TEACHERS TRAVEL FOR FREE: OPPORTUNITIES TO SEE THE WORLD

During the average ten weeks of (unpaid*) summer break, teachers certainly find themselves with some time for travel. Many of us earn advanced degrees, complete certifications, and prepare for the next school year. Others take on second jobs to supplement their income. And all of us tackle the mountain of unfinished tasks and personal life which tend to go by the wayside during the school year.

Still, there is time—sweet, sweet weeks of sun-filled days–to rest, relax, and restore ourselves.

I know many teachers who own boats or cabins or who happily recreate in their hometowns all summer and love doing little more than sitting poolside or on their decks during those long, warm weeks. I love these things, too. But maybe you’re like me and being inside a classroom for nine months leaves you feeling restless. Personally, it takes about two weeks of down-time before I find myself sounding like 12-year-old me, whining “I’m so borrrreeedddd.”

Whether or not you crave it, I encourage you to look at summer as an opportunity for enriching teacher travel. Planes, trains, automobiles. Take the great road trip, cross an international border, seek a new horizon to share with colleagues and students when you head back in the fall. You and your classroom will be better for it.

Now you’re probably thinking, “Ok, sure, I’ve got time. But travel is expensive.”

In my first few years of teaching, I had three young children, a husband with a fledgling business, and my starting teacher salary. Those were lean years, so my ears pricked to any opportunity to adventure for free or nearly free. I also looked for opportunities to take my family along.

The first such opportunity for teacher-travel I heard of was the Globe program from a colleague. And once I followed in her footsteps, I was hooked.

At Shakespeare’s Globe in 2010. Thanks to a fellowship, I studied Shakespeare at the Globe for three weeks FOR FREE. The culminating assignment was a midnight performance on the Globe Theatre stage.

Below I am going to share the free or nearly free teacher-travel I’ve done since 2010 (including a summer I was paid to teach). This is a miniscule representation of the opportunities out there.

I became a better teacher thanks to my summer adventures. Cultural awareness, genuine appreciation of different linguistic realities, deepened content knowledge—-I brought all of these to my students, and I encourage you to do the same.

Whether you are already infected with horizon fever or you’d rather just use summer to rest and relax, I encourage you to read below and see what opportunities await. Please share with all the teachers you know!

  1. Teaching Shakespeare through Performance at Shakespeare’s Globe in London, UK:

This three-week course is open to middle and high-school English or Drama teachers from the US. There are several ways to make this program free or nearly-free.

I received a fellowship from the English Speaking Union (ESU). The ESU is a “non-profit educational charity that employs the English language to foster global understanding and good will through educational opportunities and cultural exchange programs.” The ESU offers a number of educational programs, and I encourage you to check out their site and find the branch nearest you. For teachers, look into the TLab programs. In addition to the program at the Globe, they offer fellowships to study at Oxford or the University of Edinburgh. I applied for everything directly through the ESU, sat for an interview, and was notified within a few weeks that I was on my way to London.

Important Note: The ESU fellowship did not cover airfare. At the time, remember, I did not have the money for a thousand dollar plane ticket. So, I applied for professional development funds through my association. I was teaching in public schools and belonged to one. You might also look for professional development funds through your union, local non-profits, or your school. Years after I had gone, I inspired the theater teacher at a private high school to attend TSTP, and the school covered her costs.

  1. Wolfeboro Camp School in Wolfeboro, NH: Getting paid to teach while living in the northeast

In addition to opportunities for your own edification, there are ways to travel with your family.  A dear friend (a teacher married to a teacher) shared with me how her family had spent the past several summers in the Northeast. Her husband taught math at the Wolfeboro Camp School in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, where students in grades 5-12 came for a summer camp school experience geared to help them be more successful in the next academic year.

I was hesitant. My husband was not a teacher and could not be away from his small business for an entire summer. I wasn’t sure how to teach and manage my three kids. No worries, my friend said, we will help you watch your kids. So I applied and was hired for the summer session.

After that, it was just the small matter of packing the minivan to haul all of us, our bicycles, and an offensive amount of granola bars cross-country.

As a native Coloradoan, it was a quick introduction into East Coast boarding and summer school culture. At the time I was a public school teacher, and my time at Wolfeboro helped set the stage for my eventual transition to private school teaching.

I was paid for my work there (around $5,000) and they provided most meals and a (rather rustic) cabin for our family. The school is technology-free, and I taught in a tent for the entire summer with little more than a white board. (There is a teacher’s lounge where you have internet access, and can run off worksheets, etc. But the emphasis is on teaching study and executive functioning skills, as the school caters to students who need these supports.)

The town of Wolfeboro is lovely–my kids still talk about strolling its main thoroughfare with Bailey’s Bubble ice cream turning their hands into sticky messes. We visited the Yum Yum shop on a regular basis for the famous gingerbread men. We spent a Sunday taking the train to Fenway to catch a Red Sox game. And July 4th was spectacular, as we watched fireworks explode over Lake Winnipesaukee.

I’d have happily returned the following summer (Wolfeboro boasts a high number of returning teachers), but I was expecting our fourth child.

The 2024 summer session is June 26-July 31, and you can check out job openings HERE

  1. NEH Summer Institutes

The National Endowment of the Humanities is an independent federal agency which provides grants aimed at increasing the study and promotion of the humanities (history, art, literature, et al).  One such endeavor is providing K-12 teachers with enriching summer programs, two of which I’ve been lucky enough to participate in.

