Skipping Over the Pond on Spring Break: Reinvigorating the Teaching Engine.

A few weeks before the spring break I’d start poring over the ads in the back of the union newspaper looking for charter flights. Air Obscure would be flying off to somewhere at $100 or so each way – my taste buds would decide: Belon oysters from Brittany, rijsttafel in Amsterdam, the food court in Harrods, choucroute in Berlin or sfogliatella in Rome, I tried them all.

Some entrepreneur travel agent leased an airliner from a third string carrier and targeted, you guessed it, teachers.

We’d race home from school on the last day of classes before spring break, pack a bag, make sure we didn’t forget our passports and find the terminal – usually in some corner of the airport and off Europe. The charter flight would land at some secondary or tertiary airport – Orly in Paris, Stanhope in London, Tegel in Berlin or Fiumicino in Rome; we’d land at dawn and a sleepy custom official would yawn and stamp our passports, and we’d wonder how we would ever get to our seedy hotels from this obscure airport.

Standing at the Mur des Federes in Pere La Chaise cemetery in Paris … imagining the French troops lining up and executing the last of the Communards.

Spending a day wandering the Floriade, the once on a decade exhibition of every bulb known to man in the gardens of Zoetermeer, the Netherlands.

Crossing over into East Berlin at Checkpoint Charlie…

Wandering the American military cemetery in Cambridge … the endless line of grave sites of airman who died in World War 2.

The Tate, the Jeu de Palme, the Rijksmuseum … the David in Firenze, the Grand Place in Brussels …

And all tax deductible, I think, or, at least the statute of limitations has passed.

I stumbled back to class exhausted and invigorated and a better teacher. I don’t have any data, no one measured the Value-Added test scores of my students before and after each journey, I’d like to think that my enthusiasm passed on to my kids.

Low airfares, a Europass and favorable exchange rates were a boon to teachers; today, exorbitant airfares and punitive exchange rates make overseas travel virtually impossible for teachers.

I read through my travel diary from time to time, smile to myself, we didn’t get paid much but we wandered the world. I argued politics with endless Europeans, both defended and criticized my nation, The Holocaust came to life in the Jewish Museum and Cemetery in Prague, the artwork from the children at Teresienstadt, the Anne Frank House.

Teaching is so much more than writing a good lesson plan, or sticking to the 22 elements in the Danielson Frameworks, it comes from an inner glow, a burning flame.

Maybe instead of merit pay roundtrip airline tickets….?

BTW, have any interesting stories about “tripping the light fantastic” during spring break?

Share an experience in the comment box below:

3 responses to “Skipping Over the Pond on Spring Break: Reinvigorating the Teaching Engine.

  1. Margie E. From NYC

    Love this piece. Nice job, Peter.
    Let’s hope this will inspire others to do the same.


  2. Josh Gutterman

    Unfortunately was always working and didn’t travel! Still teaching full time!


  3. Nancy S. Dunetz

    The Fund For Teachers along with New Visions for Public Schools sends teachers anywhere in the world on summer projects. I know many teachers from Bronx International High School who have availed themselves of this opportunity and brought the experience back to their classrooms. For me it started when I went to school in Italy my junior year of college, and then to the Philippines in the first year of the Peace Corps. These are life-altering experiences and drive everything you subsequently do. Part of the goal of the Peace Corps is “Bringing the World Back Home.”
    Now as a retiree my travels usually involve a formal project, like attending European workshops of the Manhattan String Quartet. This summer I am going to Lithuania to study Yiddish and continue looking up my family roots. Although I’ve been retired since 1995, I have continued to work in schools in various mentoring capacities. I often teach lessons in my mentees’ classrooms (my expertise is integrating language development with content for ELLs). One class was studying Nelson Mandela, and when I returned from South Africa I presented them with slide show of the country and slipped in a lot of pronunciation work on multisyllabic words. They loved it.
    Another time there was a social studies teacher and an English teacher who teamed up on a unit on dissent. I insisted that they needed to include the arts, and gave a lesson on Shostakovich and his 8th string quartet. The students were mostly from Latin America and Africa. They ate it up. This inspired me to have my string quartet perform that piece for the entire school. I discovered that only two faculty members had ever heard of Shostakovich, and they were over 50. I also discovered that the students really take to this music when they are exposed to it.
    The more I grow the more inspired I am to share my experiences. Unfortunately the curriculum leaves little space for this type of activity, and requires confident and adventurous teachers to be willing to go along.
    I also did a lesson on Renaissance music for a class that was studying the Renaissance. One Middle Eastern student was so excited when I mentioned that certain drums originated in the Middle East. The entire class, having spent a considerable amount of time studying Martin Luther, was excited to find out that he had composed the church song, “A Mighty Fortress is our God”. I used examples of everything from YouTube and also used my viola to demonstrate. These experiences that not only inspire but help students learn in a more profound way are not encouraged by the Common Core. I have been working on the Common Core for a year and it only reinforced my feelings that Arne Duncan, Michelle Rhee, Joel Klein, Michael Bloomberg, Bill Gates and company are exerting their efforts (and their billions) to destroy public education and increase the social class gap in America. Is the president aware of this, or is he clueless?


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