Things I have done so far today (1 pm)

I have…

  1. Cleaned up a mysterious pee puddle in the girls’ bathroom (in front of the shower, nowhere near a toilet)
  2. Instructed a girl to “come back over here and wipe [her] loogie off the outside of my trash can.”
  3. Called the clinic to see if we can get a health aide to do a talk on basic hygiene while a child puked in my (other) trash can
  4. Called said kid’s mom because he puked in my trash can
  5. Asked Geoff to give the aforementioned kid a ride home because his mom had no fuel in her machine
  6. Sent more than half the kids in my class home sick, most on foot
  7. Wiped down all of my desks and chairs with bleach
  8. Wheeled a chair out of the room because it smelled like someone had pooped on it
  9. Arranged for someone to have a talk with the stinky-bottomed child
  10. Administered a state standardized test

Update (3:30 pm)

I have now, in addition to the previous items,

  1. Taught two kids to play Dominion
  2. Lost my temper with an adult (understandably, I think. It’s been quite a day)

Venetie Volleyball

On Thursday, six kids from Venetie flew to Arctic Village to play volleyball. We’ve been planning this for a while with their principal, and I’ve been looking forward to it since it was just the germ of an idea.

dsc05371

Venetie and Arctic have a complex relationship. They are partners in land ownership and governance, but there is some animosity between them. Arctic gets a lot of visitors and attention from outside, and I think there’s a perception in Venetie that Arctic is kind of stuck up. Venetie is a rougher village. There seems to be more crime and drinking and ugliness there (though I am not convinced that this is as it seems). Arctic kids grow up with an aversion to things Venetie. When I wore my Wolfpack hoodie this fall, they would call me a “mutt” and make rude comments about people from Venetie. The kids from the two villages snipe at each other over social media, even though they have hardly met in person.

I love those Venetie kids wholeheartedly. I latched on to them over the year and a half I was their teacher, and they mean the moon to me. When kids here say unkind things about them (people from Venetie suck: so and so is mean) I take it pretty hard. This visit was an opportunity to chip away at that prejudice a little.

Thursday, we mixed the groups and played Shipwreck, a team building game where you have to get everyone on your team across the gym before the other team. The challenge: the floor is lava. We gave them tools, (rope, hula hoops, a single roller skate, a scooter) and we set up a few islands. It was great watching them solve problems and come up with creative ways to use the items.

Later, we had them work in teams to make and clean up after a shared dinner, and after dinner we opened the gym for casual volleyball for a few hours. Geoff and I had ordered a glow-in the dark ball, and I had all the kids sign it with highlighters. We set up black-lights on the stanchions and passed out glow sticks for wristbands, then turned out the gym lights. It was pretty spectacular. G’s teeth glowed in the blacklight.

Friday was tournament day, and there was a lot to do, but we took the afternoon off from preparations to get out and enjoy the suddenly warm (-15?) weather. I set some kids up with skis during PE and Geoff set some others up with snowboards. At 1:30 we headed out to the lake. The truck dropped us off beyond the airport, and we skied or walked the rest of the way.

dsc05374

I skied, and it was blissful. It’s been too cold to ski most of this winter, not because I’m a pansy but because there’s a temperature at which skis just stick instead of gliding. I pulled ahead of the kids and took a picture of them all trekking in the snowmachine trail across the lake to the spot Geoff had chosen for a fire.

dsc05375Geoff drove his snowmachine back and forth, picking up kids in the sled and hauling them out to the fire. I bummed a ride down the lake and back once, before all the kids lined up to try it, whether on snowboards or skis. L was awesome on a snowboard. dsc05384They heckled Eddie, the principal from Venetie, until he got on a snowboard and gave it a try. C, a 7th grader from Arctic, rode backwards on the machine behind Geoff, giggling. The kids kept a great fire going the whole time, and heated water for tea. Everyone had a blast, and no one complained about the long walk out or the chilly ride back to school in the back of the truck.

dsc05379

We were all exhausted by the time we got back to school, but the day’s activities weren’t done. I led a team in pizza-making, and sweet P from Venetie made cake for everyone to share.

After dinner, the moment was finally upon us. We scrambled to figure out the scoreboard, find a whistle, and organize the kids into reasonable teams (we had to have two teams from Arctic). At 7:30, the games began.