Applications open in mid December and close in early March of every year. The programs are residential (you live at the host site), virtual, or a combination of the two. I did residential both times. You receive a stipend for travel and accommodation costs. You should consider these carefully when choosing a program. The stipend usually comes at the end of the program, so you may have to front some money.

My first NEH was in 2019. I was accepted to an Institute program called Teaching the Holocaust through Visual Culture, hosted at Bowdoin college in Brunswick, Maine. For two weeks we studied at Bowdoin’s beautiful campus and were housed in a residential house where we all shared a kitchen and common spaces. Some meals were provided.

We were treated to lectures from experts and world class access to digital archives and art. At the end we were asked to create lessons using some of the materials provided to us. I came away enriched with materials and content knowledge ready for my classroom. I also came away from that time with a dear, lifelong friend whom I ended up spending two summers with in Israel.

The second seminar I received was part of the Landmarks of American History and Culture programs. The program was called Echoes of History: Heart Mountain, and it was in Cody, Wyoming where, during WWII, Japanese-American were interned.

For a week, we spent time at the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center, learning from internees, authors, and the site itself. The voices of those interned there were palpable, and we were inspired to bring their lessons home to our students.

I wholeheartedly endorse both of the programs I attended, but they aren’t necessarily offered every year. I encourage you to check into the programs each December and go through the list carefully, considering and curating based on your interests and value to your classroom.

  1. TALMA: Teaching English to underserved students in Israel

As of the writing of this post, Israel is at war with Hamas and there is no travel allowed. My heart is broken for the beautiful people of a most sacred and diverse land. While it is unlikely that the summer program will run in 2024, I encourage you to read on to learn about my experience.

TALMA’s stated purpose is “bringing educational opportunity and English to Israel’s periphery.” 

In the summer of 2022, I taught Arab-Muslim boys in a school atop the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. The experiences I had inspired me to return and in 2023, I was placed in the north in Nahariya in a secular school, which is predominantly Jewish.

What TALMA offers teachers is an all-expenses paid summer in Israel in exchange for your speaking and teaching the English language. In Israeli schools, teaching English as a second (or third or fourth) language is mandated. The schools might be religious or secular, Jewish or Muslim, but all are full of students who need support in learning English. It’s atypical for Hebrew-speaking children to learn Arabic and vice-versa, so English becomes the lingua franca. Add to the economic and social advantages of knowing English, and the purpose and mission of TALMA becomes increasingly clear and important.

The program will pay for your flights, accommodations, and there is a stipend for food (and quite a few meals are included). You will teach Sunday through Thursday (Friday and Saturday are the “weekend” in Israel due to Shabbat). The school day is usually 8-12:30. You will be paired with a native-speaking teacher (Arabic or Hebrew) and placed in a school, which could be nearly anywhere in the country. The sites change year-to-year, and you do have some say in where you’d like to be.

You do not have to be Jewish to participate. I am Christian and felt supported and welcomed by all.  TALMA has a full-year fellowship for Jewish teachers, many of whom are supported in making Aliya.

You will express what age group you teach and likely work best with, but there is a possibility that you will end up with an age group you weren’t expecting. (I have taught middle and high school, but in Israel I was teaching 3-4th graders. It was a trip.)

Nothing I can write here can begin to unpack the complexities of Israeli and Palestinian lives and experiences.  I am grateful to TALMA for the opportunity to be a student of Israel for two summers. I am grateful to my Palestinian and Israeli co-teachers for allowing me into their classrooms and lives. I am grateful to the students for showing me childhood in that beautiful land. And I pray for peace for their sake.

What other opportunities do you know about? Have you done any of these programs? Feel free to sound off in the comments.

*Most US teachers are on a 9 to 10 month contract and their pay is prorated to cover 12 months. So “summers off” isn’t teachers collecting pay for no work. In fact, most teachers do schoolwork over the summer (not to mention all the work put in outside contract hours during the school year), for which they receive no compensation. Yes, we know what we signed up for. But too many people lob ‘but you have summers off’ at teachers like that’s the reward for the dismal state of being an educator right now.


I encourage you to also visit this post to see what else is out there. (Coming soon!)

(Still not convinced? Please read Teachers: Why You Should Give up some of your Summer). Coming Soon!

Comments (6)

  • Rosie

    December 3, 2023 at 11:20 am

    Wow, the information you provided for potential opportunities for teachers is very inspiring. I was also impressed by the variety of educational pursuits that would not only enrich the educator but their students as they share that learned knowledge when they return to the classroom. Thank you for such an enlightening article!

    1. lisa@horizonfever.com

      December 3, 2023 at 2:58 pm

      Thank you for reading. I know my students were better served because of my travel.

  • Natalie

    December 3, 2023 at 8:56 pm

    Great tips for teachers!! Museums are also a great place to seek professional development. The Smithsonian American Art Museum has a summer institute called “Teaching the Humanities Through Art” that gave me so many new ideas for how to incorporate artwork into my English classroom. I suggest visiting the “educator” tab of museum websites to see what opportunities are available!

    1. lisa@horizonfever.com

      December 3, 2023 at 9:54 pm

      Hi Natalie! Thanks for adding to the conversation. I’ll have another post coming soon with other teacher-travel opportunities, and I will include the Smithsonian institute.

  • Lynda K Johnson

    December 5, 2023 at 7:33 am

    Anyone who knows a teacher knows their lust for knowledge. Teachers also want to explore all the different cultures and you are giving them the resources to do so. I’m excited to follow along and share in your journey.

    1. lisa@horizonfever.com

      December 5, 2023 at 8:41 am

      Thank you for your comment, Lynda! I’m passionate about getting teachers traveling for themselves AND their students.

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