“Oh, you are a teacher,” my Dominican guide, Yunior, exclaimed with excitement. “There is a school up ahead, let’s pay them a visit!” Imagining how I would feel if a dozen foreign visitors dropped by unannounced in my classroom, I responded that I did not want to interrupt any ongoing lessons. “Nonsense,” Yunior replied, and we were off.
In the end, I’m glad we went. Not only were the Dominican children interested in a brief distraction from their lessons, but the pictures and descriptions of the one-room schoolhouse that I shared with my students once I came back proved to be a great conversation starter. Finding differences, and just as importantly, similarities, between our two schools really showcased the value of an international perspective; something I am always striving to teach.
This is just one of the many examples of ways my travel experiences have benefited my students. As teachers, we have the vacation time to travel that many others lack. However, a recent survey of 1000 teachers by Hilton Honors shows that, in spite of a strong value in the importance of travel to professional growth and student learning, about half of teachers rarely, if ever, travel themselves.
So, if you need an extra push out the door toward the airport, here are some important and beneficial ways that travel will benefit you as well as your students.
Travel provides context
Traveling gets the teacher beyond the textbook. Too often, topics are taught with little relatable context. Travel can provide real world experiences to bring to the classroom. For example, while studying the peoples of pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, I showed my students pictures of me climbing Mayan pyramids and descriptions of visiting modern day Mayan people. Sharing experiences like this makes the topic “real” and relevant. So many times it’s tempting to just try to stay one chapter ahead of our students. Actually experiencing the topic through travel and having relatable experiences to share makes the topic come alive.
Traveling gets the teacher beyond the textbook... Travel can provide real world experiences to bring to the classroom.
Communicate better with your students
A 2002 study concludes that the more globally minded a teacher is, the better the communication with his or her class. Understanding cultural differences and approaching students within a broader global context can help break down barriers of communication between teachers and students (as well as parents for that matter). With increasingly diverse classrooms, it is becoming more important that teachers have a world perspective in order create a safe and stimulating classroom environment for all students based on proper communication. Needless to say, better communication will lead to better learning. The more well traveled a teacher is, the study suggests, the better their students will be able to learn from them.
Become a student again
Traveling provides countless ways to learn new things and gain new experiences. It can also be awkward and uncomfortable at times. When we travel we are no longer the masters of our domain. Travel serves as a reminder of what it’s like to be a student. Use this perspective to benefit your teaching and build empathy with your young learners.
Gain professional experience
There are countless programs out there to support teacher travel. These programs usually offer professional development opportunities specifically geared to certain curricula. Many also offer financial assistance. You can use these teacher specific travel programs to directly benefit your teaching once you return to the classroom.
Traveling provides enthusiasm
Students can easily tell when a teacher is passionate about the subject he or she is teaching. The more excited and enthusiastic the teacher is, the more likely students will also feel that excitement. Personally speaking, although I doubt I am alone in this, travel imparts a strong sense of passion about the places I’ve been and the experiences I’ve had. While excitedly describing what it felt like to walk through the cold, dark, and foreboding passageways of the Tower of London, I could see the rapt attention on my students’ faces as they gained a fuller understanding of the Norman conquest of England. Connecting your travels to the subject matter with the passion of an adventurer can draw your students in better than any ordinary textbook passage.
Travel shows students an appreciation of other cultures
Many students with international backgrounds enjoy hearing about my time abroad. This encourages them to share their own stories of life in other countries and helps everyone see the value in internationalism. By being a cultural outsider when we travel, we can let our students know that there is a certain value in this, and consequently they can appreciate the importance of their own background within the context of learning and the classroom.
Traveling builds patience and empathy
Getting stuck at an airport during a flight delay or being confused and lost due to a language barrier are just part of ordinary travel. Being patient and understanding is key to enjoying a vacation. You probably already know it, but it is also integral in being an effective teacher. You might be more prepared to calmly deal with your student’s needs once you’ve mastered the zen of navigating the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul.
Show your students that anything is possible
For many children the idea of jetsetting around the globe may seem out of reach. By sharing your travels with your students you can show them ways that they too can see the world. You can share the importance of budgeting for travel and making priorities. Even local trips can be a huge inspiration. Encourage your students to start close to home by visiting interesting places in their own city. Use your love of travel to show them that learning and self-improvement can take place far outside the confines of the classroom.
Travel allows you to take time for yourself
Travel lets us recharge and reconnect with our inner selves. Teaching can be stressful and exhausting. Travel should be the opposite. It can give us the space and quiet we need to come back to the classroom with renewed spirit and vigour. Sure, keep in mind the ways that travel will benefit you and your students, but enjoy this well-earned time off too. Your students will benefit from it as much as you.