What did I do over my first summer break from teaching?
I did not work a summer job so I could afford the finer things in life, such as a boat, as one Arizona legislator suggested earlier this year.
Nor did I sit around by the pool catching up on Netflix and reading trashy novels as some might suspect teachers do during their eight — unpaid — weeks off during the summer.
I have gotten to know many teachers in the past 12 months and I don’t know of any who were not busy doing something — paid or unpaid — to help kids and improve as teachers. Many worked in summer programs with students, others helped their schools and districts bring curricula up to date and a couple daring middle school teachers even guided tours to Central America for a few weeks.
Remembering what it feels like to take a Spanish class
It has been many years since I completed my MA in Spanish at Arizona State University, so I decided it would be good for me to get back to the classroom. I enrolled in a month-long advanced Spanish class in Barcelona — after taking a fun trip through southern Spain with my retired teacher mom.
Wow. What a great experience. On the first day I had that deer in the headlights look when the instructor asked me a question I could not answer.
After mentioning that I had arrived late to class because I had just finished a tour of Andalucia, he asked if I had been robbed. The problem was I was not sure if he was joking about southern Spain’s legendary problem with pickpockets — or if he was asking if I was late because I had been kidnapped! We sorted it out and I made a mental note to be a bit more sympathetic with those looks of terror this school year.
I also filled my mobile phone to capacity with photos to show students throughout the year and collected tiny souvenirs for my classroom. Books and videos are fine when teaching students about the language and culture of other countries. But nothing beats real objects they can hold in their hands.
Last summer I took similar classes in Mexico City and returned with images of everything from Mayan tamales to Acapulco’s cliff divers to show students. Few things grab students’ attention better than an image of their teacher learning something new in an odd setting.
Scholarships and sabbaticals needed
One thing that struck me as I got to know fellow students in my Barcelona school is that some were there on expensive paid sabbaticals — or they had scholarships to study Spanish as they earned their MAs in Spanish universities. They came from countries like Japan, Brazil, China and Russia.
One mid-career government worker from Brasilia was on a three-month expense-paid trip to Spain so she could improve her language skills and better communicate with peers in Spain and other Latin American countries.
I was fortunate to have been able to create a travel fund before I left a more lucrative career for teaching a year ago. But most teachers are not in this situation. Their low salaries go to pay off student loans and then to support families. There is little money left for unreimbursed classes and professional travel.
I plan to write more about this at the end of this semester, when many will be planning for summer 2018. In the meantime, if you have teacher travel resources you would like me to share, please write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.