A few years ago my husband Geoff and I travelled to Europe to visit friends and celebrate our ten-year wedding anniversary. In Amsterdam, we booked a boat tour through withlocals.com, an excellent company that allows you to plan experiences with locals while abroad. Geoff and I nicknamed it, “rent-a-friend.” Our guide was a college student with a very basic boat and an extensive knowledge of local beer and history. Throughout the tour, I badgered him with questions about the educational system in the Netherlands while Geoff, a lawyer, did the same with questions about their criminal justice system. This experience made me realize how much I enjoy learning about education in other places. Although I am an experienced teacher, my experience is limited to the Chicago Public Schools. I was ready to learn something new.
When we returned home, I did a bit of research about the Fulbright Distinguished Award in Teaching. This grant sponsors teachers to study at a university, observe classes and complete a project while abroad. It sounded too good to be true, but after checking repeatedly that I was qualified to apply, I talked it over with Geoff, and decided to give it a shot. I wrote my proposal to study new teacher mentoring and induction programs; a topic near to my heart. In large urban districts like mine, where students need the best teachers to stay around, more than half of new teachers leave the profession in their first five years. New Zealand, on the other hand, has an excellent reputation for training, mentoring, and retaining teachers. I’m excited to see what we can learn from them. I’m planning to use my study to create an in-house program that schools can use to train mentors and support new teachers.