First Impressions

I got to Tuluksak yesterday evening, after a week of district training in Anchorage. It was beautiful weather for traveling – clear except for a few fluffy clouds, around 70 degrees. The thing that struck me the most when I arrived was that if I met a child in the street, as I was walking around town, they wouldn’t just say “hi” and go about whatever they were doing – they would instead follow me to wherever I was going, and then hang out on some teacher’s porch. One girl took me for a ride in her four-wheeler, asked me to drive it, and then laughed at how incompetent I was. They also took another teacher and I to a pond about half a mile away to go swimming. Apparently, we are their entertainment, at least for now.

In some ways, it reminds me of Mexico more than other US towns – there are only dirt roads, a lot of little kids running around with no discernible supervision, random dogs sitting around, and things like water, electricity, phone lines, garbage, etc. aren’t hidden, as they generally are in cities. The kids are considered to be ELL students, because so many of them speak Yupik at home (they have an accent that makes everything sound softer – like the letters have all gone mushy). The land here is lovely – very thick, short forests, tall, thick grass, wild flowers and berries, and little ponds all over the place, like the one the kids were swimming in yesterday. We’re right on the bank of a river, so a lot of people have boats they use to net fish.

My house is quite large, and fairly nice. It has two bedrooms, a living room with two couches and a TV (that gets no reception), a small dining area,  a bathroom with normal plumbing, and a little kitchen (including a fridge/freezer, oven, sink, and some cabinets). Oh, and a mud room, which I am not used to having. The window in my bedroom is covered in tin foil – apparently the person who lived there before didn’t like having 20 hours of light at a time.

In keeping with us being the main form of entertainment for the kids here, I was walking down the street today, looking for someone who would lend me some plastic wrap to put paints on, when a couple of kids, about 7 and 10 respectively, came up and asked me what I was doing. I told them, and they asked if they could follow me. Then they asked if they could come to my house and paint as well. So they did. I don’t think I’m a very good hostess yet though – I pretty much did my own thing, and they painted, then wandered around a bit, then gave me their paintings and then left. It was all a bit odd, really.

Then, later, two first grade girls came over and entertained themselves with “PhotoBooth,” the digital funhouse mirror program. They also ate an entire can of Wasabi peas.

I’ve been a bit frazzled these past couple of days, because I’m trying to figure out what I’m going to teach in all my classes, none of which have textbooks (the exception being Study Skills, where we do have a set of The Code, a fairly short book about how teens can become better students and people by realizing what they want of life, and, especially, what kind of people they want to be). So I’m trying to find descriptions and syllabi from other, similar classes, from which I might borrow, as well as trying to figure out the software I don’t already know, especially Aperture, which Yearbook will use to import and arrange photos, Apple Pages, which they’ll use to create newsletters, and the Adobe Web Suite, including Dreamweaver and Fireworks. They’re all pretty user friendly, but I don’t think I’ll know either them or the students well enough to be able to have an entire semester planned out by Monday, and it’s stressing me out. I think instead, I may try for a course description, objectives, one week’s worth of lesson plans (which are due anyway), and a week’s worth of substitute lesson plans (though those probably won’t be finished until next weekend. It’s neat having a lot of flexibility in how I do things, but I must admit, there’s really something to be said for the good old fashioned textbook.

Today I got to go fishing and berry picking by the river. One of the other teachers here took myself, along with a few other people, up river to a better fishing spot, to catch some salmon. I caught five, which was exciting, because they were the first fish I ever caught, and were really large, so I think I’ll be eating them for the next three months or so. The other teachers I was with let me borrow their rods and lures, and showed me how to fish. I found out that salmon don’t actually eat once they enter fresh water, but they still go after lures, because they might be smaller fish that follow them upriver to eat their eggs. When we got back, they also taught me how to gut the fish, but since I’m not very good with a knife, I just cut them up rather than filleting them. Basically, that means more work when I’m eating them, rather than more work now.