Folks from the village showed up and cheered for both teams, which made me glad. I admit to secretly cheering for the Venetie kids: I could see their nerves, their courage, and their determination clearly on their well-loved faces, whereas the Arctic kids were perfectly relaxed and at home. All the kids played great games, with Venetie losing to both Arctic teams by only a point or two.

After the two schools played, a village team was organized, and they played a few games against mixed student teams. I like that the kids ended the volleyball tournament by playing together. It reinforced what the trip was supposed to be all about (in my mind).

dsc05396

The kids stayed and watched a movie in my classroom until midnight. I was dragging by that time, completely done-in by the long days. When the Arctic kids finally went home and the Venetie kids finally headed to bed (“bye,” said G as the Arctic kids put on their snowpants in the hall, “it was really nice to meet you”), I was more than ready to get home and into my warm, blessedly horizontal bed.

In the morning, I went over to the school to have breakfast with the Venetie kiddos before the plane came. They were still sleeping when I got there, so I got to read the note they’d written on my board and leak some tears before they woke up.

dsc05403

A few Arctic kids showed up for breakfast, but they didn’t stay long, so I got to spend a little alone-time with my girls, and that meant a lot to me. The relationship I have with them is nothing like my relationship with the kids here. They feel more like family than like students, and I told them how proud I am of their courage, grace and humor. They gave me all the gossip – who has a new baby in the village, which Venetie girl has a crush on which Arctic boy and so on. A has matured so much since last year, and she is standing up straighter, proud of her bright mind and smile. G has grown into her height – she’s become a confident, stunning young woman. P is so much less volatile now, and she lets her kindness show through more. As usual, C is perfectly herself. I’ve really missed them.

Arctic is traveling to Venetie for a rematch in the spring. The girls are determined to give us a warm welcome and show us a good time. I can’t wait to visit and see what they come up with.

 

Not that cuddly

dsc05284Now and then, one of my fourth graders holds out his arms for a hug. I have a third grader who rests her head against my arm when I lean over the desk to help with classwork. Those of you who know me well are probably chuckling. I’m not all that cuddly. I don’t bite or anything, I’m just stiff.

When a girl is crying in the bathroom, male teachers find the nearest lady and say “go talk to her.” It’s universal. They all do it.

I try. I go in and assess the situation. I watch her cry for a while, arms around her knees in a dark corner, or I listen to her sobs echoing off the porcelain in a locked bathroom stall. I try “what’s up?” and “can you tell me what happened?” but then, inevitably, I blurt out something like “can I get you a glass of water?” I’m terrible at this stuff.

That’s middle school, and I’ve accepted my awkwardness there. Now, though, for the first time since I became a teacher, I’m working with elementary students. They cry a lot.They get knocked down in gym and they cry. Their dads make them wear their snowpants so they cry. They get assigned seating and they cry. They get caught lying and they cry. I dole out hugs and band aids now. Once, I picked up a cool rock from outside for a girl to press against the hurt spot on her face. She looked so silly, holding that big rock to her eye, and she carried it with her for hours.

Working with younger students is a mystifying cocktail of sweetness and ickiness and fun and unsolicited intimacy. They talk about the hard things at home. They pick their noses. They hug. They spill. They sing along with stupid videos. They like to shout the answers. They have pockets full of little toys. They are sticky. They forgive quickly, and I’m grateful because this is a steep learning curve for me. I don’t know how much is too much to expect, so I expect too much. I don’t know how to fix bumps and scrapes and tears so I ignore them. I don’t know how to decide who gets to sit on the couch so I do the mean thing and say “nobody!” In spite of my growling and snapping and my ignorance and helplessness in the face of tears, they bounce in smiling every day. I’m baffled and delighted by their enthusiasm and their trust.

We have such a long way to go together this year. My elementary class (grades 3 through 7) started the year resistant to writing more than a few sentences. Now they look forward to the days when I post a painting on the smartboard and let them write about it. They love to write stories, but not a single one of them can use punctuation at all, and one of them still misspells his own name sometimes.

I want to teach them to write. For starters, I want them to write understandably. Later, I want them to write expressively. How can I teach them what a sentence is, though? Punctuation feels as natural to me as blinking. How can I teach them to spell? I don’t remember the right things to say, how the ‘e’ makes the ‘a’ say its name, how you need to change the ‘y’ to ‘i’ and add ‘es’. How can I teach the one kid to spell his name while I prepare the older girl to take her classes with the high school next year? I have no idea how to do this. It feels like I’m starting from scratch with these kids, and on the one hand, I’m thrilled to have the chance. On the other hand, I’m desperately intimidated. They’re so vulnerable, and I’m not that cuddly.

dsc05264

Not that cuddly (I’m wearing a life jacket and trailing a rope just in case the ice broke on the crossing, just in case you were wondering)

 

 

 

Field Trip!

