Adventurers, Nurturers, Skijorers: We Want You!

Yukon Flats School District is looking for a secondary teacher for Arctic Village next year. I am off to graduate school, so my position will be opening up.

UPDATE: As of 7/11/19, according to ATP, my position is still open at Arctic Village School, as is the K-4 position. Please feel free to apply here through ATP and to contact me directly if you have questions about the job or the community.

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We want you! And no, not at all in a creepy, axe-wielding way!

As you can imagine, I’m kind of invested in finding someone right for the job, so here’s my honest pitch:

It’s an impossible job, but it is worthwhile. Teaching here is grueling and wonderful and infuriating and heartbreaking.

Sometimes it is easy to get lost in frustration: there are administrative failures and cultural misunderstandings and frozen pipes galore. There are a million and one things that are out of our control.

Sometimes it is easy to get lost in the pleasure of exploring the wild, magnificent Arctic Refuge that abuts the village and to forget why we must come back to work on Monday mornings when the wolf tracks lead in some different direction around some other mountain and the sunset is creeping farther north every evening. 

But we do come back. The kids have an unbelievable amount of love to give and a tremendous need to see it returned.

If you think that kind of experience might be for you, read on.

I know I am not at all the same person that I was when I began.

 

What does the job actually entail?

Right now, I teach grades 4-12. My classes are Algebra Fundamentals, High School English, Reading, Elemiddle (4-7) Language Arts, Elemiddle Social Studies, Art, sometimes P.E., sometimes Keyboarding, sometimes Drama.

There are extras that aren’t technically part of the job. Geoff and I both run a detention/study hall for an hour after school gets out each day. One evening a week, I run a board game night. I used to open the school for sewing two additional nights a week.

All of that, more or less, is flexible.

Geoff also teaches 4-12, and we have divided it up by content area in the past. That could be done differently, depending on the skills and interests of the new teacher. Regardless of how the classes are split, you’ll be working closely with Geoff. Don’t be shy about shooting him an email if you’re interested in the job. The school’s contact info can be found on the district’s website.

Now, the job description probably says something vague like this: prepare and provide curriculum-aligned lessons for assigned grade levels and content areas.

The fact is, you will write a lot of curriculum. You will teach grade levels and content areas that you are probably not certified to teach. You will do a million things at once, and you will be derailed constantly, so don’t bother making rigid lesson plans.

The negotiated agreement says our work day is from 8-4, that we get regular prep time, and that we have sick days that we can use at our discretion.

If you’re only planning to work from 8-4, you’re probably not going to do right by the kids. The school has a unique place in the community and in the kids’ lives, and you will be a huge part of that. That doesn’t end at 4:00.

If you want to take a lot of sick days or be rigid about your prep time, you’re going to screw your colleagues over. There is no one else in town who can really cover your classes. Sometimes, there is no one else who can even supervise the kids.

Fair Warning:

The Obvious

This is the bush: Everything comes in on the plane. The small store stocks mostly non-perishable foods. Gas costs $10 a gallon.

 

This is the arctic: It gets really cold here. Make sure you have long johns.

 

The Less-Obvious

Water:

Water here comes from the river. It’s filtered and treated at the washateria, then pumped over to the school and the two teacher apartments. Every other building in town is dry, and people haul or pack water from the washateria’s outdoor spigot for home use.

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Most people in town use an outhouse or a honeybucket at home. The school and the teacher apartments have running water and flush toilets. For showers, adults go to the washateria. Students are allowed to shower at school in the afternoons. We provide towels.

The kids don’t have the best oral hygiene and hand-washing skills, and they could, arguably, benefit from more showers.

Geoff and I live in a dry cabin, and I find I prefer it. There’s something essentially cleaner about not having a bathroom at all.

The Vibe:

There are four teachers here: an elementary teacher, two secondary teachers, and a special education teacher, all from outside. Our classified staff is all local. Many of them are quite young and awesome. In the past, we have usually had a pretty genial work environment.

There is a lot of male energy at school right now. Mark and Geoff get along pretty well, most of the time, but adding another man to the mix might be tricky. We could really use a woman in my position, if only to provide an alternative role model for the kids. Besides, someone needs to keep a stash of pads in her desk to hand out in times of need.

At the very least, if you are a man and you want this job, please consider calling or emailing and setting up a time to chat with both Mark and Geoff so that you can get a feel for how you might fit into the testosterone dynamics.

Special Needs:

About half of our kids are in Special Education. Almost all of our kids are behind by one or more grade levels in reading and math. It’s a very challenging teaching situation.