On the way back from fishing, we stopped by a patch of tundra to go berry picking. Right now the blueberries are ripe, and in a month the other berries (I think they’re either “salmon-berries” or some kind of cranberry – they’re red and short) will be ready to pick. It’s fun picking the blueberries (except for the bugs!), but takes a really long time, because the bushes aren’t the large, highly cultivated kind like they have in Oregon, but the kind that can grow wild. They completely cover certain sections of tundra, are about a foot high, and the red berries grow underneath them.

After we got back and cleaned the fish, there was a school potluck at one of the other teachers’ houses, and everyone made really good food, including little salmon cakes, and smoked salmon.

Altogether, although I got nothing work related accomplished, it was a very satisfactory day.

For our first day of school, we taught half-hour classes until lunch, then broke up into groups, each with a staff member from the local community, and walked around town meeting the parents of some of our students. It was interesting, because we got to visit in some of their houses, and learn where everybody lives, but also awkward, because we didn’t have anything in particular to say to each other. The computer network was down all day, and part of today, because of a fire in Akiachack, where the servers are located. It was the old school that burnt down, though, not the new one, so apparently the rest of the town’s all right.

Here’s a little video of my house.

I took a class in a computer lab once. It was a mac lab, actually, like the one I have here, and the class was in second semester writing. It was tolerably good class, though not nearly so good as my first semester where we talked and wrote more, and had no computers. This time, we only had to write one paper that I can recall, and read one book, and we spent the rest of our time learning how to write papers and (especially) citations in proper APA style. That’s a useful thing to be able to do, I suppose. But I mostly remember that as soon as we got there, I started looking for pictures of fairies for my desktop, and the person yesterday was writing in her Live-journal about her recent trip to the zoo. The next day I put up a new screensaver and looked at polymer clay sites, and the girl next to me went to various manga sites. Then we referenced our browsing in APA format. That pretty much continued for the rest of the semester.

Computers and the internet are far as far as they go, but they probably oughtn’t go nearly so far as we let them. I’ve wasted too much time to count online in the past week and a half alone – and I know what I’m doing and want to avoid it! Why then should it be surprising that teens who haven’t made any particular decision on the matter then try to spend all their class time listening to music or surfing websites? It’s not, of course; it’s mearly difficult to deal with as a teacher (and, ultimately, as a person).

I got back from the hike at about 6:30, after walking around for about five hours, and then went to a service at the Moravian church at 7. They have old-fashioned protestant hymns in English and Yupiik, a young man reading scriptures and congregational call and response parts, and then a woman gave a sermon; unfortunately I can’t remember what it was about. they are somewhat difficult to follow because she alternates between Yupiik and English every sentence. Last week I remember her stressing that we should be grateful because God gives us good berries and fish to eat without us planting, or caring for them. The music was odd; I don’t know how to properly describe it. It reminded me of what I imagine Hawaiian folk music to be like – they have guitars and a keyboard, usually with some kind of automated beat in the background; the guitarists always play chords very slowly (I think the hymns must pretty much only use whole and half notes), and make sure we sing all four verses of any given song. Imagine singing “What a Friend I have in Jesus” exactly as written with luau music behind it, some kind of artificial back up, and Eskimo accents, and you pretty much have it. After the sermon they have “open mike,” where people get to sing or say pretty much whatever they want to – like church karaoke. I sang “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silent (without the microphone or backup music) because it’s my favorite protestant hymn, and part way through someone started trying to play random chords. It was odd. Everyone said I did alright, though. It’s a funny church, and, from my perspective, kind of awkward.

So I have this class in study skills. I haven’t actually taught them anything yet, except perhaps that I’m a pushover. I do want to teach them something though – I’m just not sure what. Note taking, time management, and test taking strategies seem to be popular choices. I’ll have to look them up. I was thinking this morning about what I actually know about study skills, and I think it amounts to this:

There are two basic ways that successful students go about learning what they need to for school. There are actually three, but one involves trying to con the teacher into thinking you have something to say when you really don’t, so I don’t count that as actual success.

