Teaching Traveling: Get excited, because this interview contains one of the coolest combinations of teaching and traveling I’ve ever seen, thanks to Jon Schwartz! John, tell us a bit about your background.
Jon: I started teaching in the underserved community of East Palo Alto in 1996. It had received a reputation at the time as being a high-crime area. In spite of that, or maybe because of that, I loved the challenge and loved working with the kids. The district was in need of teachers — not too many were applying there — so even though I was only looking for a sub job, they called me up and told me they’d hire me full-time. The only catch was that it was a bilingual classroom.
I told them I didn’t speak a lick of Spanish and they said, “No problem! It’s bilingual” but when I showed up it out of about 35 kids, only a handful spoke English. I took the job until they could find a replacement and deputized the English speakers to be my translators to the rest of the class. I was now hungry to learn Spanish, and chatted up everyone I met with a Spanish accent.
That’s how I met my wife! She was a cashier with a thick accent at a salad place I went to after teaching. Then next day I went back to my students to tell them I met a beautiful Mexican woman and they jokingly teased, “Oh Mr. Schwartz, are you going to marry her?” Well, I did, and 18 years later we are still married with three beautiful multicultural kids.
I started traveling to Mexico in 2002 when I took up kayak fishing. I saw a picture of a guy with a sailfish next to a kayak and said, “That’s going to be ME!” and thus began my obsession with travel and adventure. I ended up going down to the same place and caught an even bigger fish, and started writing for fishing and travel mags about my big fish adventures. Of course I used these adventures to engage my students. I’d even catch huge fish on my kayak before school started and bring them top school for hands-on science lessons (see that story here).
Later I put the paddle down and took up photography full time; instead of catching the marlin and sharks on a kayak, I was diving in with them to take their pictures face to face. My resort photography and mag work offset my family’s travel expenses and we ended up going to tons of exotic locations. My pics and articles have been on the cover of coffee table books and mags and I was featured on Nat Geo TV.
TT: Love this! Tell us more about your travels.
J: I turned into a mag writer, the type that hops on boats, writes about the fishing and travel hotspots in places like Kona, Cabo, Costa Rica, Panama, etc. I was in Cabo and I was invited onto a boat, I didn’t know the captain.