Irish Boarderlands, looking toward Northern Ireland, 2006

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As a teacher I’m looking to give my students as broad a perspective on life as possible. How can I possibly do this if I never look beyond my own backyard? How can I tell them to be curious and inquisitive if I myself am not curious and inquisitive?  Travel exposes you to different lifestyles and forces you to really experience what it’s like to live in somebody else’s world and walk a mile in their shoes. When you change your perspective, you suddenly become more alert and more aware of taking in the sensations around you. You are learning. Being a learner makes you a better teacher. Period.

3) Travel puts you in touch with what your students are experiencing:

Self Portrait in a musical instrument, Ark of Noise, Dublin, 2006

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When you travel, especially to a place with a different cultural perspective than your own (such as a foreign country or another region of your own country) you are forced to learn a completely new cultural language. New geography, new cuisine new customs and quirks to get a handle on. In some cases, a whole new language!

Grown ups tend to think that kids have it easy, but remember what it was like the first time you tried to do anything for the first time? Reading? Riding a bike? Long division?

One of the most powerful experiences I had in graduate school was with a teacher who on the first day of class, told us that for the rest of the day we were to write our assignments backwards and with our non-dominant hand. At first we found this an amusing challenge, but as the lesson wore on, many of us encountered difficulty and became frustrated or gave up. When we were done with the exercise the teacher explained to us that this is what some of our students feel like every day. She wanted to give us the perspective of a student learning to write, or a dyslexic child struggling to decode every lesson.

In many ways, travel is the closest and adult can get to this kind of experience. When you travel to a place outside your comfort zone you are suddenly immersed in a world where you can take nothing for granted and information is whizzing at you faster than you can possibly take it in. Kind of like being a new kid in school. Or an immigrant. Or an English Language Learner. Or a learning disabled student. Being in touch with what our students feel like helps us teach them more effectively.

4) Travel shakes up our routine and recharges our batteries:

Interacting with street art in New Orleans, 2011

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Bottom line? if you do it right, travel is fun and refreshing. Coming back from break renewed and invigorated is a great thing. I hate feeling like I wasted my vacation, so even if I don’t go away during school breaks I at least try to do something out of the ordinary like a bike ride, a picnic or a day trip to my favorite museum so I can feel like I  really took advantage of my time off.

What about you? What are your reasons to travel?

 

3 thoughts on “Why Should Teachers Travel?

  1. I didn’t really set out to explore and discover the sights around me in Philadelphia until I had lived abroad a year. Living abroad teaches you how to look around and discover.

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