Anyway, the first way – the preferred way – involves, as soon as one gets an assignment, deciding a topic (if that’s necessary), deciding its’ priority in relation to one’s other work, and coming up with a timeline for getting it done. It’s usually also prudent to overestimate the time the project will take, because things come up, and work almost always takes longer than we anticipate. Then, as the days or weeks go by, one strictly adheres to the plan they made, making slight adjustments based upon other things that might come up, the availability of resources for research, and how long various phases of work on the project do, in fact, take. That is how good students are supposed to operate, and has the advantage of leaving one with more time and less guilt for other things in life. The disadvantage is that it’s not very much like human nature.

Then there’s the way probably 90% of college students (and probably a number of others as well) actually operate. I know for a fact that many professional writers operate like this, because they’ve actually written about it as something pretty much all writers have to live and deal with (along with a period of thinking one’s present bit of writing is disgraceful and should be burned). These people start out the same as above: they sort, prioritize, write out a timeline (unless they have already lost hope of being free of class related guilt), and think about possible sources and topics. Then they either forget about it, or walk around with some ideas and some guilt simmering in their minds. The ones who remember go around thinking a bit about what to say, skim a few sections from a couple of books, vow that they will write that paper they’ve been neglecting just as soon as this show is over, invite each other over so that they can procrastinate together, form Facebook support groups, and generally live with this vague but heavy weight of having a bunch of stuff to do, and no discipline with which to do it. Then, sometime during the week the project is due (from two hours to a few days, depending on how involved it is), their subconscious goes on red alert, and they check out some more books, and sit down at their computer. They get up from their computer to buy a large mocha and some snacks. They instant message a friend with a similar project to complain about the burden of procrastination. They check their Facebook account again. They put on some music. They download some different music that’s “less distracting.” They drink the coffee and eat the snacks. They read bits of the books they’ve checked out, Then, at perhaps ten at night, they begin to actually write the paper, and continue to write until perhaps three in the morning. They decide to take a “little break.” They fall asleep, anxious and exhausted. Their alarm goes off. They hit snooze. It goes off again: they notice that it is now 8, and their class begins at 10:30; there are still two more pages to write. They buy a grande mocha with an extra shot of espresso. They then write the last two pages, read it over as fast as possible for obvious mistakes, print it out, and get to class at 10:45, exhausted, nervous, angry with themselves, and hating their work. A week later, they get their paper back, and are relieved to find that it was just good enough to get an A-, because they did in fact put some work into it, and because their knowledge of the conventions of written English was pretty good.

This second method has a number of very obvious disadvantages. It’s main (perhaps only) advantage is that it is very much like how people naturally do things.

I’ve been reading a blog by a fellow teacher at my school, and finding it interesting how differently people can experience new situations, depending on where they’re coming from. For instance, I was mostly surprised when I first got here that I had such a nice house than that the other people here didn’t – it kind of reminded me of cities I’ve been to in Mexico – and then sometimes people do something to help; build a new house or something, which is good – but basically I’ve always been familiar with people near me living like this. Probably that’s a problem on my part.

Mostly, though I was aware of how little my life is different here than it has been in Arizona. I had a few more friends there – I want to make friends with someone who’s not a teacher here, but I’m not sure how to go about it yet – and I went to church events, but that was the main difference, especially from college. I would still walk pretty much everywhere, spend most of my free time reading or writing or walking, do some work, procrastinate from doing work… the similarities vastly outweigh the differences. I’d like to go walking more, but I’m a bit timid in the forests, because of the wildlife, and in the town there are so many kids, who want to know where I’m going and what I’m doing.

Anyway, give it a read – he notices a lot of things I don’t.

