Sunday, August 28, 2016


Some people say that change is good. But I’m having a difficult time believing that people have a grasp on what is good for us. For example, people in our country have decided that Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are the two best choices to be our leader. Some people also believe that eating human placenta is a healthy and perfectly normal thing to do. I believe that people aren’t very smart. But, I’m going to go ahead and agree with those who think change is good because we’ve had a lot of it in the past few months.

With a heavy heart, Monica and I decided to leave Nunam Iqua and teach at Point Hope, Alaska. We loved living in Nunam Iqua. We have good friends there, the school treated us well, and we love the kids. But we wanted to see another part of Alaska, preferable a part above the Arctic Circle. So here we are in Point Hope. I signed my contract last March to teacher in Point Hope. Monica was already here since last February, teaching kindergarten. But they needed a 4th grade and a 4-5 grade teacher, so that’s what we were going to do. But as it turns out, more changes were ahead. 

At our new teacher inservice, my new principal casually asked me what grades I was certified to teach. I heard myself say “K-8” before I was able to make all sounds stop coming out of my mouth. (Which is a difficult thing for me to do on a good day.) I knew instantly that something was up. There is only one reason she would want to know why; change. But change is good, right? I knew that some teachers’ certification only went from K-6 while others went from K-4th grade. I also knew that most teachers are deathly afraid of teaching middle school. Including this teacher. But I had a feeling what change was coming next and I was correct with that feeling. I’m the new middle school teacher at Tikigaq School in Point Hope.

The reason I was nervous about teaching middle school was because I remember a younger version of myself while in middle school. I was a mess. My voice sounded funny and I found I really liked girls. Trouble was that girls did not see me as someone they wanted to talk to, or be seen with, or even admit that I was alive. So my middle school self decided that I would make sure they noticed me. So I began to ‘perform’ in class. Not in the academic way, but in the dorky, striving for attention sort of way. I did get the attention, but it was because I was solidifying myself as a member of the weirdos. And I was solidifying myself as a pain in the ass to the teachers. And there were a lot of us. So, this is why most people are afraid of teaching middle school. Most of us were part of the pain in the ass group.

So, I’m with the people who say that change is good. Maybe it’s because middle schoolers are my people. I probably have more in common with middle schoolers than any other group of people. They ask a lot of bizarre questions, but take the bizarre answers in in stride. Sometimes they make me fearful about our future and other times I’m quite confident they will lead us in the right direction. After all, they are not the ones responsible for the Trump/Clinton election. 

Sunday, March 6, 2016


This is the time of year that my principal comes into my classroom to evaluate the effectiveness of my ability to teach students during that one, specific 45-minute window of this school year. He sits at the back of the room with a pad of paper and a pencil. The kids look at him, then turn to look at me. Everyone knows what is going on. I make eye contact with ‘that’ student, and microscopically shake my head “no” to him. A smile crookedly forms across his face as we both realize who has the power during this 45 minutes. I glance at the Scooby-Doo DVD stack hidden under the Marzano book on my desk and the student nods an affirmative.

While being evaluated, I want to make sure I am using the appropriate teaching buzzwords that have become accepted as best practices in the classroom. I may dedicate an entire blog to go through most of that junk, but not today. Today, I have to suck it up and preform for the evaluation process.

So I begin my lesson to the whole group while the principal scribbles something on his notepad. (Probably an admiring appraisal of my lumberjack attire.) I prattle on about fractions and how cool they are. I explain how much fun it is to make equivalent fractions and that the cool kids even do that on their free time. The whole time the kids are staring at those hidden Scooby-Doo videos. So far, so good. Then I set them free to learn in the centers set up in my class. At this time, my principal instigates some questions about these centers. He’s anticipating that I can name the buzzwords and explain how the kids are learning from these learning activities. So I oblige him with my knowledge:

Group projects- As you see, over here, these students are learning how fractions work by using models of fractions. That? (pointing at two children punching each other in the face) Oh, that is what we call ‘pair share’. They are sharing information with each other while learning from each other. And yes, that student did put a fraction wedge in his nose. (Principal scribbles feverishly on his pad of paper.)

Differentiated Instruction- Ok, so those students sitting over there are learning at their own level. That? Well, we don’t use the term ‘play dough’. We like to call it ‘learning dough’. And I think it’s obvious that he’s learning about fractions. As you see, the clumps are lined up in a special sequence that…. oh wait. Yes, now I see it. He just ate one. Ok, some kids learn better by using their sense of taste. By the looks of it, he learned he doesn’t like to taste of learning dough. I’ll clean that up. (Principal rolls his eyes, but I think it’s an eye roll of approval.)

Authentic Learning- At this table, students are using fractions as part of real life situations. These third graders are learning how authentically difficult fractions are to understand. They are trying to learn by using pizza slices. Well, we couldn’t afford to use actual pizza, so we made these and colored them in art class yesterday. Yes, I realize that they really don’t look like authentic pizza, but we are calling them Domino’s Pizzas. This way the kids are learning how an authentic Domino’s Pizza actually looks and tastes. (The principal gives me an approving look of disgust.)

With that, the principal left my room without a goodbye or a hug. I admit that the hug would have been awkward, but it would have made me feel better. The kids realize that the simulated lesson is over and they can go back to their desks. I thank them for their participation during another evaluation event. After I poke my head outside the classroom door to see that the principal is down the hall, I began the agreed upon video for the kids. I sit at the back of the classroom and self-reflect on my yearly performance.

