Teaching and touching the future

RI Director Julia Phelps, back left, visits a classroom in the Philippines taught by one of the teachers who benefited from the 2013 vocational training team.

By Julia Phelps

In May 2013, four science teachers from the Philippines were preparing to return home after a visit to the United States as part of a vocational training team (VTT). They’d spent 30 days observing classrooms, visiting science museums, meeting with policymakers, and making presentations to Rotary clubs in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

It was an emotional time for all of us, as we had learned much more than science instructional strategies. We had learned that, no matter what country we hail from, we all want the best for our students. We want them to succeed. And as teachers, we want to make a difference in their lives.

As hosts, we were very proud of what we had accomplished. The teachers returned to their schools in the Philippines and immediately made an impact. They won regional and national teaching competitions, they were promoted to master teacher, and the performance level of their students improved significantly. They were making a difference.

I was in the Philippines last month and made a point to reconnect with the members of this vocational training team. I was able to visit two schools and see the teachers implementing the hands-on techniques they had learned during their VTT experience. I saw young girls conduct an experiment and then explain why they thought the results had happened. I watched students work collaboratively to complete assigned tasks. Students were excited and engaged in learning science. It took me back to our original conversations, but this time, they were not abstract ideas or comments or thoughts.

Had the visit ended there, it would have been worth the time and effort. However, Manny Sy Peng, the governor of District 3770, had arranged for an intercity meeting where we got to hear from the team members about life after they returned home. They told us about the impact the VTT had on them professionally and personally. We heard the following:

  • “Thank you, (District Governor) Terri Kidder, you changed the life of a simple teacher.”
  • “I came out of myself, I became more self-confident. The VTT journey has never ended.”
  • “My dream is to create a teacher resource center in my school.”
  • “Julia, you told us to come back and make a difference in our schools and communities and we have.”

Tears welled up in my eyes as I listened to these and other comments. How many times have I called on Rotarians to “make a difference?” These teachers took my words to heart and did just that. I was bursting with pride, not only as an educator but as a Rotarian, at what we had collectively accomplished.

The impact was truly what Rotary leaders had envisioned when they designed the new grant model. We were asked for long-term impact. Here it was, right in front of me.

Teacher and U.S. astronaut Christa McAuliffe said, “I touch the future, I teach.” This sentiment was evident in the classrooms I visited and in the lives of the four teachers who were members of this vocational training team.

Learn how you can support vocational training teams through a Rotary Foundation global grant.

151215_phelpsAbout the author: Rotary International Director Julia Phelps served as associate commissioner for the Center for Curriculum and Instruction for the state of Massachusetts before retiring. She is a member of the Rotary Club of Malden.