Schoolteacher Snapshots

Right now I’m lurking in the other secondary classroom while the kids play on the internet. Every Monday the P/T (principal/teacher) opens up the internet for the kids to surf freely. They come in to download music and movies and to play games that they can’t usually play. Wednesdays are gym nights, and, on Fridays, we project a movie on the smartboard and make some pizza or popcorn. With only 30 kids in secondary, it’s no big deal to make snacks for all of them and to cram them all into one room for a reward.

I like that. It’s something I could never have done in Arkansas. Sometimes at P-dub, I had thirty kids in one room for instruction. Here, it’s unusual to have more than ten.

frozen playground

Last Friday, I filled in for Jake and ran movie night. I had to turn some kids away at the door for bad behavior during the week, and I swear they spent two hours banging on the doors and shining flashlights through the windows. They wouldn’t leave us in peace. If we’d been anywhere else, I would have called the cops just to scare them, but here there are no cops, and I didn’t have parent contacts for any of them. I gave up on chasing them off every few minutes and went with ignoring them, which worked after a while. They left the deck trashed and me steaming mad, but I guess it goes to show how much that one little privilege means to them.

When it’s fifty below, attendance is optional for kids. Preschoolers don’t come, but most of the older kids show up, which has a lot to do with free hot lunch. They always come bundled up, but when it’s this cold out it’s kind of comical. Nowhere else in the states would you find the majority of fifteen-year-old girls willingly wearing snowpants all day at school. They wear snowpants and boots in gym class.

DSC01839When we talk about land use and industry in social studies, they always think creating jobs is a stupid reason to develop wild land.
“Can’t they just go hunting? A moose can feed a whole village!”
I swear my sixth grader said that. I try to play the other side, so, for the first time ever, I’m teaching students who think I’m some kind of oil baron tree-killer.

I got on a seventh grader’s case one day for slacking during writing. “I’m not one of your Arkansas city girls!” she said, and burst into tears.
NOWHERE else in this country would someone imagine that I’d taught “city girls” in Arkansas. I kept her during lunch and sat beside her to get a feel for what the real problem might be.
“I’m just a regular girl from a regular village” she sobbed.
She has no idea how unique her circumstances are.

In social studies, we’re studying Alaskan language revitalization. There are 20 native languages spoken in Alaska, but less than 5% of Alaskans speak a native language. The kids know that Gwich’in is a dying language, and it saddens them, but one my 7th graders is adamant that the best part of knowing Gwich’in is talking behind people’s backs. She’s not too hot to teach me. Other students like knowing Gwich’in because it allows them to connect with elders and to understand their ancestors. They found out that my name is an Irish one and asked me if I could speak Irish.
“Nope. My family hasn’t been in Ireland for generations”
“Huh. Can you do any irish dances?”

upload5A woman pulled a wagon up to the school today, and instead of wheels it had little red skis. I asked her about it.
“Oh, in the spring we’ll put the wheels back on.”Brilliant.

Take a comfy temperature and subtract it from freezing and you’re looking at the temperature in Venetie today. My fingertips spark visibly blue on switchplates and doorhandles and the cold spills in under the door, liquid thick. The world is all cotton candy pink and blue, and the air is perfectly still (frozen stiff?) so the mountain looks close enough to touch (like the aurora last night looked like chimney smoke: I’d never believe it’s so far away) and the chimney smoke floats straight up in a pink plume and then falls back down.pinksmokehousing


Nothing that floats in the sky over teacher housing could possibly be a normal color.

6 thoughts on “Schoolteacher Snapshots

  1. I had no idea you had 30 students in secondary – I don’t have many more than that in FYU! Your stories about the kids are really precious, Keely. Stay warm!

  2. I love reading your stories! Between you teaching in Alaska and a teacher friend from Brinkley who is teaching in a boys school in Africa I am getting all sorts of perspectives about education in other places. Stay warm and safe!

    • I am staying warm and safe! You’ve got to get some grant to come spend a week in an Alaskan bush school. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever experienced, and so worth it!

  3. Is the 50 below windchill or actual temperature? Down here in the SE we only cancel school if the windchill is 75 below. We haven’t gotten there yet, but it was 42 below the other day. If you don’t have a snow skirt you should look into one. It is so convenient to just throw on and I like it better than snowpants.

    I also love all the log cabin architecture in your village! It’s so cute looking. Hang in there and have fun!

    • That’s actual temperature, but there’s no wind at all. We don’t cancel school, but we don’t take attendance on days like that. Brrrrr!
      I’m definitely going to look into a snow skirt. Sounds like way less of a pain the the butt than snowpants.
      Venetie is super picturesque – everything is built with logs and set on a backdrop of pretty spruce trees. I really am gobsmacked at least half the time I glance out the window.

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