Tribal Land and Law:

Arctic Village is located right on the boundary between ANWR and a huge chunk of private property owned by the Native Village of Venetie Tribal Government. Teachers live and work on tribal land by the forbearance of the tribal government. In many ways, we have a different set of rules and expectations from any other residents of the community.

Non-members cannot go out exploring (skiing, snowmachining, hiking etc.) on tribal land without a tribal member as a chaperone and/or permission from the council. It’s easy to get out and enjoy the wilderness in Arctic Refuge, but it’s important to know where the boundary lies.

Non-members are held to a different standard when it comes to adhering to the rules and laws that the council and tribal government have put in place. This is a dry village, but drinking is common. The rules are not enforced except when they are, and if someone in the community has an issue with a teacher, or with teachers in general, or with outsiders, it is easy for them to cause a lot of trouble for an outsider who doesn’t take care.

When you have guests, it’s important to notify the council that they will be arriving. Even following this guideline, my guests have experienced some harassment. It is never the most memorable part of their experience – Arctic is stunning, the kids are charming and sweet, and most people are warm and welcoming – but it is frustratingly consistent.

No one tells you these things. There isn’t a manual or a packet for incoming teachers. Coming from outside, I assumed that I was expected to do what my neighbors do: when in Rome, do as the Romans. That just isn’t the case here, and no one will tell you that straight-up from the get-go. I have learned how to behave by trial and error and observation.

Housing:

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There are two apartments in the old school building. The one-bedroom apartment will be occupied next year. It looks like the two-bedroom might become available, but if that happens, the district will be hiring an elementary teacher in addition to a secondary teacher to replace me. Unless they find a teaching couple or two teachers willing to be roommates, someone is going to have to live in a dry cabin.

Rent for the two-bedroom apartment is $1,150 a month including heat, water and electricity. It’s possible to leech off the school’s internet from there.

Rent for a cabin in town is about $400 a month, maybe less, but you’re responsible for all of your own utilities, chores and maintenance. It’s not easy, but I think it’s worth it.

Most of the homes in town are heated exclusively with wood. It is probably possible to buy your wood from some dudes in town who bring in money that way. It’s also probably possible to pay someone to pack your water, maybe even buck and split your firewood (high school kids are great candidates for this). With a snowmachine and a chainsaw, it’s feasible to do all of this yourself, although it does add an extra heap of chores.

Perks:

Here’s the moment you’ve all been waiting for. I’m going to gush for a little while.

Beauty and Adventure

Arctic is stunning. My pictures can’t do it justice. Photographers, artists and the daydreamy be warned: you may find it hard to focus on school.

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Not focusing on school.

I’ve gushed pretty endlessly about this aspect of Arctic and of Venetie for years now, so if you want to know more, just read some old posts (suggested tags: Chandalar, firewood, snowmachines). If you’re an adventurer, make friends with Geoff (hint: he likes disaster movies and talking about man toys like cordless heat guns).

The wilderness adventure potential of this place is unlimited. I’ve been looking for the limit for years now, and I haven’t found it yet.

 

People and Culture

Arctic kids are the sweetest kids I have ever worked with, anywhere, bar none. They will hug you and love you and want to visit with you all the time. They’re ridiculous. If you like kids, you will love them. If you don’t like kids, find a new profession.

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The adults in the community are, for the most part, equipped with awesome senses of humor. You won’t see much of them unless you get involved with community events or attend sewing night, but getting to know folks is well worth the effort.

The elders are incredible. They have memories of a time when the Gwich’in were still traveling seasonally and living a mainly subsistence lifestyle here. They can tell stories that make the hair on your neck stand up, and they have skills that are quickly becoming rare. It’s a pleasure to hear them speak to the kids.

If you’re into it and can find the time, there are opportunities to get familiar with Gwich’in culture. The kids have language instruction a few times a week, several people regularly attend sewing nights at the school and do traditional beadwork, and there are people in the community who are glad to teach others to cut caribou meat and ice fish. My classroom is fully stocked with literature by and about the Gwich’in people, and people in town are proud of their heritage.

This is a critical moment for the Gwich’in. Congress has mandated leasing for oil and gas development in the Arctic Refuge, and the leasing area is in a sensitive place for the Porcupine caribou herd. Many adults and elders in the community are active in opposing this development, and you will find that passions run deep on this issue.

You Can’t Beat the Food

Everyone in town goes bananas for blueberries in August. I believe one woman picked thirty gallons of blueberries last summer. Lingonberries, known around here as cranberries, are harvested a little later in the fall.

 

There is very little, in my opinion, that rivals the taste of fried caribou meat and lingonberry chutney.

