For most of us, the term traveler evokes imagery of journey and voyage, but as the etymology of the term viator clarifies, it simply means someone who travels along road systems. One such teacher, Grace, embodied the spirit of the traveler in her teaching; she was willing to set out on a journey to reach a destination, following roads and pathways set before her by adventurers past. As she trekked along, she realized that unexpected obstacles might force her to detour, but she had the skills to navigate around, over, or through any obstruction that she encountered. Grace was excited about the traveling, and she realized that many of the most divine moments happen unexpectedly. She was not unaware of the possible dangers that awaited her; she did not seek out unnecessary risk, but neither did she let her fears stop her from making progress.
The marrow of humanity drove Grace’s passion for the road. She saw beauty and creation in the people she met along the way. The works of humankind are often worthy of marvel and sometimes gut-wrenching, yet Grace saw all that lay around her and knew she must continue on her journey. She could not stay for long at one site of wonder or one place of despair, for she had to arrive at her destination. As she navigated through unknown lands, immersed herself in new realities and experienced humanity in all its forms, she reflected continually upon her own understanding. Grace followed the roads laid before her, but once on the path, she always kept her eyes on her surroundings so she could enjoy the beauty around her. When necessary, Grace referred to a compass; she was an exceptional teacher.
Well, let’s just say I am not Grace . . . in any form. The reality of being a traveler on the educational road sometimes makes me feel like I misunderstood the guidebook and lost my way. Don’t mistake my momentary sense of panic as a lack of passion for teaching, however. I’m simply admitting that teaching, like travel, can be hard. Such a small word, hard, catches quite well the feelings of uncertainty and fear that teaching can sometimes bring. Like traveling to an unknown place, teaching often pushes my own perceptions of my ability and demands that I grow in both mind-set and skill.
I have always thought of myself as a traveler, and have become accustomed to enduring the not-so-pleasant moments of travel. Waiting in a bag-check line in the Nairobi airport only to find out that it is the wrong line, getting lost on the back roads of Mexico, sleeping on cold airport floors, accidentally offending the local German storekeeper . . . these are the realities of travel. The list could go on. For travelers, these incidents weave themselves into the memories of the journey and even become highlights of the story. Those who travel despite these realities, do so because they love the experience. I believe that teachers are like travelers; they love to teach regardless of the hardships.
Andrea Nelson is a middle school teacher in eastern Oregon. She also is a doctoral student at George Fox University in Newberg, Oregon.