Dream Big by Learning Abroad

Monday, February 23, 2015 at 12:00am
By: Marie and Morgan Krueger-Miller

Editor’s note: This article was written by Marie Krueger-Miller, a 4th grade teacher at Travis Elementary School in Houston, and her husband Morgan Krueger-Miller, who teaches algebra at the Houston Academy for International Studies.

Dream. And make it big. That’s the idea behind Fund for Teachers (FFT), a Houston-based organization dedicated to enriching the personal and professional growth of teachers by providing them with funds to travel around the world to acquire professional development experiences that will enhance their classroom instruction.

We found out about FFT from a fellow teacher in 2006, and ever since, we’ve become very involved in the organization’s work. We’ve taken two trips abroad—one to India in 2011 and the other to Singapore in 2007. We’ve served on the committee that selects grant recipients, and earlier this year, we applied for a third grant that, if approved, will take us to France and Spain.

Thanks to FFT’s generosity, our travel abroad experiences have been transformative. Each time, we’ve returned to the United States awestruck by what we saw and what we learned—and it’s changed the way we teach.

In Singapore, teachers graciously allowed us into their classrooms and spoke with us for hours afterwards. We learned that teachers are afforded a great deal of time for collaboration and professional development, and that they often have an office where those who teach the same subjects are clustered together to encourage collaboration. The Ministry of Education recruits prospective teachers from the top of their high school graduating class, and the image on one side of the country’s $2 bill is dedicated to education.

In general, educators in Singapore have a can-do mindset that we noticed in a wide range of settings. Teaching students for whom English is a second language is a common practice, therefore it’s viewed as the norm and not an obstacle to success. In addition, math is taught with a great deal of rigor. Elementary students, for example, routinely practice complex word problems that in the United States we don’t get to until high school—if then.

We returned from Singapore with a similar kind of can-do attitude, as well as a greater sense of pride in our profession and several new instructional techniques that we’ve shared with fellow teachers and have proven to be very effective year after year. Marie now uses a linear approach for teaching algebraic concepts. We create more rigorous, multi-step problems at both the elementary and high school level, and we feel better prepared to meet the challenges of standards change and more rigorous expectations in our own schools.

Our second grant took us to India, where we met with women entrepreneurs who participated in a microfinancing program that helped them turn an already proven skill—raising ducks and goats, milking cows, making saris, or processing rice—into a profitable business. Meeting with these women absolutely blew us away.

Through our experiences in India, microfinance became so much more than a model, so much more than a debate. It became real life. These ladies didn’t think they had anything interesting to share. Their motive for taking a loan was to bring in more income and send their kids to school. It also empowered them to believe in themselves. You should have seen their faces light up when they showed us their loan cards or when we asked how their businesses were run.

We saw this dynamic over and over again in Mumbai, Delhi, and remote tribal villages in northeastern India, providing us with an incredible hands-on experience that we wanted to bring back home and share with our students, who are now reminded on a daily basis of the people we met in India.

They see the pictures hanging on our classroom walls—images of Indian girls pumping water, school children squatting on concrete floors for their morning assembly, and the girl who is cleaning dishes at home instead of going to school. Morgan’s high school students also take part in a lending program via Kiva that allows them to support a small business initiative in one of 86 countries around the globe and track its progress.

When teachers ask us how to apply for grants so they can have similar experiences, we tell them to dream big. Before submitting our proposals, we spent a great deal of time thinking and researching possibilities. This is where the dreaming big comes into play. We always try to select something unique and different that will further our own teaching and benefit our students. Once we’ve completed the proposal, we ask friends, family, and colleagues to take a second look. We want it to adhere to FFT guidelines, and we want to make sure it stands out.

It’s inspiring to see other teachers dream big. But what’s most inspiring is when the kids start dreaming of places they'll go and people they'll meet. In the end, that's gotta make the world a better place.