Peace Works Travel Blog

Monday, December 9, 2013

All Kidding Aside, A Great Teacher

Francis Parker group visiting Sapa in the northern part of Vietnam, Spring 2012 in front of their home stay accommodations with their host (front middle)

Eric Taylor, a History teacher at Francis Parker School in San Diego talks about the importance of travelling abroad. He describes travelling with students as an educational tool that is necessary for human development. It adds “texture” to education and to the lives of people. Mr. Taylor truly has embraced why the travel abroad experience with students is not just about learning.  Those experiences are about tuning into oneself, into each other, and shaping one another as part of humanity. He enthusiastically explains how trips abroad are about leading life lessons and education that cannot be grasped from a book. After three trips with Peace Works Travel (PWT) and Alethea Tyner Paradis, director of PWT, Francis Parker students are very excited for their next journey to Vietnam this upcoming year. In the following interview Mr. Taylor talks about his experience, his gain, his student’s gain, and why he does what he does.

PWT: What did you study in college?

ET: I joke about it, but I majored in history and I minored in beach.  I went to UCSB (University of California, Santa Barbara) and I grew up in a rural part of California, the beach and city were so foreign that I was very attracted to it. I also studied comparative history looking at the globe and various contacts. I later began to focus on American history. Those were my under-graduate studies and now I have three masters’ degrees in various other humanities. I have been fascinated by reading as much as I can to learn about conflicts and how people react.

PWT: Why did you become a teacher? What do you love about it?

ET: I became a teacher because I wanted to be poor, overworked and generally punished by society. I’m kidding! (as he laughs) I like conversations with people. I think learning from people, you learn about people; so teaching for me was kind of a no-brainer. Growing up, teaching used to be a very respected profession. It showed me how much people did or did not respect learning. Teaching for me has always been something I’m passionate about. I learn so many things from young people, just because they see the world in a different way and they have a different perspective. Even though, chances are 99% of what I say in the classroom is irrelevant to them, every now and then there might be something that can catch them. It’s very cool that we can shape each other, and I like that idea, very humanistic.

PWT: Why do you like leading trips of students abroad?

ET: I like the FREE travel. No really, I suffer from wanderlust. Taking kids abroad is just an extension of the education you get in the classroom, except it’s really much more powerful. You know, when you take them (people in general) out of their comfort zone, they learn new things about themselves. If I am able to help students learn more about themselves by taking them to a country where they are going to learn more about the culture, the people, their customs and histories, then that’s just an awesome way to experience education. I’ve been doing it now for a while; this is my fourth trip with Alethea and PWT. Plus two weeks’ vacation, it’s great!     

PWT: What do they learn on these experiential adventures that can’t be taught in the classroom? 

ET: You can’t really feel education. In many ways we can, when we can read something, have conversations with students that get you emotional, excited about or get goose bumps when we are studying it. Which is great because one of the major psychological foundations for why we teach is to get people inspired emotionally and also physiologically. But there’s something about travelling abroad. You can take kids out of their comfort zone, away from their parents; it forces a sense of responsibility among all of us that we usually don’t have on a daily basis. You know, making sure that we survive a trip abroad together. Everyone tunes in a little bit more, they are tuned in into each other a little more, they are listening to each other more, and they are paying really close attention to the environment because it’s so new. The psychological response to it is really intense, and so what they get out of it is so much more than what they are getting in the classroom.

It’s like showing a documentary about a place and going to that place and just recognizing that you may know everything you can about a place.  You don’t really get it until you go there and realize that even though you think you know about the culture, you know nothing about the culture. You haven’t been there to interact with the culture and the people that are there creating it.

It’s fun to say that you are going to walk the streets of Hanoi, and several thousand motorcycles come at you (because that’s how it works), but when you go and try to cross the street in Hanoi and realize that you might get run over by several thousand motorcycles, its just something you can’t get in the classroom. 
PWT: Leading these trips is a lot of work and responsibility. Why is it “worth it?” to you?

ET: It’s great because it requires me to be a teacher in a different way.  For me it adds a layer of knowledge to what I do that allows me to become more of a master of that knowledge.  I then can pass that knowledge to the students in a much more confident way. In a much more textured way so that I can tell them stories about things I saw, things that we did together in Vietnam and what that means to the bigger picture of globalization and cultural blending of people. I know that abroad there will always be dozens of experiences that will allow me to become a more complex person, not only in my everyday life, but also in the classroom. It allows me to add that texture to a conversation.    

PWT: Why is working with Alethea and Peace Works Travel better/more rewarding?

ET: I really can’t say because I haven’t worked with anyone but Alethea. But, working with Alethea is rewarding because you have an entrepreneur that is a teacher. She knows very well that it is the human element of the transaction that matters most. Meaning, working with her is meaningful because she recognizes that you are not just someone providing an experience, you are actually a human being who is in the experience.  Alethea is a very humble, magnanimous and kind person. She recognizes that what she is doing is going to make literal people much more complex and interesting.  She understands how people are not just something to be profited on, but people are designed to interact. Working with her is really human, and I really appreciate that.

PWT: What would you say to a teacher who is considering taking students abroad for the first time?

ET: You have to be courageous, you have to be well prepared and you have to be willing to expect the unexpected. You are going to have to be more mature and recognize that the world is not simply organized, but it takes a lot of work to organize the world. Generally have an open mind and expect to have a lot of fun. By the end of the trip, you will be a much more complicated and articulated person. 
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