Wednesday, May 21, 2014
Today was the last day of school. I have successfully finished a year of teaching in rural Alaska. Like other last days, today was full of many emotions… relief, exhaustion, reflection, sadness, happiness. However, today, I'm finding that these feelings are intensified by about ten thousand percent. Teaching in the bush isn't like teaching anywhere else. These kids are your family. This school is your home. Your classroom is your heart.
Yesterday, I sat down with my class and told them I was leaving. After they realized I wasn't coming back next year, the tears began to flood and they drowned me in hugs. We sat there in silence for several minutes, crying in each others arms. These weren't just my students embracing me; they were the children I'd waltzed with at community dances, the little ones who sat on my lap at birthday parties, and the angels who knocked on my door in the evening to tell me goodnight.
What a beautiful, life-changing experience this has been. I know I'll miss Newhalen life constantly. I'll miss the hum of Hondas, the sight of the sparkling river out my classroom window, the taste of hot dogs and s'mores over a tundra fire, the sound of giggling children out my bedroom window, and the silence. Oh, that eerie, wonderful silence found only in bush Alaska.
Thank you kindly to all of you who have followed along with my journey. I'm so glad that I could have provided you a glimpse into this phenomenal life. If you are interested in making the move to rural Alaska, I'll repeat what I've said before: do your research. Contact people, find out about different areas in the state, and spend some time alone to see if you'll be able to manage. If you're ready, this experience will change your life all for the good. It's made me a better person.
It's been a pleasure writing this blog. Best of luck to you in whatever you choose to do in life. Remember, life is short. Live loudly and adventure as much as you possibly can.
Sunday, April 13, 2014
"Can you write an article on the realities that caused you to stop maintaining this blog regularly? You spent a great deal of time promoting it and gathering readers. Seems pretty typical of first year Alaskan bush teachers and I'd like your opinion on why."
I'll dedicate this piece to respond.
Reason 1: I intended for my Alaskan adventure only to last a short while.
I walked into this teaching position with a pretty firm idea of what I wanted. Tyler and I dedicated the period after college to travel. Last year, we lived in South Korea. This year, we were either going to live in the United Arab Emirates or in Alaska. Alaska worked out in our favor, thus we are here. Of course, we came to Newhalen with open minds. We were very, very close to staying a second year until Tyler received a job offer from his stepdad. At that point, we knew it was time to move on. Tyler and I are quite open to the idea of coming back to Alaska in the future. We sometimes dream of buying a house in Homer or Palmer and raising a family. Only time will tell what will come into being. In terms of this blog, I stopped writing regularly after Tyler and I made the decision to leave Alaska. As I've mentioned before, most of my thoughts these days are occupied with our summer trip to Peru and our future in San Diego.
When I was in college, I decided to declare myself an education major because I knew it would set me up for the first chapter of my life. As a twenty-something, I wanted the freedom to travel and earn a solid income. My teaching certificate provided me that opportunity. After three years of teaching, however, I'm ready for something else. A teaching license is a great thing to fall back on and I'll always keep it up, but education won't be my only field of work.
All right, now that I've ranted about how teaching isn't for me anymore, let me make a minor edit. Teaching might have been for me for a longer period of time if not for the Common Core. Chances are if you're reading this, you're familiar with the drastic changes occurring nation-wide due to the Common Core. I'm not going to turn this blog into an educational debate forum, but let me state for the record that I am 100% against the Common Core and believe that our children will greatly suffer due to this unnecessary transformation. I refuse to work under a corrupt educational system that forces me to teach using methods that I inherently disagree with.
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I am not leaving because of a bad experience in Newhalen. On the contrary; my community and my district have treated me like gold. For the most part, I am leaving because of personal reasons. I cannot speak for anyone other than myself.
