Travelers’ Checks: Teacher-Tested Travel Grants

Educators enrich their profession with globe-trotting experience – and get funding to do it.

Lisa Morehouse

Teachers who travel bring back to their classrooms all of the experiences they had and passions they felt to inspire students and make global content come alive. By applying for grants, teachers can get these unique globe-trotting learning opportunities partially or fully funded. Edutopia has gathered stories and snapshots from teachers who have received such grants to travel.

After each teacher’s tale, you’ll find the details for how you can apply to the Fund for Teachers, the Earthwatch Institute’s Education Fellowships, the Japan Fulbright Memorial Fund Teacher Program, the Fulbright-Hays Seminars Abroad program, the English-Speaking Union of the United States’s British Universities Summer School Program, and others. (Keep in mind that some deadlines for this year may have passed, so take note of the application procedure to prepare for next year.)

Happy trails!

At Manzanita Community School, in Oakland, California, third-grade teacher Allison Bibbler says many of her students’ families fled Laos and stayed in refugee camps in Thailand while they waited to come to the United States. So Bibbler visited Thailand and Laos, where she trekked through mountains, visited villages and temples, and traveled down the Mekong River on a summer sabbatical paid for by the nonprofit foundation Fund for Teachers.

Bibbler’s classroom is now filled with Thai welcome flags, little wooden turtles, and indigenous instruments so students can, as she says, “get their hands on Thailand.” And at her school’s Passport Day, where classrooms are transformed into countries, Bibbler recreates the Loy Krathong festival, which celebrates renewal. “Students make lotus flowers with cardboard leaves and put pennies in the open leaves,” Bibbler notes. “I made a paper river and full moon and have candles and Thai music — actually music made by elephants.”

Bibbler explains that as a teacher, “you’re juggling twenty balls in the air, and you’re constantly overworked and stressed. This kind of travel gives me the space to reflect, and also reflect with the idea that this is where my kids are from.” Learning about her students’ cultures also focuses her thinking on the ethnic balance in her classroom, which includes many energetic students. “I just keep thinking about how to influence students, combining a Buddhist, calmer way of being with their vivacious personalities,” she says. “How do I blend together cultures that are so diverse into a comfortable, safe, warm setting?”

Fund for Teachers encourages educators to travel the world on summer sabbaticals and to create their own proposals for professional growth.

Who sponsors the fellowship? The nonprofit foundation Fund for Teachers, started in 2001 by businessman Raymond Plank.

What is the fellowship for? As individuals or in teams, teachers design summer sabbaticals they feel will have a positive impact on their teaching. The organization says educators know best what they need for professional development, so it encourages them to travel the world and get out of their comfort zones, expand their experiences, and ultimately inspire their students.

Who can apply? Teachers in grades P-12 who work in select areas and have three years of teaching experience.

What does the fellowship pay for? Everything, if you budget well. Fund for Teachers offers individuals up to $5,000 and teams of two or more up to $10,000.

How many teachers get the fellowship? In 2007, 553 teachers got fellowships — 284 as individuals.

Are there any additional requirements? Teachers attend preparatory and follow-up meetings and provide documentation of how their summer sabbaticals influenced their teaching. Some requirements vary among school districts.

When are applications due? January 31. Grant-writing tips for teachers are available on the site — as well as a scoring rubric, so applicants can see how proposals are evaluated.

Who do I contact? the Fund for Teachers.