With summer vacation finally here, or almost here, for most educators, many of us begin to think about how to spend our much-longed for and richly-deserved free time. For many of us, summer offers a great opportunity for travel. I’m no different, and I just returned from a wonderful two-week sojourn in Italy. My tour included visits to such iconic cities as Rome, Pisa, Ravenna, Venice, Verona, and Milan. While there, it was my good fortune to meet a number of very knowledgeable local tour guides. It occurred to me that many of the traits that make a top-notch tour guide are the same traits that make an exceptional teacher.
First, and probably most importantly, the tour guide must be likable. It’s imperative to be warm and friendly, because it’s just human nature to respond more positively to someone you like. Both the tour guide and the teacher are more successful if they set a relaxed tone right away and let it be known they are approachable, they are glad to see you, they are excited to share a part of their day with you. I think sometimes we educators forget how important this quality is to success in the classroom. Tourists will generally attempt to find something of value in the tour guide’s speech whether the speaker is likable or not, but students won’t always make the effort to bridge that gap.
Secondly, it’s imperative that the tour guide be well-versed in their subject matter. Like the classroom teacher, the tour guide must do their homework! Know your stuff! Furthermore, it’s important to be able to communicate the information in language that’s easy to comprehend, which means delivering the material clearly and distinctly, at a suitable volume, using appropriate vocabulary levels, and creating a logical sequence and progression of ideas. If your group can’t hear you or can’t get past your heavy Italian accent, or they don’t believe what you’re saying to them, before long they will meander away to take photos of what appeals to their eye, often having no idea what it is they’re taking pictures of.
Thirdly, it’s crucial for both the tour guide and the teacher to be flexible. Things happen! When the Vatican closes the Sistine Chapel without any notice, when laborers stage an unexpected shut-down of the metro services, or when you arrive at the funicular only to find it out of order, the tour guide can find their lesson plan for the day derailed. When that happens, the tour guide must extemporaneously construct a workable Plan B. After all, promises have been made that must be kept. Sometimes, like when you’re surprised by a political protest at the piazza which blocks your path to your tour bus, you just have to wait it out. You may be half an hour behind schedule, but eventually you’ll be back on track. Excellent teachers and first-rate tour guides are especially adept at reorganizing on the spot.
I have to say, on this vacation I had the good fortune to have really terrific tour guides everywhere in Italy that we went. I hope that your summer vacation, wherever you travel, is as fabulous as our sojourn to Italy was. Ciao!