Let me conclude by echoing a sentiment I've written since the advent of this blog. Alaska is a beautiful place unlike you will find anywhere else. I know many teachers who have dedicated their lives to teaching in the bush and would have it no other way. They've uprooted from a lower-48 state and have raised families in one of the last pristine locations in the country. If you think a life here is for you, do your research. Contact teachers working in districts of your interest, ask honest questions, and don't say yes unless you're feeling 100% positive. If you truly are prepared to move to rural Alaska, chances are you'll have the time of your life.
*Finally, as a footnote: Although I've stopped writing for the most part, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org throughout the end of the year if you have any questions about making a move to rural Alaska. I gathered readers and published information-packed posts for individuals who were interested in making the move. I hope that this blog can answer some of your questions and assist you in making this potentially life-changing decision.
Saturday, March 22, 2014
Springtime has taken Newhalen by force. Despite the twenty-something degree weather, everyone's been abuzz about the sunshine. The days are growing longer and the ice is beginning to melt. Booming pops! can be heard throughout the village on account of people's metal roofs expanding due to the heat. People are starting to come out of hibernation and take to the mountain once again. It's a beautiful time.
Recently, Tyler and I have been all about ice fishing. It's our new favorite thing. Unfortunately, we caught on kind of late. People start ice fishing here around October/November and stop around April. The good news, as I just mentioned, is that we've been getting to fish with the sun burning a hole in our backs.
Ice fishing is simple, simple, simple. If you have a short stick, some line, a hook, and a plastic egg, you can catch a tasty dinner. People here also use ice picks to excavate holes and real salmon eggs to attract the fish.
Step 1: Dig a hole.
Step 2: Make pole.
Step 3: Pour salmon eggs in hole.
Step 4: Put line in water.
Step 5: Jig and wait, jig and wait, jig and wait.
Step 6: Catch fish.
Saturday, February 22, 2014
Well, there it is spelled out in big letters. We are moving to California! As I mentioned in my last post, Tyler and I finally settled on our plans for next year and have made up our minds to move to San Diego. This decision was an extremely difficult one to reach. I had an extended internal conflict with myself about it that resulted in many weeks of silence on this blog (sorry, readers). However, in the end, we knew that the decision to leave Alaska and forge new roads in California was the best for us.
Alaska has been one of the most incredible things that has ever happened to Tyler and I. We've made invaluable memories that will remain with us for the rest of our lives. We've had new experiences, made new friends, and learned what life is all about in a native village. As a Newhalen local said to me a few days ago, "It's a shame that you're leaving. You two really fit in here." We feel the same.
However, when a wonderful job opportunity presented itself to Tyler and when I started to ponder the future of my career, we began to realize that life in bush Alaska might not be for us right now. We are both interested in exploring different fields and we saw that California would be the best place to cultivate new dreams.
I have nothing negative to say about life as a bush Alaska teacher. I attained the dreamiest job an educator could hope for (five students, what?!). My life here is incredible; I feel free, accepted, and part of a tight-knit community. I've fallen in love with my students and feel so close to those who I've come to know. If I knew that I was supposed to be a teacher for the rest of my life, I would stay in a heartbeat. However, I know that's not the case. There are other things I need to be pursuing right now.
If you are a teacher or are soon to become one, I highly recommend that you consider teaching in Alaska. My personal decision to leave has nothing to do with the experience I've had in Newhalen. Our choice is entirely personal. If you are a passionate educator, if you don't mind small-town life, and if you're willing to try new things, Alaska is the place for you. The Lake and Peninsula School District is dreamy and chock-full of people who care desperately about students. I feel more than taken care of as a teacher in this district.
I still have three more months left here and there are more stories to come. I just wanted to share our announcement and report that this blog will be coming to a close in May. I hope that it has and will continue to help future teachers of Alaska. Alaska is a very special place that provides a rare and wonderful opportunity for adventurous educators. I wouldn't trade the experience I've had here for the world!
Sunday, February 16, 2014
Well, it's no secret that I have been M.I.A. for the past couple of months. I apologize to those of you who have been following along and wanting more! Yes, I am alive and kicking and still leading the busy life of a kindergarten teacher in rural Alaska. I have some exciting new updates that I will be sharing in my next post. Sorry for the suspense! I promise my next post will come sooner this time.
