An Educator’s Responsibility: Grow, Always.

An Educator’s Responsibility: Grow, Always.

To journey without being changed is to be a nomad
To change without journeying is to be a chameleon
To journey and be transformed by the journey
Is to be a Pilgrim
-Mark Nepo

I didn’t always want to be a teacher.  In 2008, I did a year of volunteer service and I was randomly placed in a school–after one particularly bad day where my fifth grade students were exceptionally naughty, I remember sitting on a gritty stoop, crying into my turkey sandwich and vowing that I would never, ever be an educator.  E.V.E.R.  To make it really official, I called my mom and told her on the phone, I told the pigeon next to me, I told every cloud I saw and every car that passed.  But one thing I’ve noticed about life is that it has a funny way of smacking you around a bit when you start to say things in absolute statements, and two years later I was a first-year teacher in Chicago Public Schools.

bested. yet. again.

Despite my earlier anti-me-being-an-educator vehemence, there are a dozen reasons why I ultimately decided to pursue a career as a teacher, with issues of justice and equity at the forefront of my list.  While I can’t claim to know your stories as educators, I would imagine that helping others achieve their full potential is a pretty standard motivator for 99.9% of us out there.

But how do we balance our desire to elevate others with our need to elevate ourselves? Because srsly, teaching is hard.  So, so hard.  And it takes so much of our time.  And our energy.  And our hair color.

In fact, the only real tool that I have found to make it less hard, and less time/energy/hair color-zappy is to commit myself to the pursuit of personal growth opportunities whenever and wherever and however possible, which is actually pretty rad because personal growth tends to have a symbiotic relationship with student empowerment.  Fact: The best units and lessons I have ever taught were ones that I had passionate connections to as a result of fulfilling life experiences.

Segue into travel as a fulfilling experience.

Alex teaching


I have been exceedingly fortunate in my life.  I can do a backwards somersault.  I tan easily and do not burn.  I am a great writer, which my transition above clearly illustrates.  I’ve been able to travel from a young age to places that have taught me a plethora of skills, including the ability to speak two foreign languages and stomach more gelato than is ever necessary.  More important than skills, however, travel has gifted me with a perspective that enables me to see past the status quo and to the periphery.  This has never served me better than in the field of education.

When I use my knowledge of different cultures both to understand my students and inform them of other valid ways of being in the world, I thank travel.  When I am able to converse with parents in their native language, I thank travel.  When I feed my students’ creativity and imaginations by describing the vampiric vibe of carnevale or the frenetic energy of las fallas, I thank travel.  When my students ask to write research papers on pressing global issues, I thank travel.  When they request books written by and about typically underrepresented populations, I thank travel.  When they independently propose changing ‘tolerate’ to ‘respect’ while dissecting a mandated diversity curriculum, I thank travel.

When I am able to remember that ‘normal’ is a word devoid of real meaning, I thank travel.

While there are a number of ways to grow & excel as a teacher (and I ain’t knockin’ any of ‘em) studying, living, and working overseas has been the most powerful way for me to do so.  Without travel, I wouldn’t be a truly inclusive teacher, and I certainly wouldn’t teach curricula that make education an act of radical liberation.  Without travel, I would not have the stamina or the fortitude or the patience to advocate for my students the way they deserve, or not go postal when Rolando pretends to fall out of his chair for the fifteenth time in five minutes.  It’s truly amazing what seeing the world differently can do for your soul.

I’m so proud of you for choosing to be educators.  And I hope, too, that you will also choose to be pilgrims.



How are you using your travel experiences in your classrooms? Share your comments and ideas below!






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