Lifelong Learning Through Travel

Teresa Butler-Doran, May 2024

Lesson planning, discipline, professional development, taking attendance, staff meetings, grading are some of a teacher’s daily grind. But are they the daily grinds that we get tired of or do we just do these things and recognize that they are only small aspects of our profession? How do we keep ourselves motivated and fresh so that our students get the best possible outcome? After 26 years of teaching, I believe that what keeps veteran teachers like myself going is to embrace being a lifelong learner. Being curious about the world around me and continuing my growth and learning as an educator keeps me moving forward and becomes modeled to my students for their growth and development. If I show them that I’m excited and eager to learn, then maybe that will increase their curiosity and interest in the world and its myriad of complicated layers.

So how does one stay curious with the goal of lifelong learning? For me, it took linking a few things that I love to learn. About a year and a half ago, with my kids grown and out of the house, I had time to dive into an online search for international teaching opportunities. I always loved to travel and learn about other cultures and I wondered what it would be like to teach in another country. I searched several years prior, but the circumstances never lined up- my kids were too young, my husband’s district didn’t have similar leave benefits, and extended family obligations got in the way. During this search, I landed on Fulbright Teacher Exchanges and found a program that would allow me to research a topic in a participating country. A country that piqued my interest for a while was Finland. With its love of learning and nature, and excellent record on education, this was the perfect place for me to research to improve my practice. I decided to apply.

Four months later, I learned that I was accepted into the program. With great excitement I shared the news with my family, friends and school staff. I geared up to live in Finland by learning cultural norms, common phrases in Finnish, and of course, buying an arctic parka. I’ve only lived in California and Hawaii, so this five month experience starting in the middle of the winter was going to be quite a shift.

Now, with the start of the experience behind me, I can honestly say that this is an adventure of a lifetime. Living and working among people in a different country continues my goal of being a lifelong learner. Learning about the Finnish way of life, language and culture opened the door for achieving my personal goals and also helped establish personal and professional connections across borders. As we explore and move through the world, learning about and from each other, I am finding that travel achieves a multitude of benefits. My students see me eager to learn about the world, so they in turn learn to build on things that they’re wondering about. The people who I interact with during my travels see someone who is curious about them, honoring their life experience. Creating positive connections with people during our travels fosters happy memories and promotes a pathway to peace. Mark Twain said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.” I firmly believe this to be true, and I think that by traveling to experience other cultures and lifestyles we continue our lifelong learning, connection and mutual understanding.

Teresa Butler-Doran

Teresa Butler-Doran is a 6th grade science teacher in the San Ramon Valley Unified School District in California. She is a recipient of the Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching Research Grant and will be in Finland through June of 2024 to research best practices in climate change education. Her research project involves connecting learners from the United States and Finland, so that students can collaborate on climate action projects and live more sustainably.

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