Teaching in the Bush – 8 Weeks In

Eight weeks ago, I waited in my classroom for my first students to arrive – slightly nervous, mostly excited and completely unaware of what my students would be like. Today, I sit in an empty classroom looking back in time and setting goals for the coming quarter.

Like most new teachers, I’ve spent a fair amount of time wondering if I am good enough to actually facilitate my students’ learning; I’ve been buried under new terms like: EOLs, DART, iCommunity, SIPs, HSGQE, SBAs, QAS, and that’s before even considering what at first felt like a byzantine system of standards. There have been moments when it feels like I’m drowning in a sea of work, frustration and anxiety. Thankfully though, I’ve gotten the professional and personal support that I need from my mentor and friends so that those frustrations and anxieties have been minimized which allows me to focus on teaching.

I have a better idea what I need to do in order to promote success in my classroom. There are concrete steps and goals that I have in mind and they are all small enough that none is overwhelming in and of itself; that’s important from a sanity perspective. I’ll provide better visual tracking of my students’ progress so that they know what they have to do, I’ll set clearer expectations, I’ll have a timeline published for expected progress. Most of my students are visual learners and I will do a better job catering to that.

It’s nice to have an idea of what I want to do and the feeling that I CAN make it there. That feeling certainly makes sitting in an empty classroom on a Sunday afternoon easier. It makes the noises of bush planes, Hondas and dirt bikes on their way to grand adventures less enticing. Sadly, those are adventures that I never take enough personal time to experience myself. Oh well, I suppose that after the next quarter is over, I’ll need another set of goals – might as well make that a personal set.

Working Sunday

“Because you’re pretty!” he said.

This little bit of gold happened yesterday and I can’t help but relate it, hopefully you get to laugh half as hard as I did.

Yesterday two of my students came over to visit and one of them brought their little brother (who is elementary school aged) along. We’re sitting around talking and playing Wii Bowling when out of the blue, the young boy asks me, “Do you have a girlfriend?”

Unsure of how much of my personal life I really want to relate to the kids (and by extension, the whole village) I responded, “What do you think.” What followed was a rapid exchange that left me laughing hysterically:

“Why do you think that?”
“Because you’re pretty!”

So there I am, a 23-year old male teacher with two female students and one male student in my apartment hanging out. And one of them tells me I’m pretty. For a split second I could almost feel the news article in the Nome Nugget announcing the end of my teaching career. Then I realized, “I’m in the Bush, he’s an Eskimo, and it’s not the girls saying this, it’s a younger boy – time to clarify.”

So, I did the only thing I could think, I shot him a quizzical stare. Thankfully, he picked up on it.

“Lots of the girls say you’re pretty! Irene, …”

And then, well, then I started laughing so hard that I didn’t catch the rest of the names.

Kids say the darndest things.

On the Post Office in Bush Alaskan life

The US Post Office holds a special place in the heart of anyone living in a remote Alaskan village. Like the bush plane, the Post Office is a major link to the outside world. (In fact, those are our two real, tangible and somewhat timely ways to get physical things in and out of the village.)

So, with this inadequate explanation (you really can’t understand it until you’ve lived it) you might understand why the fact that our post office has been closed and locked for several days because the workers left town. (Actually only two federal business days, but that follows a Monday holiday.) I don’t even have the worst of the lot by far: one teacher needs to mail her taxes in and I’ve heard of a few people who need money orders so their power doesn’t get shut off – there’s not other place to get a money order in town.

Luckily, someone showed up to open the post office on the 4:30pm flight today and they’ll be in late tonight going through the backlog. Here’s hoping that something more exciting than bills awaits me.

Heating an apartment – Bush Alaska style

It’s officially winter; the snow is falling, the air is crisp and clear and it’s edging toward cold – holding at around 20 degrees now for the past few days. It’s a beautiful time of year, one of my favorites in fact. This year it’s still delightful, but not as much so; you see, usually I have working heat. For some unfathomable reason (and one that has been unexplainable to me by my maintenance man) the radiators in my apartment aren’t working properly. The rest of the school has heat, just not my apartment.

Sadly, Friday ended and he left without getting the heat turned on, leaving me slightly chilly. No worries though! In true Bush fashion, I’ve found a solution that makes it advantageous to live in a small apartment like mine. My oven functions as a space heater when turned on at 550 degrees Fahrenheit! A rather moisture sucking space heater, but an effective one nonetheless.

I’ve been told that he might be able to get it working on Monday. If not though, hey, it’s the Bush and one simply has to accept that heating one’s home can turn into an adventure. (At least I’m not putting a burn barrel by the window and hauling driftwood in to heat the place… yet.)

Heating the bush apartment

(Edit: After my principal got phone calls from the Coordinator of Ed Support and the District Superintendent, I feel like I should clarify. Things aren’t that bad for me. I live above the school, so I get a lot of radiant heat – meaning that while a little chilly at times, I’m in no danger of freezing and the problem is being worked on.)

Bush teacher or Marine recruit? You decide.

One of the things you have to get used to while living in the bush is the lack of certain things you’ve taken for granted all your life. For example, there are no restaurants, no paved roads and no barber shops (we have phones, lights and motor cars though). So, like many other things in the village, you’ve got to learn to do for yourself. It’s been over 2 months since my last haircut and I was definitely overdue.

Unfortunately for me, my last shipment from drugstore.com which contained my clippers, toilet paper, paper towels and Kleenex took a month to arrive. When it came today, I was determined that tonight was the night to give myself my very first haircut. There was no sheet whirled around me by a barber, no hot foam on the back of the neck for use with a straight razor and no wraparound mirror. Instead, there was just me, a pair of clippers, a bathroom floor and small mirror.

Needless to say, it isn’t the most glamourous looking haircut – in fact, my first thought after getting it even was, “Did I just pass out and join the Marines?” But, it’s definitely not long and unmanageable anymore; in fact – I fit in with my students pretty well.

Bush Haircut