Saturday, August 27, 2016

My First Week as a Bush Teacher

This year, I began my fifth year of teaching, three of which have been spent in Alaska.  Last Wednesday marked my first official day as a teacher in the Alaskan bush though, which is something I've dreamt about for many years now.  On top of that, it also marked my first day as Head Teacher, a position that has already proven to be incredibly involved.

Sunrise views on the way to school. 

I spent countless days, many of which I worked 12+ hours, preparing for the first day of school.  My classroom needed a complete overhaul, the school itself needed a facelift - mostly an injection of cheer - and there was a mounting number of students I needed to individualize instruction for each day.  Luckily, it all started to fall into place on Tuesday night, much to my intense relief.

The entire certified teaching staff at Pilot Point School. 

Cody and Ben (the other teacher's husband) worked to do many little projects around the school while myself and Melissa (the other teacher) went to teacher inservice. That helped immensely in the general "get ready" of the school building and it's main rooms.  Cody helped do a lot of decorating projects for my classroom too, and it really came together into something I'm proud of, and I think the kids like it too. I've had many compliments from students and community members.

After doing all of the prep work, it was finally time for the first day. Our principal and the district curriculum director flew out to our school for a couple of days to help us organize and make it through the first week successfully. Their presence really helped kick the year off right, while putting us on a good track for academics in the school.

The kids were excited and super sweet. They are definitely different than the kids I've grown used to on Beaver Island and in Juneau, but different is just what I was looking for in a classroom experience, so I'm happy to have found it.  I'm adjusting to many little cultural things in the classroom, such as the quietness (classroom discussions take much prompting) and nonverbal communication (raised eyebrows is the equivalent of answering a question "yes").  As the week drew to a close though I felt more at ease with all of the little nuances.

View of the school, from across the lake. 

Overall, it's been a fun and wonderful adjustment so far, but it's also been the most work I've ever had to put into a job.  I'm working long hours during the week, and probably another 8-ish on the weekends. As the year goes on, I'm really anticipating the amount of outside work to decrease, it's just the initial adjustment that takes time. Until then, I'm still trucking along out here, making the most out of our little life in bush Alaska.

Your turn...What is your favorite part about your job? 
Currently listening to... Red River Valley - Woody Guthrie 

Friday, August 19, 2016

Teacher Inservice

Three days after landing in the village, I had to do a quick turn-around and fly back to King Salmon for our teacher inservice.  Much like our first flight out to the village, the flight back to King Salmon was unpredictable.  We were told the day that we'd be leaving, but the airline had no exact time to give us, and instructed us just to "call back the day of your flight."  So, at 8:30am on the morning of our flight I called and asked.  We were told that we'd be flying out of the village around 2:30pm.  Lo and behold, at noon our school cook (who also works at the airport) came zooming up on his Honda to tell us the plane was on the way.  Me, with a half-packed bag, then had to rush to the airport feeling unprepared.

The flight to King Salmon went well, and it was nice to get to go to "town" for a couple of days (King Salmon has a decently stocked store and a couple of restaurants). The first three days of training were only for those teachers who were new to the district.  The daytime part of the training was fairly typical, with the exception being our "village safety" portion that dealt with wildlife interactions. The nighttime portion was very different though.  Our superintendent and a few other administrators taught us about subsistence fishing and we set a net on the beach at low tide.  Then, a few hours later (during high tide) we came back and collected the net. They taught us how to fillet the fish we caught in the net, and later we'd cook them up for dinner. 

We also got to stay at this great little lodge in town, where all of the new teachers could get together and bond in the evenings.  It was really nice to get to form bonds with some of the other new teachers, all of whom will share the school and village experiences we will be collecting in the coming months. 

On the third day, they flew us out to Katmai Lodge, which is a very remote wilderness lodge on the Alagnak River.  This portion of our training included the whole staff and lasted three days.  It was, by far, the best teacher inservice I've ever attended. Our days were spent doing some typical workshop-type sessions, but we spent 75% of our time working in small groups to plan our yearly schedule and work with curriculum.  It was super productive and helpful. Then, in the evenings we were free to enjoy the lodge to its fullest.  We could get massages, take a steam in the sauna, go on a wildlife viewing adventure, have a bonfire, or (my personal favorite) take a guided fly fishing tour.  

