Saturday, September 27, 2014

Beautiful Tundra

     Just thought I would post some pictures that I have taken. I have seen some of the most beautiful sunsets and views and want to share them. The tundra may be flat and never ending, but it has a beauty of its own.

The sunset setting on my camera really brought out the colors.

Panoramic, turned out pretty cool. There was a storm rolling in.

Small sign of fall.

     Some days it just takes my breath away! You haven't seen a sunset until you've seen one on the tundra. My camera does not do it justice. I will leave you with a little poem.

One Sun,
Setting behind a great expanse of reflections.
Staring back at me,
Gazing upon the never ending calm.
The cool breeze colors my face,
Blush of the fading sun.
Beautiful Tundra.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Fish Cutting, Steams, and Qaspeqs Oh My! Some of My Village Experiences.

     I have had so many great experiences since I have been in Eek. The Yup'ik experiences have been the best though!

     A couple of the other teachers went fishing with some people from the village and when they brought all the fish back I got to cut some of it up. They caught Silver Salmons and Loni, the secretary at our school, showed me how to use an uluaq to cut the fish. An uluaq, we call it an ulu, is a curved knife with a handle on the top. They are super sharp and great for cutting meat and just about any other type of food.

Learning from a pro!

Trying it on my own. It was messy, but a lot of fun!
The reason I have my hood up and look kind of like a dork is because the bugs were really bad. They were drawn in by the blood and they were biting like crazy!

If you look at what I'm holding in my hand, that is an uluaq.

Dirk, Ashley, and I having a good ole time cutting up some salmon.
I think I cut three fish before I stopped, definitely a great experience!

     One of my other great experiences was having a maqiq or steam. (kind of pronounced mockik.) I wrote about this briefly in my New Teacher Training post. The easiest way for me to describe a steam is to compare it to a sauna. It's like the Yup'ik version of a sauna, except it is way way hotter. And this is how people in the village bathe; some call it a steam bath. 
     Ashley and I steamed with Loni. She was a great teacher and walked me through the whole process! I packed a bag with a change of clothes, towels, wash clothes (two), water for drinking, shampoo and body wash, and cardboard to sit on because the floor in the steam room is hot. I used one of the wash clothes to get wet and put over my face so it wouldn't be too hot.
     Typically, steams are a small, (about 12x8) simple structure built with wood. Steams can vary in size and how they are set up, so I am strictly talking about the one I was in. There was a changing/cooling room with a bench, light, and a bucket of cool water. The water is for each person to put in there basin that sits in the steam room and gets warm. You can also use it to cool your water off if it gets too hot. Then there was a door that separated the changing/cooling room from the steam room. You go in the steam room and there is a large barrel drum stove with rocks partially on and surrounding it. A basin of water, used to pour over the rocks for steam and to warm your cool water, sits on top of the stove. You use a long stick with a can on the end to pour the water over the rocks on the stove. Then there was a basin of water for each of us to use. 
     Basically, you go in, sit down, and get really hot. And I mean HOT! As soon as you step into the steam room it is super hot. Once everyone gets pretty warm you scoop up some water (the amount depends on how much steam and how hot you want it) and pour it over the rocks. I made sure to cover my face every time the water was poured. It sizzles and the steam rises up and then it will slowly rains down over you. It is really important to be still for a short period of time right after the water is poured because you could get burned. You typically pour water over the rocks three or four times and then you go out and cool off in the changing/cooling room. You sit around and talk for a little bit then repeat the whole process again. You repeat the entire process about three times and then you bathe. You use your basin of water, bathe, dry off, change, and there ya go! 
     This was a very interesting and enjoyable experience. It was extremely hot; I don't think I could explain how hot it was. But it was very relaxing. Afterwards you have to make sure to drink a lot of water to rehydrate yourself. Then you go to bed, fall asleep instantly, and sleep like a rock.

     Qaspeqs (pronounced Kuspuk) are a traditional Yup'ik garment worn by Native Alaskans. It is also worn by non-Natives. I ordered some fabric and Loni was kind enough to make two for me. Qaspeqs are a hooded overshirt with a large front pocket. Traditionally they are tunic-length, falling anywhere from below the hips to below the knees. They can also be worn at a shirt length.

This one is the longer more traditional style.

This one is the shorter shirt style.

