An Educator’s Odyssey

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To inspire their students, a total of twenty-two Chattanooga teachers representing ten local schools took to the skies, flying all over the globe to gain an understanding of foreign education and culture.

They will transport their experiences and newfound knowledge back into their classrooms this fall. The national non-profit organization Fund for Teachers’ partnership with Chattanooga’s Public Education Foundation (PEF) has made it possible for teachers to be awarded grants for summer learning experiences. The odysseys of James Carpenter and Stacy Hill sees Carpenter inspect Europe’s rich history while Hill explores Asia’s cultural diversity.

James Carpenter

James Carpenter, a history teacher at Ooltewah High School, has a pulsating passion for the ancient art and architecture that may be found in Europe’s classic cities. His 11-day educator’s tour of London, Paris, and Rome gave him the opportunity to experience the different cultures that each city offers and gain exposure to historic sites, usually only accessible for U.S. students via textbook.

After graduating from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Carpenter spent 20 years as a senior pastor before switching careers seven years ago to start teaching. He began teaching special education before being offered the AP European History course.

The idea to go on the trip resulted from a conversation between Carpenter and his wife. They concluded that to teach European History it was essential to make the voyage across the Atlantic and witness first-hand the various historical sites and experience old-world culture. “So I applied for the PEF grant and was very fortunate to receive it and I’m very thankful to them,” Carpenter says. “We went to London, we went to Paris, we went to Rome, and each one was a little bit different.”

The primary aim of the trip was to “see it for myself” as Carpenter explains, “So I can tell them (his students) how large Notre Dame really is.” In addition to Notre Dame, Carpenter visited a collection of landmarks including; the Tower of London, the Colosseum, and the Louvre among many others.

“For a guy who likes history, it was like going to heaven” says Carpenter whose wife, Tina, accompanied him on the journey. While visiting London’s National History Museum and Paris’ Louvre he noticed that “school was still in session and to be able to walk through these places and see the school children in places we just read about.” He continues, “They’re learning about art from the masters, they’re looking at these great pieces of art, these sculptures – that struck me.” By bringing back a knowledge and understanding of these three famous cities, Carpenter is able to convey a degree of authenticity in the classroom by presenting his photographs on the interactive whiteboard. Having seen it firsthand he says, “I’m going to know how better to reveal that to the kids, how they can better understand it.”

The enthusiasm Carpenter has for European Art encourages him to seek different ways to enhance the learning experience of his students. One method would be to take students to Europe and reveal to them what he has seen. The opportunity to provide such a learning experience for students is a thrilling prospect for Carpenter who cherished the idea of seeing European Art. He points out, “That’s something we don’t necessarily have here in Chattanooga. We have the Hunter Museum which is phenomenal for American history and art, but there’s something different about European art.”

Besides a field trip, Carpenter would be pleased to have exhibitions to Chattanooga for all to see, in a similar fashion to how the Telfair Museum operates in Savannah, Georgia.

In addition to the art and history that Carpenter was exposed to, each city left an impact on him that gave him a greater appreciation of everyday European society. He noticed the differences between the U.S. and Europe when it comes to restaurant etiquette. “In Europe, as opposed to the United States, they expect you to sit there and eat, they don’t rush you,” Carpenter says. In comparison, eateries in the U.S. are more likely to “make it really, really cold so you shovel it down and you’re gone.”

Carpenter’s new experiences in Europe will help him enlighten his students on the importance of appreciating not only art and history, but diverse cultures too. “Sometimes when you’re in your own culture you think we have the best of everything and you’re not exposed to what other people are doing. They’re different but they’re equally admirable and if you can get out of your own culture and see other people you begin to respect them more and you begin to appreciate them more.”

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