Teaching Traveling: Curious about grants for teachers to do educational tours and professional development travel?
Let’s get some tips from expert, Amanda Smith! Amanda, tell us about your background.
Amanda: I grew up in a family where the only people who had traveled abroad had done so through the military. When I returned to Eastern North Carolina to teach High School social studies after college, I was teaching students with very limited experience outside of their community.
I was fortunate to have participated in a study abroad program during college where I not only got the traveling bug, but I was given the confidence and skills to know that travel was possible.
Over the last ten years I have been able to participate in a wide variety of professional development programs in the United States and abroad. My experiences have enriched my teaching and allowed me to open up a world of possibilities to my students and other teachers.
TT: Amazing! Tell us more about funded travel professional development opportunities.
A: Sure! Here is a list of funded teacher travel programs that I have done and recommend.
I attended a week-long institute in Little Rock, Arkansas in July 2018 sponsored by the Central High School National Historic Site. In addition to touring historic sites related to the Civil Rights Movement, we got a chance to visit Rohwer Japanese-Internment Camp.
It was eye opening to talk with local people like the Little Rock Nine Elizabeth Eckford and Minnijean Brown to learn how their lives had been shaped by their experiences at Central High School.
I started participating in the National Consortium for Teaching about Asia’s online book groups as a way to expand my knowledge about Chinese history. I was able to use the professional development credits that I earned from the book groups to apply for the 2018 Study Tour in China and Taiwan sponsored by the University of Southern California US-China Institute.
I spent two and half weeks with teachers from across the United States visiting historical sites, schools, business, and restaurants that enhanced my understanding of China and Taiwan’s culture.
I have been fortunate to attend several National Endowment for the Humanities’ institutes and landmark seminars. Each experience has provided me with opportunities to visit places and meet people that I could never have done on my own.
Learning ranged from spending a week learning about the Gullah/Geechee culture on the coast of Georgia to spending three weeks at Crow Canyon Archeology Center in Colorado learning about Ancient Puebloan history and modern American Indian culture.
Some federal government agencies provide professional development opportunities. I attended a week-long Library of Congress summer teacher institute in 2017 which provides training on teaching with primary sources in their collections.
Each year the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign invites American teachers to spend a week interacting with teachers from over 21 countries who are studying at the university as part of the Fulbright program. It is a great opportunity to learn about educational systems around the world.
In 2015, I was selected to spend two-week traveling in Germany as part of the Transatlantic Outreach Program. Each group gets a specialized itinerary which provides insights into modern Germany’s schools, businesses, and culture.
Throughout the year Mount Vernon offers week-long teaching institutes on topics related to George Washington. The institute has sessions led by world class historians, but it is hard to beat the opportunity to sit on George Washington’s porch and enjoy his view of the Potomac river.
Teachers at affiliate school programs can participate in week-long seminars on various topics at universities across the United States. I attended the seminar on Women’s Rights in the United States at Duke University in 2010.
TT: Thank you for that wonderful list of professional development fabulousness! How do you find these travel opportunities?
A: I learned during my first national level professional learning and development experience that my fellow participants were a rich resource for teacher travel opportunities. I would hear about their experiences and make list of programs to research.
A few years ago, I decide to turn my list of professional development programs in a Facebook group called “Teachers Travel for Free”. It is simply a database where teachers can learn about different travel opportunities. I feel that it is important to share what I have learned with other teachers.
TT: Wonderful. So, how did you find the money to fund your professional development travel?
A: Most of the programs that I have participated in over the years cover the cost of traveling. My school system doesn’t have a lot of money for professional development for teachers, so I look for programs that allow teachers to participate for free or at a cost that I can afford.
I have also arranged to attend programs right after each other so that I can save on travel costs. For instance, I might attend one program and then travel directly to another program, so I can combine travel stipends. This approach requires planning and some luck that the dates will work out.
TT: Great advice. Now, tell us one moment from your travels that was particularly powerful.
A: My most memorable travel moments are usually the result of interacting with local people. The University of Southern California US-China Institute arrange for us to meet Taiwan Legislator Lin Li-Chan.
Lin was born in Cambodia where her family sold her as a bride to a Taiwanese husband. She had to overcome a lot of obstacles to become the first immigrant to win a seat in the Taiwanese legislature. She is using her position to help immigrants, including developing a literacy program which provides children’s books in multiple languages.
She shared with us how her experience of not being able to help her two children with homework led her to develop the book series. Meeting Legislator Lin Li-Chan was a powerful experience which I’m sure all the teachers on the trip will never forget.
TT: Deeply inspiring. How have your travels impacted you in your career, and as a person?
A: Traveling has made me more aware of the resources available to teachers. I decided to go back to school to get my master’s degree in Public History with the concentration in museums after I noticed how much more engaged people are in history when they experience something first-hand.
I am currently working for Fulton County Public Schools in Georgia as a Museum Teaching Specialist. My job is to develop school programs and other resources that provide students with authentic learning experiences in all subjects.
TT: Fantastic. What advice do you have for teachers who are dreaming of travel?
A: There are great opportunities available for professional development for teachers, but it does take work to find these programs and submit applications. You will get rejected sometimes, but persistence pays off.
Finding fellow teachers or other professionals who can give you advice is a must. Don’t forget the ultimate reason why we travel is to bring these experiences back to our students.