Lessons on the Prowl: Globetrotting teacher returns with “Eye of the Tiger”

Tourist-Friendly Tigers: High school English teacher Lillie Marshall infuses her passion for travel into the classroom. (Courtesy photo)

THE WORKING STIFF — By Darren Garnick
Boston Herald
September 8, 2010
**
After a year of self-imposed exile from the classroom, English teacher Lillie Marshall has a lot more to talk about than Shakespeare.

Starting her new job at Boston Latin Academy today, the 28-year-old educator can share a thick dossier of adventure stories culled from her recent journey across the world. When the literature theme of “follow your dreams” inevitably surfaces, Marshall can discuss the joys of kayaking through Vietnam’s Halong Bay, being a sardine on a Japanese subway, gingerly stroking tigers in Thailand and teaching “the most well behaved kids on the planet,” the children of Ghana.

It should be noted that students in that African nation are caned and subjected to other physical punishments as classroom discipline, such as making a child squat low to the ground while crossing his arms and grabbing his ears until instructed to stop.

“Teachers over there are strict,” Marshall says, referring to her volunteer stint teaching memoir writing. “They also make disobedient students dig ditches and cut the grass of the school with a machete. But I don’t think that’s the reason why everyone’s so well behaved. I think it’s the culture in general. Ghana is known for its kindness.”

Marshall stresses that she does not endorse corporal punishment, but suspects that her new students will be fascinated by what happens to their peers around the world when they are sent to the principal’s office. Before her trip, Marshall taught English and summer school for five years at Charlestown High.

The nine-month solo tour, meticulously chronicled on her blog (AroundTheWorldL.com), also conveyed a valuable lesson for any age: Don’t believe everything you read.

At the Tiger Temple wildlife sanctuary outside Bangkok, the photogenic Marshall calmly posed with giant wildcats like she was a female Dr. Dolittle. The beasts are chained around one leg, but there is no reason why the other three limbs couldn’t have torn Marshall to shreds. The brochure explains that these tigers were rescued as cubs from poachers and have grown accustomed to human touch.

But in her blog, Marshall shares another theory why her modeling partners seemed so lethargic: “Several times, we saw monks feeding the eager tigers some pills from a white packet, but as we cannot read Thai, these could either be opiates, vitamins, or breath freshener.”

Feeling re-energized for her career with the Boston Public Schools, Marshall is now seeking to connect with other people who dream of taking a sabbatical from the workplace. On Sept. 14th, she is leading a local “Meet Plan Go” workshop featuring advice on how to finance adventure travel and free up the time to make it possible.

“On my resume, I put ‘took a leave of absence to circumnavigate the globe,’” Marshall says. “It really helped me stand out and get job interviews.”

“It’s easier to be a better teacher if you feel like you’ve addressed your own jittery wanderlust and have done the things you wanted to do yourself,” she adds. “These memories can’t be taken away.”
**
Darren Garnick’s “Working Stiff” column runs every Wednesday in the Boston Herald.

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