It’s Good to be Home

“Welcome back! No, welcome home.”

I looked up, caught flat-footed, at the young woman unloading cargo from the plane. She smiled at me, glad and familiar, and you could have knocked me over with a feather.

“Thanks! It’s really, really good to be here.” I said it a little too brightly, still off-balance. I don’t really expect to be welcomed home when I step off the plane in Arctic.

It’s not that people aren’t welcoming. Most are.

But home.

This is my home, if I can be said to have one. When I am not here, I am traveling, sleeping in a bed one night for every thirty in a tent. The house I grew up in was sold last summer to a stranger who I hear has since filled it with tropical birds. My family lives in an RV.

It goes a lot deeper than circumstance: I love these children with the fiercest part of my heart, worry over them, watch them grow up, and feel pride and pain both on their accounts. The land too: the smell of labrador tea and the taste of caribou meat and the color of twilight dusk-dawn at fifty below when the chimneys smoke sideways; it all makes my heart vibrate with a bone-deep note of yes. This is where I belong. And it is. I have never loved a place so much.

But this is my home in the way that white people mean home. It is my home by luck and love, not by right. I have no ancestral homeland, no blood and culture ties that go deeper and older than the permafrost. Most of us don’t. Four-year-old A said it best tonight: she put one hand on each of my cheeks and pulled down with her thumbs, then leaned in so close I could almost taste her runny nose; “your eyes are blue!” she hollered, and all the other kids had to come and take a look. Four serious little gap-toothed brown-eyed girls inspected my face and A held my cheeks still so my eyes wouldn’t go squinty when I laughed.


Home? Home! 

First Week

Yesterday was the first fine day all week. We went outside to write in our journals. DSC03654 The kids ran ahead, tripping down the path they use in winter for sledding and in summer for flying on bikes.DSC03655Because they are silly, they wouldn’t sit on the ground. All eleven of them crammed together at the one picnic table. DSC03662A little less work got done than I might have hoped, due to the natural consequences of having eleven kids at one table, but everyone wrote at least a page of sensory details. On the walk back, B borrowed my camera.  DSC03665It has been an awesome first week of school. I had to fight to get B in my class, but he’s thriving so far. He likes the book we’re reading and the activities we’ve done in science. I have a handful of kids, like B, that I didn’t know well last year, and they’re still wild cards, but so far nobody has been bored enough to make trouble just for fun. It bodes well.

We’re going to do algebra for real this year. I’ve taken the kids who are ready, regardless of their grade, and Jake has the kids who need another year of preparation. Ready means, in this case, mostly okay on basic math. I’m starting with a good long pre-algebra unit, then jumping into the good stuff. We’re going to take it slow, but I think we can get there.

I have half the class reading The Mighty Miss Malone and the other half reading Homecoming. Both books deal with damaged families and poverty and kids who carry more than their share of the burden. So far, both books are hits, and it warms the cockles of my heart to sit with my kids and talk about literature. We’re getting there.

The anemometers have been mostly successful. They got a little lost converting RPMs to miles per hour, but we’ll keep hitting it until it comes easy. We’ll get there, given time. And distance. ha. ha. DSC03651

First Walk

DSC03650 on the riverbank, a straw wind sweeps raw the gutters of my heart
and leaves me clattering outside with cold ears and a futile wish

I want a few more sunny yellow days, or just one sweet afternoon
to hang my hammock on the porch and love the sky with gold arms

but the wish drifts and falls and sticks flat to the wet of the river
and leaves me clammy on the bank with cold ears

DSC03643School started yesterday, so I’ve been flying around with my hair on fire for a few days now, getting everything in order. I’m really trying to be a good science teacher this year, and that’s taking a lot of effort. We built anemometers today, and we’re going to talk about how to use them to calculate wind speed tomorrow or Friday. For right now, we’re just looking at RPMs, which is plenty complicated. I want science to be something that the kids can look forward to, a part of the day where they can count on doing something with their hands or getting out of their seats. It should be that, but I’m not good at it yet. I will be. I want to be. I love this time of year because I don’t have any bad habits yet, and nobody is behind. Everything is possible, and everyone’s intentions are good. And man, I just love my kids. They’re awesome, and I’m so glad to be back here with them.

Administration is putting some pressure on Jake and me to rethink how we’ve divided our classes, which is a little frustrating since we’ve started school already. Jake’s about to blow a gasket, since he’s dealing with the lack of a 3-5 teacher and a cook on top of everything else.

I took a walk this evening to clear my head and realized I hadn’t been to the river at all since coming back. There’s been a lot of rain, and I’ve been busy. Fall’s here already. It’s melancholy and gorgeous, replete with fresh breezes that sweep through me when I stand outside long enough to feel the cold through my sweatshirt. I want something to happen before winter, but I’m not sure what it is. Maybe it’s just the usual heartache of autumn.

I’m collecting mugs, postcards, and international currency for my class this year. Send us stuff!

Week 1: More silly faces and a look at the level tracker

If you’re not a math teacher, this probably won’t get you that excited, but if you are… BEHOLD! My brainchild!

Four kids on level two today! Hot-diggity-dog!

Four kids on level two today! Woo and yay!

The bulletin board behind me in the photo tracks students’ progress as they learn to simplify expressions with the order of operations and then, expressions mastered, to solve more and more challenging algebraic equations. It’s student-powered (they move their own stickies, which saves me work), it builds investment (overheard while waiting for the bus at summer school: “I’m on level three!” “Well I’ll beat you to level five!”), it differentiates assessments for me, and it provides me with useful data about which students and groups of students are where (The names on the sticky notes are color coded by class period).

Every few days at the beginning of school, then every week, I’ll give a level quiz. Each student knows his or her own level and asks for the appropriate quiz, which prevents a total organizational nightmare. As each student completes the quiz, I grade it. If the student answers three out of four problems correctly, he or she moves up a level immediately.

I’ve taught objectives that correspond to the levels for the last two days, so I’ve allowed students who have demonstrated mastery on their exit tickets to progress. Seventy-five of my students didn’t have a chance to take today’s level quiz/exit ticket, so the four kids who are on level two came from a sample of just twenty-five. All things considered, we’re doing well so far.

7th period was 45 minutes of the best class time of my life. During the lesson, I burst into happy laughter when a boy in the front row said “oh. Oooohhhhhh! I get it!” You can’t fake that lightbulb. It happened twice today! During practice, I had a girl stand up from her desk and shout “YES!” at the top of her lungs when she simplified an expression correctly. I got a bad case of the joy giggles, but my kids couldn’t hear me anyway over the roar of thirty 9th graders making purposeful MATH TALK. It felt like all I had to do was open the gate and let them stampede. They asked for time to work in groups to analyze their mistakes, so I let them. WHAAAAAAAAAAAAA? I had volunteers explain their errors, and doled out star stickers for courage and helping others learn, (I had to move on without calling on all of my volunteers!) then just turned them loose on another problem. I hardly said a word after the first twenty minutes of class. It was un-friggin-believably awesome.

They're brilliant! They're wonderful! I did it! I taught them something and they liked it!

They’re brilliant! They’re wonderful! I did it! I taught them something and they liked it!

I'll never be able to keep it up.

I’ll never be able to keep it up.

Bonus Kid Joke, courtesy of W.

one fifth, two fifths, red fifth, blue fifth

one fifth, two fifths, red fifth, blue fifth