Enjoying the Stay-cation

Alaska is many things to many people. It can be a home, a vacation spot, a place to escape, a place to work; it can be a summer wonderland or the winter doldrums. Over the last year and a half, I’ve experienced a lot of the different types of Alaska. From busy Anchorage, laid-back Fairbanks, placid Kenai, old-town Nome and the isolated Bush, I’ve seen a lot.

A lot of people would assume that life in the Bush is laid back – there’s no rat race, no malls, not even a supermarket to get lost in. While some people may find that kind of life out here, my time seems to be mostly spent at work. Last year, I literally lived at work and while my commute has lengthened by a wonderful 40 or so yards this year, I still spend 55+ hours a week working in the school.

That’s why for Christmas this year, I was secretly pleased that we would be spending a week and a half in Koyuk. No long flights, no frantic trips to the mall and no reason to get out of bed if I don’t want to. It has been my first opportunity to experience the slower pace of life that not having a road that goes anywhere can offer. Time to enjoy it while I can – school starts back up on Monday.


Daylight is disappearing fast

This past Friday morning while in Koyuk, I went for a walk out of town. (This is the part where I warn you that nothing of real interest happened on this walk.) Sadly, it was probably only a hike of a couple miles total over the course of maybe an hour or an hour and a half (I didn’t check my watch before or after the hike).

There’s something a little different about this walk than most winter walks I’ve ever taken though. First, I walked a whole lot slower, probably because I was wearing a pair of 8 lb boots. This may not sound like a big deal, but I wore tennis shoes year-round in Michigan except when snowshoeing, even in the middle of blizzards and nights that would dip into the low negatives.

The other reason for such a short walk is that the daylight is rapidly fading. Sunrise is already after 11am and the sun now sets before 4pm, leaving under 5 hours of daylight a day. This is quite a change from August, when there wasn’t even 5 hours of darkness a night. Normally, it takes a couple hours of daylight to motivate me to head out which now equates to half the day. Oh well, at least I have it better than someone I know who on the weekends can’t wake up until sunrise.

21 more days until the trend reverses and we start gaining sunlight back.

And something to leave you with, this is how I look when I go for a walk:

Things kids say…

Last week the school’s itinerant counselor was in and gave a lesson in problem solving and decision making to one of my classes. The basic scenario was: you’re stranded in the desert and have access to a limited number of supplies that you can recover from your wrecked vehicle. A magnetic compass was among the possible items to take.

Counselor (C): “Do you think a magnetic compass is important for survival?”
Student (S): “No.”
C: “Why not?”
S: Because you don’t have a refrigerator, duh!”

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.