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.
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.
- 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!
7 thoughts on “Come teach in the bush!”
Awww. I wish I could help! I love your blog and I also teach in a remote community (1st-4th grade and K-6th PE). It is really interesting to read your “fair warning” section because many of those are applicable to the community that I teach in too. I hope you guys find someone great for the position!
I really hope we find somebody awesome, and soon! Teaching out here is challenging in so many of the best ways and so rewarding, but it is tough, and I wouldn’t want someone to come out here without some idea of the specific hurdles we face. It’s always great to hear from other teachers from remote communities! Thanks for visiting.
Hi Keely. We taught in Bering Strait School District for a year and in North Slope Borough School district for three years – two of Alaska’s largest bush districts. During that time we heard and read about dozens if not hundreds of stories from teachers in other Alaska bush districts. Most of these districts pay very well (compared to most teaching jobs in most of the lower 48). But high turnover has long plagued Alaska’s bush districts and now, this year, with the school year underway, well over 100 teaching and administrative positions remain open in rural Alaska.
Based on our experience and based on numerous stories we’ve heard from others, the problem comes down to three words: Absolutely horrible administrators.
For anyone in the lower 48 reading this, imagine the worst administrator you’ve ever had to deal with – as a student, as a parent, as a professional. Now multiply that image many times over to a level you perhaps can’t imagine. The image you’ve conjured is the Average rural Alaska superintendent, central office administrator or building principal.
School boards in these communities – comprised mostly of native Alaskans who have spent their lives in villages and who have never seen or experienced a well-run school – lack the background and understanding of how good schools operate necessary to hold these administrators accountable. The governor’s office and state legislators apparently couldn’t care less about the education the children of rural Alaska receive. Media journalists at the Anchorage Daily News and assorted TV news shows occasionally stir the pot with an “alarming” story about how bad education is in rural Alaska, but with the collective attention spans of a box of kittens, these journalists can’t stay focused long enough to do any meaningful reporting on the subject and soon flit off to to the next “alarming” story.
As cover, state politicians throw an incredible amount of money at these districts. This allows the Don Youngs (congressman) of Alaska’s political world to claim they are “doing something.” So, yes, throughout the bush, there are lots of SmartBoards, laptops and iPads – and absolutely zero administrative vision for how these technological tools might be used to enhance education. And, with the combination of money and little accountability, out-and-out corruption in some of these districts is at a level that would prompt Mayor Daily of old Chicago to blush.
Many administrators in the bush use the window dressing of technology and the lack of oversight from state politicians as cover while they feather their retirement nests, meanwhile Actively Avoiding serving students (as evidenced by students with IEPs not receiving adequate services). These administrators seem to collectively crawl out of bed each day with one – and only one – thought in their collective heads: “How little can I get away with doing today.” Teachers who come to them with ideas of how to improve the schools are seen as nuisances, and so year after year, many of the best teachers are “weeded out” by these administrators. While Alaska’s news journalists fecklessly flit from one empty story to another, while Alaska’s politicians blink with empty-headed expressions on their faces and excuse away the misfeasance and malfeasance.
Word-of-mouth advertising is at last undoing these districts. Despite good pay, small classes and (mostly) compliant students who are eager to learn, word about how poorly run these schools are – and about how indifferent Alaska’s politicians and journalists are to the plight of these students – has now trickled back to virtually every corner of Montana, Tennessee, Oregon and every other part of the lower 48. And so now, dozens and dozens of rural jobs in Beautiful settings in very cool villages with very nice people are going unfilled.
It is nothing short of tragic, and in any state that cared about its kids, it would be identified as a crime. Sincerely, Jack & Barbra Donachy
Thank you so much for your thoughtful comments. Yes, bush schools do face some unusual circumstances. It really does super duper suck that we have such a hard time finding teachers: I find my job here so much more rewarding and so much more fun than my old job as a high school math teacher in the lower-48!
Love reading about your journey!
Are you still teaching in AK?
Yes! I’m hanging out at school, setting up for Arctic Village’s graduation tonight.