The stories my seventh-grade teacher shared with the class were some of the reasons I was inspired to teach. I remember my 13-year-old self listening to her connect our literature lessons to her global adventures—paragliding in the Alps and studying falconry in New Zealand. She made me wonder if maybe teaching wasn’t such a bad gig.
Today, I spend most of my time standing in front of 13-year-olds attempting to teach them about cumulonimbus clouds and other wonders of science. I’ve learned from some incredible mentors, taken fantastic courses, and had great professional development opportunities. Yet my travel experiences have taught me just as much and helped me become a better educator.
All Roads Eventually Lead to Rome
Teaching to different learning styles is challenging when your classroom has more than 30 students and a limited amount of copy paper. While you’re on the road (or in the middle of nowhere wishing you could find a road), sometimes you need to get creative and discover a new route to your destination.
Remembering back to moments where I was stuck on a trip (figuratively and literally) has helped me frame my lessons without a one-size-fits-all approach. Although students are expected to meet the same standards, they may have to take different paths to reach their destination.
Connection is Always Possible
As hard as I try, sometimes I can’t connect with a student. Our personalities and backgrounds may be vastly different (not to mention our enthusiasm about density). But then I reminisce about times when I’ve shared a laugh with someone whose language was different from mine. When I remember that, I’m reminded that no matter our differences, kindness is universal.
There’s Always More to Learn
Last summer while living in Chiang Mai, Thailand, I started jotting down a new thing I learned each day. It was an incredibly humbling experience to realize how much I don’t know. When I returned to the classroom last September, I continued journaling. This habit reminds me that there is always more to learn about what I’m teaching. Being in awe of learning helps make my job feel dynamic, even during the most trying days.
Traveling has resulted in adopting the mentality in my classroom of trying first to understand, then to be understood. This has challenged me to question my own biases and to understand that my life experience differs from my students’ backgrounds.
The Value of Doing Nothing
When traveling, especially for a short amount of time, I sometimes want to take every tour of every landmark. Attempting to do it all in a new place is exhausting. I’ve learned how lovely it can be to stop and rest, or take a nap. Teaching isn’t a vacation. The vortex of papers to grade, parents to email, and lessons to plan can seem overwhelming. For me, it’s important to take a step back and treat myself to some much needed “me time.” The teaching, like the adventures, will still be there. And I’ll feel refreshed and prepared to meet them with a smile. Finally, I’m a Cool Teacher (Sort of).
In my experience, students are unimpressed by degrees or the amount of time you’ve spent in professional development. But now that my students know I’ve driven a motorbike and eaten crickets in Southeast Asia, they think “Ms. Y is sort of cool.” Well, at least Amyia does.
If you’re interested in finding out whether traveling abroad will make you a better educator, visit Rustic Pathways Group Travel for more information about creating a customized trip for your students.
Regina teaches science in Charlotte, North Carolina. She has worked as the Rustic Pathways Southeast Asia Logistics Coordinator in Thailand for the past two summers. Regina is an alumna of The College of New Jersey and a 2015 Teach for America corps member. She enjoys rock-climbing, reading, and hiking.