by Kristie Trotter
The Reflections of a ‘Rural’ Teacher
You can’t put a price on this experience
I taught for 34 years in a very small, rural community in northern Arizona. The population is about 10,000. In general, the people are very kind and happy. It’s a real family community. The area is very ethnically diverse and the families are usually economically challenged. The schools here offer free and reduced lunch to ninety (90%) of the students. Despite the challenges these families face though, they want the best for their children. Curiosity and desire to learn abound here, money not so much.
It starts with a crazy idea!
I know I must have seemed crazy when I first announced I wanted to take their children ALL THE WAY across the country to visit our nation’s capitol, Washington DC, and one of the biggest cities in the country, New York City. I remember the looks on their faces. Money? Oh yeah… it does cost money, precious money.
Many of these students have never traveled to Phoenix, just four hours south. Most have never been on an airplane. Most have never, ever seen more than a few thousand people in one place let alone millions of people in one place. Most have never been to an art museum or any museum for that matter. Most have never been to a play let alone Broadway. Most have never been on ferry in the ocean or seen people who don’t own cars and live in high-rise apartments. The list goes on and on.
Slowly but surely, these families began to realize this wasn’t just a crazy idea. It wasn’t an opportunity that came around every day. They began to share my enthusiasm and commitment and soon agreed- not only is this trip important, it is imperative.
Families pull together for the good of their children
Many of the students who travel with this trip will never go that far again in their lives. Their families recognize this fact and do all they can to make sure that at least once these kids will get that opportunity in the safest, most educational way. I have earned a very precious trust with the families in this community. That trust is one that I respect and will always strive to honor. I know what a difference this trip can mean to some of these kids and I know I may be the only adult in their lives that steps forward to offer it.
Over the years, I have witnessed more than my share of special memories. One student, after seeing the changing of the guard at Arlington National Cemetery, told me he decided he was going into the Air Force. He is still there. One young man after seeing the Broadway Show, no longer was afraid to tell us about his dance and music lessons. He began to blossom and still works to become the best performer that he can be. The stories go on and on.
Students live that week with all the gusto they have and continue to recall the trip over and over again for years telling me about what a great time they had and yes, how muchthey learned. I have a good idea how much effort it took to get the money together and get them there and even if they don’t have an obvious life changing experience, they are forever shaped by what they saw, felt, experienced, heard, smelled and lived in that one short week of travel. And I get to go with them. I’m the one getting to witness their exploration, curiosity and joy.
Anything can happen on the tour
Once, when we were on tour and having breakfast with another traveling group, our guide pointed out Tom Hanks’ son to me. He was traveling with the other group of kids. Wow, Tom Hanks’ son. Tom Hanks could probably send or take his son anywhere. And while I was impressed that he chose to travel on a tour like ours with other kids, and that he was learning and having fun, I JUST KNOW that my kids gained so much more because of how they were able to raise the money and where they came from.
This trip is a great trip, even for very privileged kids, but its real value, YOUR REAL GIFT AS A TOUR LEADER, is to find a way to bring those kids who would NEVER, EVER, find a way to do this with out you and an organized, educational tour like this. Travel is a great equalizer. My advice to any educator in a similar situation as mine- make the memories and open their minds. You will likely witness first-hand, why it was you wanted to teach in the first place.