Teaching Traveling: Teacher travel grants are out there for YOU! Let’s welcome teacher Daniel Sawyer to discuss how these grants funded his recent travels, and how you can get that funding, too.
Daniel, tell us a bit about your background.
Daniel: Hello! I’m from southern California, and have been teaching now for nine years. I teach history and absolutely love my job, and am looking forward to teaching AP Art History for the first time next year.
For the last four years I’ve traveled during the summer using some kind of teacher travel grant. Traveling has broadened my mind, provided me with unforgettable experiences, and has tremendously improved my teaching.
TT: Awesome! Tell us more about your recent travels.
D: I just returned from a 3-week trip to Spain, Italy, Austria, and Germany that was almost totally funded by Fund for Teachers. My $4,400 grant allowed me to travel to these countries and research how they have memorialized wars and/or atrocities committed there, with the goal of having my students create a memorial or a museum on a topic of their choosing.
Although that was my “official” reason for going, I also took time to soak in the local color, eat the fantastic cuisine, and visit mind-blowing tourist sites, like the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona (stunning), the Colosseum in Rome (colossal) and Michelangelo’s David in Florence (absolutely amazing to see in person). Each city I visited was amazing and I already can’t wait to go back!
TT: Wonderful! How do you find your travel opportunities?
D: The Facebook group Scholarships, Grants, and Summer Institutes for Teachers helped me find my first three travel opportunities, while I found Fund for Teachers on this very site.
TT: That is so awesome!!! I’m thrilled you were able to find that!
D: None of my actual teacher coworkers knew anything about any of the opportunities I’ve used and your colleagues might not know either — so make sure you search, because the opportunities are out there.
There are also a lot of Facebook groups dedicated to travel advice and recommendations.
TT: Really true. How did you find the money to fund your travel?
D: Some banks offer “summer saver” accounts for teachers, where a portion of your check can be set aside each month to build up your summer nest egg.
Between that and summer teacher grants, I’ve been able to travel pretty easily and cheaply. While “officially” these grants only pay for the teacher, it is easy to bring along a spouse and basically get a free vacation while working on your teaching practices.
Plus, if you use Google Flights or a service like Scott’s Cheap Flights, you can usually find a flight going someplace awesome for a few hundred bucks.
TT: Great advice! Now, tell us one moment from your travels that was particularly powerful.
D: The most powerful moment from my most recent trip was visiting the concentration camp and extermination center Dachau near Munich, Germany.
What really amazed me was how small the camp was, yet I knew that hundreds of thousands of people passed through the camp, and about 45,000 died there. The gas chamber and crematorium is preserved, and visiting these too was a profound experience, trying to comprehend what the victims went through.
On a less sad note, on my 2017 vacation, I visited Stonehenge, and I often hear people complain that Stonehenge is much smaller than they thought. But I think that has to do with how they are seeing it.
A few months in advance, I signed up for a special visit that allows you inside the stone circle (actually amongst the stones as opposed to viewing them for a distance) at night!
When you’re actually next to the stones, they’re gigantic, and viewing them at night was somehow magical. I tried to imagine how the ancient people must have felt with this massive and bizarre monument in their backyard. If you visit Stonehenge, this is the way to do it.
TT: Absolutely! How have your travels impacted you in your career, and how have your travels impacted you as a person?
D: Traveling is always eye-opening, and as a teacher it allows me to speak from a position of experience. I’m a history teacher, so being able to describe Versailles, or Normandy, or Dachau, having actually been there is so much more engaging than a dry summary from a book.
When my students know I’ve been someplace, for some reason they are much more engaged and they’re overflowing with questions.
Travel has also gotten me interested in new subjects that I used to scoff at, like art. When I first visited the Louvre, I glanced at each painting for about 3 seconds and moved on, really failing to get anything out of these masterpieces.
Now I’m planning my trips around what art I can see, or diverting to random locations because a particular painting happens to be there. As a person, traveling does a lot to put my own experiences into perspective.
I have been very fortunate to live where I do (but maybe not as fortunate as most Americans seem to think because there are plenty of great and amazing countries in the world), and I’ve also been very fortunate to be able to travel extensively.
TT: Now, what advice do you have for teachers who are dreaming of travel, or travelers dreaming of teaching?
D: There are tons of grants available to help you travel! In some cases the travel is designed around specific curriculum, like the National Endowment for the Humanities grants, where you travel to a site and learn in a classroom-type setting for a week.
Through NEH I was able to travel to Virginia, Washington D.C., and to various Civil War battlefields and learn from experts, while a Smithsonian American Art Museum grant took me behind the scenes at the Smithsonian.
My latest grant through Fund for Teachers literally gave me thousands of dollars to travel. So if you want to travel at little or no cost, there’s almost nothing in your way.
TT: Inspiring! Thank you, Daniel. Readers, what questions or comments do you have?