Yesterday I tried walking to the berry covered tundra with another teacher, Lief – it was about three miles, and quite a nice walk. It made me think of hiking with the Flagstaff OCF; they would have had a lot of fun here, and probably Dow would have actually found the right path. As it was, I think we took a wrong turn, and ended up at a big marshy meadow, where the path stopped, though we continued through some more forest after that, for about 45 minutes, to see if we could find the tundra anyway. We never did, but the country was lovely – forests with a lot of bushes and tall grass (other than an occasional fir, I don’t know what the trees were), little marshes, and a clearing that was perhaps a quarter mile around filled with four to five foot tall grass. I want to collect some sometime to try making baskets with, though apparently it isn’t so good for that than sea grass. It must be nearly as good as pine needles, though, because it’s pretty sturdy and much longer.

We collected rose hips, fir needles, and tundra tea needles. I learned that pine and fir needles can be boiled to make herbal tea, and that they contain vitamin C (as do rose hips); I haven’t checked up on that, but it would be interesting if true, since people have come down with scurvy in the middle of northern pine forests, but perhaps it might have been prevented if they had tried crushing and eating or brewing the pine leaves. Tundra tea comes from a plant that looks a lot like rosemary, and grows all over the tundra (obviously) and other grassy areas. It’s apparently very healthy, though I haven’t tried it yet, because I can’t imagine it tastes as good as black vanilla tea. There are a lot of rose hips all over the place, which is a name I remember from herbal tea packages, but I never knew what they look like before. They’re edible right off the branch, but not very interesting to eat, because mostly they just taste like plant.

Actually, I haven’t gotten so far as actually writing lesson plans, even though I’ve been working on this off and on for two weeks, and six hours today. Arg. I desperately wish I weren’t so slow. So far, I’ve outlined four out of six classes, nearly written one syllabus, and… some other stuff – I can’t even really remember what it was. I think I’ll take a break for a few hours now, because I’m starting to really resent these state standards (both standard standards and GLE standards, which I have even though they aren’t aimed at my content area at all). Yes, I’m frustrated – mostly because it hardly seems possible that such an apparently straightforward task of organization could possibly take such a dreadfully long time. And it’s such a lovely day outside, too. *wistful sigh* And I have absolutely NO readings for any of my classes yet. Really, none. It feels like it’s going to be October, and I’ll still be sitting here, writing pages and pages of things that aren’t real writing at all. Again, arg.

Well, it’s Friday and my first week as a new teacher is over. To be honest, I didn’t do much of what I probably should have based upon what I’ve heard. I could go on and on about what I didn’t do, and how six classes in six completely different subjects, most of which I’ve never taken, is too much. But I won’t, because all things considered, things went all right. The positive side to the distractions computers bring is that if a lesson flops, or I’m not quite as prepared as I should have been, there is always still something for the students to do, other than just sitting there discontentedly. I still need to do some serious research and organization, though. It’s because I’m procrastinating that I’m spending Friday night at school; at least I can pretend like I’m doing something constructive.

On Wednesdays we get out early to have a faculty meeting, so I was making a wee Sculpy sculpture, which I want to teach to the intro to art kids. I took a picture of it, because I’m leaving it on my desk, and someone will probably smash it tomorrow. No, I don’t have any reason for the nose being so big.

This summer during the month of July I was a camp counselor at Camp Saint Nicholas, near Frazier Parks, California. It’s a really neat program. I didn’t take any pictures, so if you want to know what it looks like, go to the Camp Website.

My blog has moved from Blogspot to here, in order to be easier to keep track of.

I have moved from Tucson, Arizona to Tuluksak, Alaska

where I’m going to be a first year teacher in computers, art, and study skills.

Over the course of the year, I intend to use this blog to write about life as a first year teacher in Rural Alaska. Since I’m the computer teacher here, I’m also going to be keeping a class blog, at Syllabi should be up by next Monday. The header is a picture of the school here.


One thought on “First Impressions

  1. Wow! I just got the email from the family yahoo group about your move up there. Congratulations! It looks like you’re set for quite the adventure, and I’m sure you’ll have lots to share. And don’t worry about Dreamweaver, I use it everyday and it really is fairly easy to master 🙂
    Best of luck and keep us posted!
    ~Shauna~ (Cousin from Phoenix)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s