The first months of 2014 have been filled with all kinds of exciting events at Newhalen School. At the beginning of this month, our village hosted its annual Carnvial. Carnival is a jam-packed long weekend event that brings everyone in the community together for fun and games. Family members from outlying southwestern Alaskan villages also join for the festivities.
One of the first events that I attended was the "Minute to Win It" games on the first evening of Carnival. The Carnival Committee put together roughly a dozen games that were to be completed in one minute. The game pictured involved two bowls, Tic Tacs, and a pair of tweezers. Players had to move as many Tic Tacs across the table into an empty bowl as possible in one minute. These games were an absolute blast to watch!
Later that evening, a live band played music for a dance in the evening. This dance was the third I've been to in Newhalen and I enjoyed it just as much as the first. Tyler and I are usually sabotaged by little children who sit on our laps, jump on us, and drag us out on the dance floor.
Glow sticks are routinely passed out at the dances. They give the kids a constant source of amusement.
During Carnival weekend, games are facilitated throughout the dances. When it was time for the Macarena dance contest, guess who was out on the floor in an instant? Yep. My husband. You should have heard the uproarious laughter from the crowd on the bleachers as they watched Tyler flamboyantly make his Macarena moves. Needless to say, Tyler was the winner of the dance contest and won a floor lamp that is now gracing our apartment.
Basketball games also dominate the Carnival. Since basketball is consecrated and sanctified in our village, the ball games were the most widely attended Carnival events. Tyler enjoyed playing in the men's game on the second day of carnival. Can you spot him in the picture below? Just look for the Larry Bird shorts!
Moving on! After Carnival weekend concluded, we were greeted by another busy week filled with pink and red and love and hearts. Valentine's Day is on par with Halloween and Easter in the village. The kids will take advantage of any day that involves mass amounts of candy! We had a Valentine's Day party last Friday with games, art, and treats. In the picture below, one of my students is trying to get across our classroom using two cut-out hearts without stepping on the carpet.
Another game we played involved M&Ms, a straw, and a cup. Students had to move as many M&Ms into their cup as they could in one minute. Even though they were a little light-headed at the end, they loved the game and were excited to eat their M&Ms once we were done!
Yeah, I have the cutest kindergarteners in the world. I know.
The last piece of news I have to share with you today is that I got a student teacher, Miss Whittney! When I found out I was getting a student teacher, my jaw dropped to the floor since this is my first year teaching in rural Alaska and only my third year teaching altogether. Thus is the way of education in the bush! She's been an incredible help to me and is doing a fantastic job working with the kids. Below is a picture of Miss Whittney leading a Valentine's Day game with my class and the upper elementary class.
I can't believe that we only have about three more months left of school. The year has really flown by. Like I mentioned at the beginning of this entry, I have some exciting news to announce in my next post that will explain my long absence and divulge my future plans. Stay tuned!
Saturday, February 1, 2014
January was a busy, hectic, wonderful month that involved a great deal of change. After returning from winter vacation, we were thrust back into the crazy pace of school life. In my kindergarten class, we quickly jumped back into our daily schedule and classroom routines. We also gained a student teacher (more to come on that later) and found ourselves waist-deep in the busy basketball season. Most exciting for me, however, was the fact that we started Culture Mondays. Every Monday from 1:30-3:15, students break up into multi-age groups to learn about cultural activities. Here is a glimpse of our first Culture Day at Newhalen School.
I am first assigned to monitor the kuspuk-making group. In 4 weeks, students at this station will (hopefully!) make completed kuspuks that they can wear. This past Monday, we were taught how to use a sewing machine by the lovely Miss Kate (above) and how to sew a straight line.
Everyone practiced sewing straight lines on pieces of paper before they were given cloth. Next week, we will begin measuring, ironing, and sewing patterns together.