     Qaspeqs are made with a variety of fabrics and a variety of patterns. One very interesting thing about qaspeqs is that everyone that makes them has a different style. A lot of people, familiar with the villages, can sometimes tell witch village it was made in based on the style. They are actually super comfortable and you would be amazed at how many things end up in that pocket by the end of the day!

     Hope you guys enjoy reading about my experiences as much as I've enjoyed having them! Until next time!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Just Walking Around....

     One day I just decided to take a walk down to the old airport and on the tundra. (FYI there is an old airport and a new airport, obviously the old airport is no longer in use. Just a nice place to walk.) So I grabbed my roommates dog, popped my headphones in, and took a leisurely stroll, snaping a few photos along the way.

The Kilbuck Mountains off in the distance. They are about 60-70 miles away.

The village and the river.

 There is just some beautiful scenery out here. It is incredible!

One of the larger lake/ponds around the village.

     Sometimes I just like to get out and walk. It is so peaceful and serene on the Tundra. I especially like it when it is windy because the bugs won't bother you. I walk with a couple of the other teachers. Some of us got the Jawbone Up bands that track your movement. So we are always trying to get our steps in and meet our goals! Enjoy the scenery!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Teaching in the Bush

     As a first year teacher, there are many challenges to overcome and many things you will experience. Like any other teacher I will face these challenges and have these experiences, but I will also encounter an entirely different set of challenges and experiences. Teaching in Bush Alaska is going to be the experience of a lifetime.

     As a first year teacher I will learn what it is like to run my very own classroom all on my own. Well I get to do that in the bush too, but instead of teaching one or two grades and only one subject I am teaching 6th through 8th grade and I teach six different subjects in one classroom. In other words, I am completely self contained. (I even have my own restrooms and water fountain in my classroom.) I have been facing the challenge of planning and writing lessons for six different subjects, creating my classroom management plan, class rules, discipline plan, and utilizing every second of my time to effectively teach my students. 

     So what are the specific challenges and experience I face teaching in Bush Alaska? Well I'm glad you asked.

     The biggest challenge, like I already said, is teaching three grades all day for every subject. It is a challenge and at times a bit overwhelming, but I love it. It is such a great experience and I get to expand my abilities and skills as a teacher and try a lot of different things. It is taking some time to sort through all the curriculum and get in the groove, but I am getting the hang of it.

     The next biggest challenge is the students themselves. I am in a very small village (approx. 300 people) and I have 18 students. They are all Native to the village and for the most part just like your average teenagers. One big thing about these students is that it is very difficult for them to build trust with you. I am the third teacher they've had in three years. Teachers come and go easily out here and that can be rough on students, especially if they have you more than one year in a row. Not only has it been an adjustment for me, but it has been an adjustment for the students. Things are moving along though and we are all getting use to each other.

     Also, when you teach in a village this small you see your students outside of class ALL the time. We see them when we go for walks, we've gone berry picking with students, some of the other teachers have gone fishing with the students, you see all of the students a lot. They also like to come and visit. My roommate and I have designated days and times that our students are aloud to come visit us. Sometimes it is fun to see them outside of class and be able to relax. We usually play games with them and they have a good time. Very different from what it's like in the Lower 48 right?

     Teaching in a village in the bush IS very different. Here you really become a part of the community. Everyone knows you and you get to know everyone. All of the students (K-12) know your name. I think they all knew my name by the second day I was here. It is just part of living and teaching in the bush. 

     One of the other challenges I've faced is picking up the non-verbal communication. Like the eyebrow raises that signify "Yes." At first it was hard to get use to, but I've started to catch on and I even find myself doing it now. I also have to be really careful because down in the Lower 48 people raise their eyebrows a lot. We may raise our eyebrows when we ask a question or many other expressions. Sometimes students will ask me something and I will raise my eyebrows in a "Really? What do you think?" kind of way when they ask me something. Well they think I'm saying yes! I am getting the hang of it though and I try to make it a point to use the eyebrow raise for "Yes."

     Not only have I faced challenges, I have had some really great experiences as well. I mean how many teachers learn to cut up salmon at their New Teacher Training? Not very many, but we sure do here in Alaska. I've had the opportunity to cut up salmon myself and go berry picking on the tundra. I have even had my first Steam experience, which I will talk about in another post. 

     I also spend a lot of time with my fellow teachers. One of them is my roommate, and four others along with my principal live in my apartment building. All of us teachers spend a lot of time together and we consider ourselves an educational family. We really support and help each other out. We all have a lot of fun together and it's one of the great things about teacher here.

