Join a photography tour in Cuba with professional artist and documentarian Louis Alarcon to create learning that combines insights about the island nation with photography and digital literacy skills.
I have learned so much about Cuba that I am just beginning to process it. I've discovered that some of the phrases I heard before traveling to Cuba, like "seeing Cuba before it changes" and "it's like going back in time" are not very accurate. Cuba is a very complex country that I still do not understand. What I am sure about, however, is that it is one of the safest places I have been and has the friendliest people I have ever met.
The photography skills I learned on my photo tour, along with the knowledge and experience gained in Cuba, will help me to create an engaging and meaningful unit on Cuban culture for my students. This experience has given me the confidence to take on new challenges like leading a photography club this year. In fact, I have already begun teaching a summer photography course for the first time. I will continue to draw upon this fellowship as I plan activities for the coming school year.
One personal accomplishment was being able to travel alone in Cuba for five days after my tour ended. Although I have traveled solo in many places before, traveling alone in Cuba is a whole new experience with many unique challenges. I was able to use this time to practice the photography skills I learned during the tour in two new towns I visited. I also challenged myself to meet with Cuban people and discuss their lives. It was a great opportunity to step outside my comfort zone.
As I have done in the past, I will share my experiences through my blog, conversations, and presentations. I will help my students go beyond the cliches that one might hear about Cuba and try to understand the country on a deeper level. I am in contact with some new Cuban friends who will be able to respond to my students' questions. I will also use the photography skills I learned to inspire more students to use photography to tell stories about their lives and their community.
My colleagues know that I love to share my travel and learning experiences with them (http://tflanagan.us/yearabroad/). As my school prepares to consolidate with another middle school, I will work collaboratively with teachers from both schools to incorporate lessons on Cuba into the curriculum. I will also continue to encourage my colleagues to design their own fellowship and apply for a Fund for Teachers grant.
My students will use their new learning about Cuba to create displays reflecting their new knowledge and challenging stereotypes and misconceptions about this country. They will be required to make their new learning public in some way so that they can reach an audience beyond our classroom. In addition, the photography skills I teach to students will help them create stories about their community through images.
Since my school will close in one year, my students will interview and take portraits of people in our community who have a connection to Pawcatuck Middle School. They will create a display of portraits and quotes reflecting memories of our school. This display could become a permanent part of the building since it will still be used for educational and recreational purposes. It will serve as a reminder of the history of the building and our school.
I thought Cuba was like other countries I've visited in Latin America. I thought it was changing at a rapid pace. I thought I could easily understand Cuba after having spent time living in South America. I was wrong about these assumptions, and many more. This fellowship has taught me that when I teach about the world, I have a very limited knowledge and perspective. I need to work harder at giving my students access to more authentic learning experiences about the world beyond our classroom.