Spending a summer trip in a place like Crete or India might sound like a dream vacation to some people, but for a few local teachers, it became a reality.
Thanks to grants from the Houston-based, nonprofit Fund for Teachers, 94 teachers from 59 area schools were able to participate in self-designed professional development opportunities around the globe during the summer of 2006.
Teresa Cardwell, a seventh-grade math teacher at Spring Forest Middle School, was one of those teachers.
In June, she went to the Greek island of Crete with eighth-grade Spring Forest math teacher Jo Ann Arlitt for a nine-day creativity workshop, in which they explored writing, drawing, photography, map-making and visualization techniques.
But, what did a writing workshop in Crete have to do with teaching math? That’s the question Cardwell had to answer when she applied for the grant that funded her trip.
Other than the fact that many of the first mathematicians came from ancient Greece, she and Arlitt were looking for new ways to teach their at-risk and gifted and talented students, and they believed the program would help.
It did. “As I was thinking and writing I really wasn’t thinking about anything at home,” Cardwell said. “When I came back to school I was totally refreshed and had an open mind about how to teach my children.”
During the first days of the school year, Cardwell was able to incorporate an exercise she did herself on the first day of the workshop into two of her classes, which consisted of students who did not pass the math portion of the TAKS test last year.
She had the students fold and unfold sheets of paper and, within the resulting squares, write down the reasons they thought they couldn’t do math. Then, she told them to mark through each square and write how they could overcome those obstacles. She collected the papers and plans to hand them back at the end of the school year.
The idea to use a writing exercise to help students with math is something she wouldn’t have considered before, she said, but she learned that when things aren’t working a certain way it’s beneficial to try new methods.
The grants are an investment in the teachers, who bring their experiences back to their classrooms, which is an investment in the future, FFT Executive Director Karen Kovach-Webb said.
“We invest money in teachers who are investing their time impacting the lives of our students,” Kovach-Webb said. “They (the students) are our future workforce and the future of the world. The return is so important.”
Community members can help invest in future grant recipients Saturday, Feb. 10, by participating in the second annual Fund for Teachers Fund Run, which is taking place in the Galleria area.
The Fund Run will begin at 8 a.m. with a free Kids K Race, which will be followed by a 5K run/walk at 8:30 a.m. The races will begin at the intersection of Post Oak Boulevard and Ambassador Way. The first place male and female runners will receive roundtrip domestic Southwest Airline tickets.
Registration costs $25 for adults and $15 for participants younger than 18. Proceeds will fund grants for Houston-area teachers. Sign-in and registration will take place from 7-8 a.m. Last year’s run raised $168,000.
FFT is an opportunity for professional development, just as other professionals would have in their given fields, Kovach-Webb said. It also allows teachers to be global citizens and experience other parts of the world.
“It’s an excellent way to get teachers out of the classroom and help them bring the world to the kids,” Johnston Middle School teacher Gail Medina said. “It’s an opportunity for the teachers to be able to experience a life-changing experience and to share with their family, friends, students and coworkers.”
A seventh-grade Texas history teacher, Medina chose to go on a maternal and child health care expedition to India as a volunteer with Earth Watch.
She wanted to learn more about the intriguing culture. What she found there was a new appreciation for living and teaching in America and an understanding of newly immigrated students at Johnston.
When a student from China who didn’t know English came to her class this school year, she understood the anxiety of not knowing a country’s native language. She explained to her students how warm and welcoming people had been to her in India, even though she didn’t know their language, and asked them to be the same to others who are different from them.
While many grant recipients travel across oceans, some going as far south as Antarctica – as one J. Wills Elementary School teacher did – other teachers choose to stay within the borders of the United States.
T. H. Rogers special education teacher Carolyn Johnican went to Atlanta for a week so to attend the Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Conference and learn more about the technologies she uses with her students, whom, she says, mean the world to her.
“I was able to go do something for them and bring something back to enhance their opportunities in the classroom,” Johnican said, adding that she’s happy she had the opportunity because many special education teachers have a tendency to feel like they are the least respected in the profession.
The opportunity was like a renewal for special education teachers to her. Johnican is humbled that she and her students were able to benefit from the program.
One of the things she brought back was knowledge about an assistive technology device called the Voice Pal, which allows persons with speech impediments to communicate using pre-recorded messages. She said it allows every student to have a sense of independence.
Although there have been the occasional district and campus development opportunities, nothing has been quite like her experience with FFT.
“It’s such a wonderful opportunity to do something that you pick yourself,” she said.
WHAT: Fund for Teachers Fund Run
WHEN: Feb. 10; Sign-in and late registration from 7-8 a.m. Kids K Race begins at 8 a.m. and 5K run/walk at 8:30 a.m.
WHERE: Starting line at the intersection of Post Oak Boulevard and Ambassador Way
HOW MUCH: Registration is $25 for adults and $15 for participants younger than 18. Kids K Race is free.
WHY: Raise funds for grants for local teachers’ summer professional development opportunities.