As a junior high English teacher working on a Native American reservation, I love to read adolescent literature related to my students’ heritage and lives. Much like Sherman Alexie’s lauded book, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, I also have a series of events that I call “The Absolutely True Travel Diary of a Full-Time Teacher.” Having traveled across the United States and Europe with children ages 13-18, I have collected a series of stories that are tear-jerking, squirm-inducing, and filled with more belly laughs than one educator can handle in a career of teaching. From one traveler to another, here is my “absolutely true travel diary.”
Adventures in Italia
On a small tour to Italy in 2012, we had some free time in Florence. After walking two of my students around the city to become familiar with its layout, I gave them a few hours of free time. As I sat at a café peacefully drinking an espresso, I saw my two boys zoom by on Segways, cruising in and out of pedestrians. These two young football players were already tall, and on the Segways they towered over the Italians that they threatened to crush at every turn. They didn’t see me at the café, but I had tears rolling down my cheeks laughing at their big adventure.
Most American children are not familiar with some European bathroom accouterments… specifically, the bidet. One bewildered child told me about the “really cool foot wash” in her bathroom. Intrigued by what she was talking about, she gleefully led me into the washroom to show me the “foot wash.” If you asked me in grad school what I though education would be like, I would not have answered “teaching students about bidets.”
Acts of Kindness
We have had several tours where our students were paired with other school from across the country. It has been a wonderful learning experience for our students to meet children from very different parts of America. On one tour there was a grandparent traveling with her grandson, and our students looked out for her as if she were their own. They always looked back to see if she needed assistance climbing hills, carrying luggage, or walking up stairs. They did this without prompting and with pride. Travel truly brings out the best in your students.
The Journey of a Lifetime
Our first trip to Italy in 2011 was a behemoth of a trip; not only did we have loads of students and parents travel that first year, but the amount of effort it took to get this trip up and running almost ground the trip to a halt before it began. After a wonderful trip from the north of Italy winding down toward the south, we found ourselves on the beaches of Positano by the breathtaking Amalfi coast. While exploring the pebble-studded beach at sunset, I saw one of my teenage travelers crouched down by the water, crying. Thinking she was injured, or homesick, I quickly rushed to her side to inquire what was wrong. She looked up at me with fat tears streaming down her cheeks and said, “I just can’t believe I’m here.” For a small-town girl, who worked two jobs to earn the money to afford this trip, the reality of what she had just experienced over the past 10 days was washing over her like the waves of the Adriatic Sea we were beside. When I am having days that test my patience on tour, or have to deal with the endless fundraisers, parent meetings, and behavior contracts, I remember this moment. This is why I travel with students. As a nice post script, this student has since studied abroad during her college years, inspired by that first trip she took with me.
Thankfully, even through all of our adventures, I am still able to retain a sense of awe and wonder every time one of my small-town kids boards a plane for the first time, or laugh when they ask me what a bidet does. Traveling with students has been one of the highlights of my teaching career.
Written by Alexis Roesser