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A Disney Lover’s Leave of Absence to Write About Travel as Education

Tracy and her husband at Stonehenge.
Tracy and her husband at Stonehenge, replete with audio guides! Welcome to great Pennsylvania teacher, Tracy Antonioli, who is about to take a year to travel and write a book on the educational value of different U.S. vacations for children!

Tell us your story, Tracy.

Well, let’s get the painful part over with first. I’m 31 years old. Whew! Ok. Now that that’s done with, I can continue! In eight and a half days I will have finished my eighth year of teaching.

For seven of those eight years I’ve taught 8th grade language arts at the same middle school. It is a school full of amazing, committed, creative teachers and students. (Cough cough… Eyer Middle School rocks… cough cough…)

Tracy's honeymoon: Mendenhall Glacier trek, Juneau, Alaska.
Tracy’s honeymoon: Mendenhall Glacier trek, Juneau, Alaska.

I’ve always traveled but I didn’t know I was traveling. I guess I just thought I was driving around? In college, it was standard for me to put thirty thousand miles per year on my car, despite the fact that I lived three blocks from campus. I even planned my course-load so I’d have time to roam.

One semester I only had classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays, giving me super long weekends to play around with. That’s back when gas was $1.05 per gallon!

When I got married I accidentally planned two honeymoons, Cape Cod and Alaska, and it just got worse (or better?) from there. Being a teacher married to another teacher provides a whole summer each year to travel together. Last year we spent a month between London, Paris, and Amsterdam.

I did not like Paris. I did not like it at all. Upon returning home, as the cab drove us over the 59th Street Bridge I had ‘God Bless America’ stuck in my head. You’d think an experience like that, in a city that people are ‘supposed to’ love, would have cured me of my travel bug. Nope.

Tracy, VERY unhappy in Paris.
Tracy, VERY unhappy in Paris.

After The Great Paris Mishap of 2010, I ended up with a most unlikely location for my next “trip:” Walt Disney World. I have never had any desire to go to any Disney park. But I had to go, as it was the location of the 2010 Annual National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Convention.

So I went. And somewhere in there I had three epiphanies. Epiphany number one: I needed to be less judgmental about other people’s vacation destinations. So I didn’t like Paris? So what? And so what if people did like Disney World? That didn’t make them bad people either.

This epiphany was linked with epiphany number two: Disney World is actually a really great place. But epiphany number three was the big one. The life-changing realization. Epiphany number three: Disney World, like all travel, is really quite educational.

In front of famous Big Ben in London.
In front of famous Big Ben in London.

So I created my own travel opportunity. I returned to Disney on a self-funded research trip to figure out if it was possible to make Disney World the ultimate educational experience. I rode “It’s a Small World” with my notepad in hand.

I jotted down notes on “Pirates of the Caribbean,” concocted thematic units based on “Expedition Everest,” and even tied “The Studio Backlot Tour” into state career education standards.

I started yet another blog, wrote up a book proposal, saved up for an entire school year, put in for a year-long leave of absence… and here I am: about to spend 14 months researching and writing about the educational value of not just Disney, but vacation destinations across the country!

You’ll notice that I said “across the country,” not “across the world.” You see, only 30% of Americans have passports. This is a tragic statistic to some. But seeing as there’s nothing I can do about that fact, I can choose to work around it.

What I can do is encourage Americans to travel wherever they can, even if it is just over a long weekend to a nearby metro area or national park, and help them make that trip educational for their children.

Beautiful Bath, England.
Beautiful Bath, England.

It is my hope that this year of travel, research, and writing will not only help those that read what I write, but will help the kids I may end up teaching again some day. I don’t know that my path will take me back into a traditional classroom, but I’m a teacher; it is part of who I am.

And so I know that I will return to teaching in some aspect. I hope that by looking at the world, not just at a textbook, I will come back as a teacher with so much more to offer adults and children alike.

It is important to note that this wasn’t an easy thing for me to do. Glossing over all of the steps in one quasi-run on sentence, as I did above, really doesn’t do the process justice. It was hard work and it will continue to be hard work.

Tracy, VERY happy on her first Disney World trip.
Tracy, VERY happy on her first Disney World trip.

But I’m not special. I didn’t do anything amazing in my life (yet!) to “deserve” to take a year off to follow my dream. I simply thought about what I would tell one of my students if she asked me if she should follow her own dream. I’d tell her, without hesitation, to go for it.

I’m taking my own advice… and so should every other teacher out there. You’ll be a better teacher and role model for having followed that dream, wherever it may lead.

Even if it leads to Paris!

What an awesome tale, Tracy! Best of luck on your teaching traveling journey, and do keep us posted!

For folks interested and learning more about Tracy’s project, check out her new educational travel blog, Suitcase Scholar, her new career break blog, Existential Midlife Twitch.

Readers, what questions and comments do you have for Tracy?


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Tuesday 4th of June 2013

Being a single mom, I followed my dream first when my kids were old enough to understand that I had to do homework, so I went back to school. I wrapped up my freshman year at 41. After that I followed my dream further by teaching abroad, which I did when both kids were out of the house. I was finishing up studies for a Masters when it occurred to me I could do what I wanted. That was the point I took the advice I'd been giving them since they were old enough to understand - unless you're absolutely positive you're no good at it, try everything and check the world out. I grew up with relatives who spoke other languages and English with European accents, which meant I had homes to explore. I'm back in the states for now but I don't feel I'm done just yet.

Tracy, Have a wonderful educational adventure!!!

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