Fourteen of the female teachers, including myself, went out one night on a five-hour guided tour.  It was a complete blast! We caught a ton of fish, which we could choose to cook up right there on the river and eat, or take back to the lodge and have it prepared to take home with us.  I ended up bringing home six BIG fillets for Cody and I, which are currently hanging out in our deep freeze. We also got some free wildlife viewing in on our trip.  We saw a ton of bears, moose, eagles, and there was even a wolf hiding on the riverbank.  It was the experience of a lifetime, without a doubt. 

Inservice was a hugely beneficial experience in many ways.  We got invaluable time to meet as individual sites and plan out our year, we learned many ins and outs of new curriculum programs, and we bonded as a whole-district staff, which is important in such isolated places.  I'm very excited to see what the year brings, because I'm feeling ridiculously good about my district choice at the moment. 

Your turn...Have you ever been to a cool staff inservice/meeting? 
Currently listening to... Big Parade - The Lumineers 

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Flying to Pilot Point

Last Thursday, the day that we flew out to the village, started in a complete whirlwind.  Our first flight left Anchorage at 7:25am, which meant we had to leave our hotel at around 5:00am.  After stuffing ourselves into a taxi with suitcases, dog crates, and everything else, we finally departed for the airport.  (Note to self: traveling with dog crates is a HUGE hassle.) We flew with Penn Air, which was nice because they are much smaller airline and allowed us to be more lax with the dogs and security.

We boarded our Anchorage flight in a generally calm and timely fashion, and headed for King Salmon.  The flight lasted just over an hour and was uneventful, thankfully. We landed in King Salmon at around 8:30am and shortly after we were whisked away to the district office to meet the administrative staff and fill out paperwork - or at least that's what we thought we were going to be doing. We'd barely made it to the district office before Grant Aviation (our next airline transporters) called to say that bad weather was moving in and we needed to leave ASAP.

In true bush fashion though, it was a case of, "hurry up and wait." We arrived at the airport, which is really just a glorified Morton building, and were told that the pilot wasn't there yet, so we waited...and waited...and waited.  After all of that waiting, the airline then informed us they were going to make a trip to Chignik Lake first, before going to Pilot Point, and that we were going to leave at our regularly scheduled time of 2:00pm (it was about noon by this time). The nice woman working at the airport offered to babysit the dogs for us if we wanted to go out for lunch, so we quickly took her up on the offer and headed to Eddy's, which is one of the few places to go for a bite to eat in King Salmon.

Finally, after all of that waiting, the airline announced that we would be leaving soon. We took off for Pilot Point around 4:30pm.  After a long, slightly stressful day I was more than ready to make it to our new home. The flight to Pilot Point from King Salmon was short (about twenty minutes), but incredibly scenic.  We flew low over the tundra, getting the chance to see small lakes, rivers, mountains, ocean, and even a volcano.

We touched down in Pilot Point and were thrilled, and a little nervous, to be in our new place of residence.  We were welcomed wonderfully though, making the transition not feel quite as scary. There were a handful of our new students waiting to meet us at the airport, which was fun. After we helped the pilot unload the plane, a seasonal maintenance worker for the school drove us to see the school and our new house.

View of teacher housing and the school, from a distance. 
After a crazy, hectic, sometimes overwhelming day of travel, we were thrilled to be in our new village home.  It's been a non-stop adventure since we arrived last week (hence the lack of posting until now), but we've been completely loving it.

Your turn...What are some of your crazy travel stories?
Currently listening to...Big Jet Plane - Angus and Julia Stone

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Moving to Alaska: Part Four

Location: Jasper National Park, AB to Dawson Creek, BC to Watson Lake, YT to Tok, AK to Anchorage, AK
Lodging: Comfort Inn, Ramada Inn, Young's Motel, Airbnb
Mileage:1,864 miles
Weather: 40-70°F, cloudy, rainy

The fourth and final installment of our road trip adventure involved driving through British Columbia, the Yukon Territory, and Alaska. Cody and I drove this part of the trip two years ago, and it definitely felt like familiar territory.

After leaving Jasper National Park, we headed for Dawson Creek, BC. My goal for our time in Dawson Creek was to get a picture of the "Mile 0" sign that signifies the beginning of the famous Alaska highway. The last time we drove this route, I totally spaced out getting a picture and was disappointed.  Thankfully, this time I was successful (also thankful that Cody has a better memory than me)!

After Dawson Creek we hit up another tiny town with a fun tourist attraction. Watson Lake, YT is famous for their Sign Post Forest. The forest contains rows and rows and rows of signs from all over the world.  It was fun to walk about and pick out familiar locations.  We even found one from Petoskey, Michigan! They do allow you to hang your own sign, which we didn't get a chance to do. My goal for next time is to remember a sign or old license plate, so that we can leave our own mark on the forest.