Throughout the fall and spring, sometimes even through the winter, caribou are active in the area. Caribou meat is lean but tender, and very flavorful. If you are a hunter, as a resident of Arctic Village you are entitled to take ten caribou in season. If you are not a hunter, you will have the opportunity to buy or trade for meat.

 

 

In the spring, holes are drilled in the Chandalar where it bends just upriver from town. Everyone enjoys ice fishing as the days warm and lengthen. Sometimes we take the kids up on skis and spend the afternoon making too much noise on the ice. I’ve never had any luck, but I hear grayling is delicious.

Other locally available foods include waterfowl, moose, ptarmigan and rabbit.

Flexibility

 

I have a dog that will cry incessantly and eat my boots if he’s left alone. We’ve worked it out so that he can be in a kennel just outside my classroom window all day long, which seems to work for him.

When the weather’s nice, we often take the kids skiing. It doesn’t necessarily have to happen during their thirty-minute P.E. block: we are able to retool the schedule to work with whatever activities we have planned, even on fairly short notice.

When I wanted to do stained glass with the kids, we were able to order the supplies and build a class around it.

Our secretary has been bringing her baby to work since she was just a little smushy bitty thing. Now she’s three and sometimes appears in the classroom doorways, asking for her mommy, wearing nothing but a diaper. It’s charming.

There are advantages and disadvantages to living and working in the bush, but you can’t beat it for flexibility.

Compensation

The pay and benefits are decent (by lower-48 standards).

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We Want You:

If you have a sense of humor.

If you are someone who likes to play board games with kids.

If you have an imagination.

If you are interested in getting outside.

If you are someone who is willing to give others the benefit of the doubt.

If you can think on your feet.

Interested?

If you think you might be interested, get in touch. I can answer your questions frankly or put you in touch with the folks who can.

 

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Shook-up world: What is the value of wilderness?

Like so many people, I am dazed by the events of this week. On Tuesday night I went to bed in tears, shocked and frightened by the outcome of the election. Trump’s campaign always felt like a prank to me, and now it feels like a prank that got out of control and set fire to the house with all of us trapped inside.

My fear stems from the following:

  • We have just sent a message to every secretly bigoted and misogynistic creep on earth that we, as a nation, condone abusive behavior and expressions of prejudice. This, more than anything else, frightens me.
  • I heard yesterday that Mr. Trump has expressed an interest in allying with Russia in Syria. Although I thought I remembered hearing that Russia was no longer backing Assad, I couldn’t find anything in a short online search to confirm that recollection. It is horrifying to think that our country might lend support to a criminal head-of-state who has used chemical weapons against his own people.
  • We have empowered a science-denier to make policy decisions that will have an irreversible impact on the environment.
  • Mr. Trump will have the opportunity to appoint as many as three supreme court justices.
  • Mr Trump will appoint a cabinet. I keep hearing rumors of a Secretary of the Interior with oil interests (Forrest Lucas, Sarah Palin) and an Energy Secretary with financial interests in fracking and in the Dakota Access Pipeline (Harold Hamm). I’m trembling here at the hem of ANWR.
    I understand that our Department of the Interior is responsible for managing federal lands in the best interest of the American people, for industry and recreation as well as conservation, but I am not convinced that the economic and political benefits of developing oil and natural gas are always worth the price we pay.I have not been persuaded that the potential benefits of developing mineral resources in ANWR outweigh the potential cultural and environmental costs. I know that this state runs on oil money and that my job and many, many others depend either directly on the oil industry or on the state budget. I know that it has never been demonstrated that the Porcupine caribou herd would be disrupted by development in the 1002 area. I know that the pipeline needs to maintain a minimum pressure or be permanently dismantled, and that with Prudhoe Bay producing less than in previous years, we need a new source for oil if we want to keep it open. I know that Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski has vowed to open the 1002 area in ANWR for drilling, and there will never be a better opportunity.  I expect the onslaught to be immediate and forceful, and I know that my students and their families are not prepared for it.

I’m trying to channel my anxiety into action. I’m reading endless articles and teaching my class with a renewed passion for civics. I am trying to cultivate a diversity of nuanced opinions among my students, who are usually, to their detriment, of one mind. I told the kids today, as I have been telling them for months, to bring me their voter cards when they turn eighteen and I’ll bake them each a cake to celebrate their power. I want the kids to know how the government works and how to influence it. I want to spend the next four years building up to a huge celebration of the centennial of women’s suffrage. I want to get my students informed about Standing Rock and the Dakota Access Pipeline and in contact with native kids, like them, whose environment and heritage may be threatened by oil development. I also want them to understand – really understand – the perspectives of people who don’t share their views, including those who wish to develop oil resources. I have never been so motivated to get my students writing clear, cogent, persuasive essays. We have such a long way to go, though. They are miles behind and not catching up quick.

