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.