     So far, I absolutely love teaching in the bush. The people are great and it is like an adventure everyday. Yes there are challenges, but that is part of being a first year teacher and life in general. I couldn't be more happy with my decision to move to Alaska and I really look forward to what the rest of the year has to offer.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Drum Roll Please..........My Classroom!

     Here you go fellow educators and friends, pictures of my very first classroom. I spent A LOT of time cleaning, organizing, and preparing my room for the first day of school. It can be a daunting task, but I got it done! It can be stressful coming into a room that someone else used and trying to make it yours. What do you keep? What do you throw away? Should I just start fresh? The questions and decisions are limitless. I really wanted to make this classroom my own while still making it a positive and effective learning environment.

     First thing I did was go through EVERYTHING in my room. I wanted to know what I had, figure out what I would need and could use, and get rid of stuff that I didn't need. I gave some things to the other teachers. Then I needed to figure out how I wanted to set up my classroom and how I wanted it organized. This was harder than I thought it would be. It takes quite a bit of thought and consideration when deciding how to set up the flow and organization of your room.

     I was very lucky and got a fairly large room. My classroom isn't actually attached to the school. I'm in a portable unit just off the school (30 feet maybe) and I even have my own bathrooms. I am a self-contained classroom so I teach Mathematics, Language Arts, Science, American History, Health, and Physical Education. So not only did I have to figure out how to organize my room, I had to figure out how to incorporate every subject in my classroom. It was a challenge and it is still a work in progress.

Welcome to my Class!

This is what you see as soon as you walk through my door.
The shelves against the far wall hold the classroom library.

Back wall where the sink, water fountain, and bathrooms are.

Corner by the door. The shelf to the left is the supply center and the shelves in the corner are textbooks and teaching resources.

Different views of my room.

The view from my desk.

The front of my room.

My desk area!
I hang pictures, cards, and other things on the bulletin board behind my desk.

My "Cougars C.A.R.E." board.
Caring Acts
This is a school initiative to encourage great behavior and academics.
Teachers are always looking out for students that C.A.R.E. and when we see a student doing any of these things we give them a link that matches the color of the category and we hang the links in the room.
Every time a student gets a link they get to enter their name in a school-wide drawing for a prize at the end of the quarter. I also made a deal with my class, if they fill the length of a wall with links by the end of the quarter I will throw them a movie party. It's a really great initiative and we are trying to put a lot of emphasis on it.

     So those are the basics of my classroom. I am planning to do another post on my classroom organization, procedures, and expectations. My classroom has already changed from these original pictures and will continue to change. I will post updates on my room periodically throughout the year. Until next time!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Fun on the Tundra!

     Before school started, some of us decided to go fishing and berry picking. Typically you will find blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, salmonberries, and cranberries on or near the tundra. Unfortunately the berry crop isn't that great this year because Alaska had a somewhat mild winter this past year (unlike the polar vortex we had in the lower 48). We did find some blueberries and blackberries and the cranberries were plenty but not quite ready yet. The blueberries are delicious! The blackberries are not like the ones I would find in Ohio, they look a lot like a blueberry but smaller and darker in color. We weren't as lucky with the fishing. :( The silver salmon were running, but no luck that day.

Heading out on the tundra.


The Eek River

Dirk getting ready for some fishing!

Meanwhile I was picking berries!
*I was eating more than I was saving :) *

     Many of the berries are considered "low-bush" growing. In other words they grow very close to the ground. The picture on the right shows what the blueberry looks like on the plant and the picture on the left shows blueberries and blackberries. The blackberries are the smaller darker colored berries. 

I got some really great shots of the scenery, including a good one of Ashley and her dog Misty!

There was a storm brewing off in the distance. 

     One bad thing about the tundra is the bugs. Nats and mosquitoes are everywhere. They were pretty bad that day so we didn't stay out too long. When winter sets in they will go away.

     We went back to our apartments and decided to make fresh akutaq (Eskimo Ice Cream!). We mixed crisco and sugar, mixed it with our fingers until it was smooth, then added the berries, mixed some more and ta-da! Akutaq!


     It was a fun little adventure. Just a taste of what is to come in the next year. 

     I just want to thank everyone that has been reading my blog and following my adventure. I hope everyone enjoys my stories and experiences. If you would like to receive updates you can subscribe to my blog via the "Follow by Email" box at the top right side of my page. Just enter your email, submit, and follow the instructions. You will receive an email every time I update. 

Thanks for reading!