But, after all, why bother with all of that? What is the value of wilderness?

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Wilderness is valuable for its power to make us feel small. We spend so much time in human-built environments, perfectly made to our scale, that we forget how we diminish in the presence of  mountains and tundra, how we disappear in the course of rivers that churn with mud and power. When I am out there, I am no greater than one of seven-billion ice-crystals lying under an unknowably deep and vast sky.

It is valuable for its beauty, if you believe that beauty has value.

It is valuable for subsistence and cultural diversity, if you believe that subsistence and cultural diversity have value.

It is empowering.
How does it feel to stand in a silent, snow-filled valley, hundreds of miles from anywhere?
It feels like hugging the sun.

It is valuable for its complexity. As Carl Sagan reminds us, “The beauty of a living thing is not the atoms that go into it, but the way those atoms are put together” (thank you, Symphony of Science). We have so much yet to learn from the systems that interconnect in wild places. It is not enough to take pictures and samples to fossilize in a lab somewhere: the complexity of nature demands space, time and variables that cannot be simulated or artificially preserved. By eliminating wilderness, we preclude the full expression of these complex systems and curtail our studies and potential scientific knowledge.

The variation – the biodiversity – that powers the miracle of evolution also powers the miracles of medicine and technology: we look to biology and ecology for answers to our most difficult human challenges, and, without wilderness, those answers have no place to live.

And what about this wilderness? The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge? What is its value, specifically? I try to be pragmatic, and I think I am. I can see my way all the way around most political issues. I can see what people who want to develop the resources in the 1002 area see. Economic growth is important. Jobs are important. Energy independence is important. But vast, untouched and untouchable wilderness is inherently valuable for its power to command our respect and awe. Arctic beauty is important, more so as it dwindles. Culture and caribou are important. Unique biological and ecological processes and systems are important. And the only difference that really matters between these things and those things is that these things are available nowhere else in the world.

If by cultivating economic growth, jobs, and energy independence we compromise the biodiversity and cultural diversity of the planet, we pay too high a price.

In other news, ahshii. It’s snowing.

At last.

Come teach in the bush!

Okay, this is shameless, but things are dire! We really need a teacher for grades 3-5. Things got screwy and the job didn’t get advertised, so we’re stopping the gap with a sub, and worrying about what will happen if we get stuck without a teacher and are forced to consolidate (it will suck. Let’s make sure it doesn’t happen). Here’s the job posting (finally) on ATP. The details are a little screwy, but the district is kinda like that. Things aren’t perfect here, administratively speaking, but for the most part, they leave us alone in our classrooms, and that’s something, anyhow.

Details:

The job, right now, is grades 3-5. There are maybe twelve kids in those grades, the bulk in fifth. The classroom is spacious, purple, outfitted with a smartboard, a sink, and big windows that look out onto the playground. There is an ipad for each student, and there are enough laptops available in the building for word processing projects. The internet is a little slow and occasionally unreliable, but you get used to it. Several of the students have IEPs. Special ed services are inconsistent here. You will probably have an aide.

Why you should come:

  • This place it outrageously strange and beautiful:
  • You will make a difference: these kids are desperate to love and be loved, and when they are loved they learn. It’s amazing. If you can love the kids, you can make outstanding things happen for them in a very short period of time.
  • Hiking, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, any kind of outdoor adventure you can imagine, right at your fingertips, maybe more than you’re prepared for.
  • I have a big box of board games and nobody to play with.
  • Great pay, great benefits. Nice, new, warm teacher housing with running water.
  • It’s an adventure. Few people can say they live north of the arctic circle in a fly-in village.

Fair warning:

  • The community and the school have had conflicts in the past, and there’s not a lot of trust there. We’re trying, and this is getting better.
  • The staff is stressed always and grouchy sometimes. This is a pretty hard job.
  • You will be (unofficially) expected to help with after school activities.
  • The kids are way behind. They don’t start school with much prior knowledge, and they’re often stuck with teachers who aren’t really invested in them.
  • Special ed is not readily or consistently available here.
  • It’s lonely.
  • It’s difficult and expensive to leave to go shopping or to a movie or just to get some space.
  • It’s hard to take sick or personal days because your colleagues have to cover for you (there are not really any subs).
  • You will always be an outsider in the village.

Why you should do it anyway:

Why not? It’s awesome. Challenges and opportunity go hand in hand: here, you have the chance to make your experience into whatever you want it to be, and that’s pretty unique.

Come teach with me!

Keely