Teacher at Sea Alumni Find their Inner Explorers

The last few years have been very different for many people and especially so for teachers. Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, the Teacher at Sea Alumni Association responded by turning our alumni grant program into a process for alumni to request teaching supplies to make the transition to remote teaching. Document cameras, microphones, green screens, and attendance at virtual workshops were some of the most common needs faced by teachers as many classrooms moved into the virtual space.

We transitioned our programming to adapt to the pandemic as well. Our staff explored new and different ways to engage alumni, including a private Facebook group where alumni could share resources and discuss teaching strategies. In-person, hands-on workshops were replaced with shorter and more frequent virtual meetings across all regions. Regional books clubs were introduced to increase alumni engagement with local topics and to create more time for alumni to connect and bond with each other.

Dr. Sian Proctor (TAS, 2017) who challenges us to “see the explorer within”.

Just before the pandemic overturned life as we knew it, we had the pleasure of visiting alum Dr. Sian Proctor (who recently made history as the first Black woman to pilot a spacecraft) at her home in Phoenix, Arizona. We spent a few days with her filming a video about her personal journey as an educator and explorer. In the video, Sian expressed that, “a lot of times people think that in order to be an explorer, you have to discover something new for humanity. And my thing is to tell them ‘no, you have to discover something new for you—and if you can redefine exploration as a personal experience—a personal journey of discovery, then you can see the explorer within.’”

Inspired by her words, we wanted our alumni to share their personal exploration stories, and so we sought to discover the explorers within our own ranks as part of the 10th Anniversary of the Association.

Woman on a boat holding a camera to take a picture.

Catherine Fuller (TAS, 2019) documents her voyage on the Hōkūlea.

Contrary to what some students might believe, teachers are more than just the personalities found inside the four walls of their classrooms. They are multi-dimensional people whose passions and adventures outside the classroom influence and inform what they bring to their students every day.

So, with Sian’s keen observation in mind, we ran the #FindingYourInnerExplorer challenge and asked our alumni to submit three-minute videos chronicling their exploration stories. From the numerous entries we received, we chose six to produce for our program.

Two black cases, covered with stickers, sitting on the ground.

TASAA camera kits for socially distanced interviewing.

Because of COVID-19, we couldn’t travel to film our explorers, so we shipped a media kit around the U.S.—to alumni from Hawaii, Oregon, Alabama, Pennsylvania, Washington, and California—so they could record additional footage and formal interviews. Alumni sat behind the camera while we interviewed them through a virtual meeting space. Over the next several months, we worked with videographer Ryan Hawk to bring their stories to life.  We are so excited to be able to share the many dimensions of our exceptional alumni educators with you.

In January 2022, you can join us on this journey to discover how some of our Teacher at Sea Alumni have found their inner explorers and learn more about the stories that make these educators—exceptional AND inspirational! View the series teaser here and find the whole #FindingYourInnerExplorer series here.

By Britta Culbertson, Teacher at Sea Alumni Association Manager
and NOAA Teacher at Sea Alum, NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson, 2013