Another station was the beading station. Here, kids got the chance to thread beads onto animal skin to create hair-clips and other decorative pieces.
Students were so immersed and concentrative. Beading with little needles and very thin thread took a great deal of focus. I was so impressed!
The third station was the skin-sewing class. Each student got a small animal pellet and learned the first steps of how to sew mittens. I'm so excited to see the finished results in a few weeks!
The last station was the carving station. Eventually, students will leave this station with a fully-carved piece of artwork. This past Monday, however, students just learned how to use knives and plan their designs.
As you can see above, students were also able to carve bars of soap to get the feel of how to carve into a piece of wood.
I feel so extremely fortunate to be a part of these Culture Days. Since I'm not Yup'ik, I am learning just as much as the students during this process! It's so great having a day of the week where students can explore their histories and interact with members of the community.
Tuesday, January 14, 2014
Well, I'm back! After a long and wonderful winter vacation, Tyler and I are safe in Newhalen. Although our break seemed busy with things to do and people to see, we feel rejuvenated and ready to start the second half of the school year. I can't believe that we only have about four more months left to go!
Tyler and I spent the first half of our 3-week vacation in Bonners Ferry, Idaho. Once we arrived, we immediately commenced the Christmas rituals of mass eating and sleeping. Tyler's grandparents made the most beautiful Christmas. Picture home-cooked feasts, plates of cookies and Christmas goodies, a warm fireplace, and the company of extended family under the roof of the most charming cabin-esque abode. Above is a picture of Grandma serving Tyler a heaping plate of Shepherd's Pie.
Grandma also has a Christmas tradition of displaying porcelain Christmas villages in her house. She has collected individual pieces for many years and now has two fully-fledged, quaint communities. The villages make for such a relaxing holiday setting!
On our second day in Idaho, the family decided to go on a sleigh ride. Since I had never been on a sleigh ride, I was giddy to go. I'm happy to report that it was simply delightful! If you ever find yourself near Sandpoint, Idaho, don't pass up a chance to visit Western Pleasure Ranch for charming winter festivities.
One of the most fun nights in Idaho was when the family sat down and played the silliest game called Hedbanz. Essentially, the game is a version of charades wherein players need to act out the words on each other's cards. If players can guess their own cards within a set amount of time, they get points. Tyler documented the game on video while playing. After a few glasses of wine, this game is pretty darn fun.
After ten wonderful days in Idaho with Tyler's side of the family, we flew to Seattle to spend the last half of our break with my side of the family. We arrived on December 31st and went out to eat at a little French restaurant called Gainsbourg to celebrate New Year's Eve with my mom and stepdad.
Later on in the week, we met up with my dad and younger brother for a couple of intense bowling games. I couldn't believe how much my younger brother had grown since last year. He's 17-years-old and as tall as I am now (5'8'')!
Shown above (from left to right): Tyler, me, Jessica (step-sister), Daniel (brother), Joshua (step-brother), Mom, and Ken (stepdad).
We finally returned to Anchorage on January 11th after many wonderful days of sleeping in, visiting, and running errands. After packing a tote with groceries, we ventured to the most adorable bed and breakfast called Maria's Creekside Bed & Breakfast. We stayed the night for only about $75 (tax included). If you're at all familiar with Anchorage, you'll know that's a fantastic deal. The next morning, we awoke to an oncoming snowstorm. Hoping that it wouldn't effect our travels, we boarded our bush plane and flew out. However, after about a half hour on the flight, our pilot turned around because of inclement weather. After that, we re-rented a car and booked another night at Maria's. We weren't too disappointed to enjoy another day of restaurant meals!
It turned out that waiting an extra day paid off in multiple ways. As you might have seen on my Facebook page, I was asked to hold this sweet little puppy on the flight to Newhalen! The 7-week-old yellow lab named Louie traveled to his new owners in my village.
Tyler and I had a fantastic Christmas vacation and are so excited to greet our students tomorrow on their first day back from break! I can't wait to see what these next few months hold in store for us!