The Arctic girls left Anchorage last Saturday night after the NYO athletes’ pizza party. By the time we hit the road, it was after ten, so by the time we got back to Fairbanks it was five in the morning. I noticed, as we drove through Nenana in the early dawn, that the tripod had fallen through the ice since we were last there, only a few days before. The river was open, a passage suddenly made of liquid water.

At the hotel, everyone slept a few restless hours, then we went to Wright’s for an 8:00 check in. When the girls’ plane took off at 9:00, Geoff and I went back to the hotel and crashed for a few precious hours, then he and I returned to Wright’s to pick up the Venetie group at noon.

We ran a few Fairbanks errands and celebrated A’s birthday at a hibachi grill, then turned around and drove the kids down to Anchorage.

DSC04603

Geoff fell asleep about ten seconds after we switched places. He didn’t have much success making lesson plans.

That was hard. It’s hard to be with kids all day every day, and to do it with all the added stress of traveling and feeding them and making sure they are safe is a monumental feat. I have a newfound admiration for parents. It felt like I never had a moment alone, not even to eat or sleep. I don’t mean to give the wrong impression: I had a great time. It was just a long great time.

We had some great roadside stops

DSC04589

Between Fairbanks and Nenana

DSC04598

Just beyond Healy (C didn’t want her picture taken – she hadn’t composed her yuckiest face yet)

DSC04608

On a windy Monday in Whittier

DSC04644

South of Denali

DSC04647

In two weeks we put almost exactly 2,000 miles on the van, and, for the most part, it was pretty easy riding even with eight kids and all their gear in the vehicle. We saw a couple of moose on the road, but they were never problematic road moose, and I learned that Geoff has a working knowledge of approximately 80% of the rest areas and 60% of the gas stations in Alaska.

We cruised through a mountain to get to Whittier, and C calculated down to the second how long it would take us to travel through the tunnel at 25 mph. If there hadn’t been a car in front of us, we probably would have hit it dead on.

The worst part was when G got carsick on the ride up from Seward. She was miserable, and there wasn’t much we could do for her. We’d been whalewatching that day, and she never really got over the rocking of the boat.

DSC04618

Ponchos for everyone!

DSC04620

Sea otters!

DSC04622

Not puking yet, but it won’t be long.

A lot of the kids had never seen the ocean before, and we got to see it up close and personal. We saw  a Steller’s sea lion catch and eat a big salmon, and we saw a humpback whale blow only feet away from the rail of our boat.

The kids loved it – when asked what they’d most enjoyed about the trip, most of them agreed that the whales were the coolest. Those kids that weren’t puking did, anyway.

We had some other great adventures too.

We spent a night at the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward, sleeping between the sea lion and the seabirds. C unintentionally set off the door alarm at about 10:30 and I nearly had a heart attack, but other than that we had a great time. They loved the touch tank and the feeling of having the place to ourselves after dark. The SeaLife Center rehabilitates marine animals, and they had two baby otters in their care while we were there, and they were outrageously cute. I loved the octopus and the puffins with the funny old man hair.

DSC04610

The touch tank at the SeaLife Center was very popular.

On Wednesday, we visited the Anchorage Museum, which I think is wonderful. The Imaginarium is a great science lab playground, with loads of giant bubbles and live animals, and the displays about Alaska’s native communities are well-made and incredibly informative: each case has a computer at the end with information about every object, including a transcription of elders discussing the object’s significance and provenance.

After that, we took the kids to see Broadway’s Peter Pan, which I was a little afraid they wouldn’t like, but which they wound up loving. The flying and dancing and swordfighting looked like great fun, and the sets were beautiful. C spent the whole show whispering questions into my ear, and P swears that if her dad doesn’t get her tickets to go see Beauty and the Beast next spring, she’ll cry.

I’m for bed now. I have some recovering to do before this week hits full force. It’s graduation on Friday and Prom on Saturday, and then suddenly it’s the last week and school’s out for summer. Somehow, I need to find time to pack up my house and my classroom to move up to Arctic and the next big adventure. Madness!