I have a twelve page to-do list and a head full of question marks. This whole operation is crazy.
If you google Venetie, AK, you will know almost as much as I do about this place. I’ve gleaned a little more from talking to the folks I’ll soon be working with.
- The water is full of copper and lead. Buy a distiller.
- The kids will sell their souls for hot pockets. They love music.
- Venetie is considered a rough village. If I survive, this is my ticket to teach anywhere in Alaska. This is frightening but also nothing new, really. At least in Alaska, that kind of thing commands respect. Here, Sean teaches in one of the worst counties in the US, and that’s not going to help him get a job elsewhere. It might be differently bad, but not worse than Lee county. I was surprised at how casually my principal told me this, as if I would move on as a matter of course and I was just coming to do my time.
- My classroom has a fully operational radio station.
- The store has chips and soda and baby food. Nothing else.
- I should expect to see some of the best northern lights anywhere.
- I’ll teach all of the subjects to half of the kids between the ages of 11 and 20. The other half is with the other secondary teacher/principal.
I have compiled for your edification the following general info about moving to the interior in the middle of winter. The quotations are paraphrased from a phone call with my new principal.
- “Nothing can prepare you for seventy below”
- One must mail everything in the Rubbermaid roughneck totes with the lids ziptied on. Lesser totes will shatter in the cold and cardboard will break and spill your stuff everywhere unless it’s taped for the apocalypse (but also know that flat rate mailers are your best friend). Assume, when you pack your things, that they will be dropped from six feet up in the air.
- “You really can’t imagine the cold.”
- One must carry everything one needs to get through the first week in one’s backpack, but not too much because one gets only forty pounds of luggage free, and that should consist mostly of food. After the first forty pounds, it’s a buck eighty per pound to carry stuff on the flight to Venetie.
- One must fly in all of one’s warmest gear in case of a wreck. Carrying a flashlight is recommended because, with three or four hours of daylight, it’s likely to be dark upon one’s arrival.
- Food comes in the mail. Can one mail oneself, for example, rutabagas? They are a sturdy vegetable, but they aren’t dry-goods sturdy. I don’t yet know. I will in a month.
- “When it’s fifty below, it knocks the wind out of you. It’s an experience.”
- One must make good use of a day or two in Fairbanks to buy cold weather gear from Big Ray’s and to mail all of one’s groceries on to one’s new home.
Getting my teaching certification transferred to Alaska isn’t that big a deal, but it’s a lot of paperwork. I need to send off the following as soon as possible and to keep my fingers crossed that it will all be processed by the fifth of January. There are a lot of stamps involved here.
- a recommendation stamped by the Arkansas department of ed (mailed from me to the ADE and then back again before its trip to Alaska)
- official college transcripts (mailed to me, then sent on to Alaska)
- praxis scores (mailed directly to Alaska)
- fingerprint card (Mailed from Alaska, then completed here and returned to Alaska with the rest of my paperwork)
So all of this is a hassle and it’s scary and I’ll be isolated from my friends and family in a tiny, arctic village that never sees the light of day. What am I thinking? Here’s the deal: I’ve been wanting to do this for a long time. It’s been fully two years since I decided I’d move to Alaska after Arkansas, but I remember looking into teaching in Alaska before I applied to TFA. There’s something fascinating about an arctic winter. In my imagination, it’s the end of the whip, cracking fast and harsh. I have to see it. I have to put myself to that test.
On top of that, the prospect of being an educator in rural Alaska sends a giddy shiver up my spine. Kids in Alaska, especially the native kids I’ll be working with, have a really unique set of educational needs. In order for their culture to survive, they must become adapters, activists and advocates. These kids live a subsistence lifestyle based on a fragile biome where the world’s air pollution concentrates (it’s called arctic haze) and where the effects of climate change will be devastating. Their communities are notorious for sexual assault and domestic violence. They need relevant knowledge that reaches way beyond their villages. They need educators who can value their culture and community. They need to become creative, logical, confident, flexible and purposeful. I’m not ideal for the job (I know nothing about anything, really), but I’m sure willing to give it my best shot with bells on.