From there, we meandered through the Yukon and eventually entered Alaska at the Tok, AK border point.  The roads on this section of the drive were atrocious.  Long stretches of the highway were unpaved, with huge chunks of gravel and mud. We actually ended up with a cracked windshield just outside of Tok, thanks to a semi flinging rocks up with his tires. The crack was little (thankfully) and we were able to seal it with a simple kit we found in Anchorage. Another thing to point out about this part of the trip was that it is extremely isolated. If you ever plan to make this drive carry extra gas and/or stop at every gas station on this stretch.  Better to be safe than sorry, especially since the cell service is non-existent for hours at a time.

Throughout our isolated drive we also had many close encounters with wildlife.  We continued to see bears, wolves, deer, and mountain goats.

Our most exciting in wildlife sighting (in my opinion) was our run-in with a huge herd of bison.  The herd had taken over the entire highway, which forced us to sit in the shoulder for many minutes. Bison are huge, so there was no way we were inserting ourselves into the middle of the herd. Thankfully, a semi came up on our side of the road and we were able to follow him through.

Finally, after fourteen days on the road, we reached Anchorage.  It was honestly a breath of fresh air to be back in civilization.  Anchorage is a large city with roughly 300,000 people living inside city limits.  We enjoyed many days of shopping, restaurants, unlimited wifi, and other normal amenities.

Now, it's on to our next leg of the move...Pilot Point, AK!

Your turn...Have you ever taken a big road trip? Where did you go?
Currently listening to...Blood Bank - Bon Iver 

Monday, August 1, 2016

Moving to Alaska: Part Three

Location: Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan to Banff, Alberta to Jasper, Alberta
Lodging: Two Jack Campground and Jasper Gates 
Mileage: 687 miles
Weather: 40-60°F

This part of the trip was the stretch where we passed through Banff and Jasper National Parks in Alberta, and it was truly something to see.  Cody and I were extremely excited about this portion of the trip because we'd skipped it last time in order to save a day of driving. This time we knew that we didn't want to miss it, so we set aside the time. As we left Moose Jaw, the hills slowly became bigger, and as we hit Calgary the huge mountains of the national park were looming in the not-so-distance.

The first night that we arrived in Banff National Park, we decided to camp.  Originally, we had reservations, but they were double booked, which we found out on arrival.  This kicked us out into one of the "overflow" campgrounds.  Much as I would have liked to have been in an established camp with fire pits and such, I actually found the overflow area to be pretty nice. It had bathrooms and a ton of space. (However, I don't recommend this as a plan, as the rangers were even turning people away from overflow because it was so busy.)

A notice upon arrival let us know that our campground was under a "Wolf Warning."  I'll admit, this was equal parts scary and cool.  Wolves, up to this point, hadn't even really been on my radar as potentially dangerous predators because I was so worried about the bears. The rangers told us that a pack of wolves had been demonstrating aggressive behavior and approaching camps to take food. Luckily, no wolves tried to accost us while camping, but it was kinda fun to admit that we'd been under the warning.

Our second day in the park we wanted to drive the historic Icefields Parkway.  Now, if you are going to do this trip you have to make time for this drive. It only takes a couple of hours from end to end and the scenery and wildlife viewing is otherworldly.  There are literally hundreds of glaciers just outside your car window.  There was also wildlife around every turn, and it never ceased to surprise us.  We saw bears, deer, elk, and mountain goats just in the span of an hour or two.

After one of the most scenic days ever, we headed out of the park and towards the little town of Hinton, Alberta.  Before calling it a night though we first stopped in Jasper (the town) for some dinner and ended up falling in love with it. It reminded us both of the time we drove through the Colorado ski towns (Vail, Aspen, etc). We would totally go back to Jasper in the future, it'd be a great place to spend a long weekend.  Our busy and beautiful day wrapped up with a stop at one of my favorite hotels of the trip - Jasper Gates Resort.  It was a pretty and modern log cabin complex right inside the park gates.

All in all, I'd recommend the trek through Banff and Jasper if you are looking for a spectacular and unique vacation.  We would certainly do it again in the future, and even maybe just plan a flight into Jasper to rent an RV.  Lots of options in this mountainous destination!

Stay tuned for the next installment of our moving adventures!

Your turn...What is your favorite State or National Park? 
Currently listening to...As We Ran - The National Parks