(I realize that these scenarios are a bit exaggerated, but my goal was to maybe point out the ridiculousness of trying to keep up with the buzzwords and flavor-of-the-day teaching concepts that are being pushed on schools. I also understand that it is not an either/or decision. Centers are workable when done like all things, in moderation. (Except beer) Also, if my current principal is reading this, disregard. Of course I was talking about a different principal.)  

Sunday, December 6, 2015


Now that Thanksgiving is over, the kids are gearing up for Christmas. Most kids here don’t have satellite, cable, or even over the air antennas, so they don’t have to endure the bombardment of Christmas adds on TV. They get to gear up for Christmas like the pilgrims did or the Amish do. Or how I did. They remind me every morning of how many sleeps they have until Christmas.

Being around the kids at Christmas time always makes me think about my childhood Christmases. I think our Christmases are very similar. Most kids out here don’t live in families that can afford the newest and best toys. Like my Christmases. Christmas is for practical gifts. Underwear. Socks. Mittens. Boots. They don’t go to the mall to see Santa. They don’t dream about getting the biggest Barbie Doll house. Or a new computer. They get a new jacket and boots. They get a new snow-suit. And they love it because that’s what they got. It is always difficult to recognize the kids after Christmas because they are all bundled up in new jackets and you can’t see their faces.
Nunam Iqua, AK

It also reminds me of what I had to watch on TV for the holidays. Charlie Brown Christmas. Nostalgia is the only way I can get through it now. It is god-awful. Rudolph is god-awful. But it was all we had, so we loved it. The kids here are the same. We watch Mr. Bean put the turkey on his head every year. And we laugh like it was the funniest thing on YouTube. (It just might be.)

I am also reminded of the Christmas Eve that I saw what must have been an airplane with a red blinking light and was convinced it was Santa. I guess FAA rules apply to all aircraft. We knew that he would visit our house while Dad had my brothers and me out finishing chores in the barn. When we got back in the house, the stockings were full and presents were under the tree. As a kid, I was surprised how controlled my Mom was after meeting Santa. But she was just nonchalant about the deal. I would have thought she would be all celebrity struck. But no, she just told us to eat dinner. While we looked at the presents and tree. That was always the most difficult meal to finish.

And then there is the after Christmas letdown. After weeks of anticipation, it’s all gone in one day. The decorations just look like the sad, drunk people who won’t leave at the end of the party. Monica always takes them down (the decorations, not the drunks) the day after, much like a crime scene cleanup crew. All reminders of the day are put back in their boxes. I take down the Christmas drawings we hang in our classroom and on our boards in the hall.

So, to sum it up: Christmas has a very exciting build up but a mighty fall. I am glad the kids here don’t have to participate in what Christmas has become, retailers hyping up their wares for revenue. Our kids get to appreciate Christmas for what it is about; them. They are not made to feel envious about what they didn’t get. They get to be thankful for what they got. And that makes a Grinch like me excited about Christmas. Happy Holidays!

Sunday, August 30, 2015


Once again it’s the start of a new school year. This year I have only one new student. My position shifted from 2-4th grade to 3-5th grade. So I have the exact same students as last year, plus one student who moved here over the summer. That means that we are all well acquainted with each other. But I’ve found over the years that it doesn’t matter too much because I seem to have some of the same characters in my class, no matter what school year it is. If you’re a teacher, you may recognize some of these students. Some years you may have slightly different characters, but I keep seeing certain characters in my classroom. At the end of the school year, one of my characters will advance to another classroom, but on the first day of school I can almost hear the voice-over guy say, “Now playing the role of The Hypochondriac will be Johnny Smith”. Marvelous. I was just getting use to the other guy in that role.

I would say they are like Batman villains, but they are not nefarious. At least not in their characters they play in the classroom. And maybe the roles aren’t natural, but they just fill the open role so there will be a well rounded sense of annoyance in the classroom every year. So here we go, here is a list of characters I seem to always find in my class.

The Compulsive Denier.  This kid will deny everything. If ever accused of this he would deny it too, of course. He will deny obvious accusations only to try to change the subject and point his finger at someone else in the classroom, even me.
This one will probably be a politician.

The Negotiator. The negotiator wants to haggle with you over the amount of school work she is assigned or the amount of free time she will be allotted for the day. I’ve spent less time with a border-town blanket salesman then with this student on a single math assignment. They will also try to assess the fairness of each assignment, asking several times if it is necessary and if everybody has to do these.
This one will probably be an attorney.

The Hypochondriac. This character always has something wrong with him. It’s amazing how many headaches this student will get when it comes time to read an article for science. But 30 minutes later, he has miraculously healed enough to play a game of dodgeball during PE. He’ll shrug off a ball blasting him in the face, but whimpers because of eyeball trauma caused by typed words on paper.
This one will probably be an insurance claims adjuster. (When he shows up for work)

The-One-Who-Makes-Weird-Noises-But-You-Don’t-Know-Who’s-Doing-It. (I couldn’t come up with a one word descriptor.) I’ve always had one of these students in my class, but not always making the same sound. I’ve had whistlers, clickers, chirpers, smackers, and knockers. Any sound that can be done incognito will do the trick. They have mastered the ventriloquist’s craft and share it nonchalantly with the whole class. Usually while I’m discussing something the State of Alaska Department of Early Education has deemed important. They can even mimic the look of annoyance like the other kids while making the sound. 
This one will probably work right next to you at whatever job you have. 

The Clinger. This is someone who thinks I’m a piece of gym equipment to be climbed on. This one usually uses ninja style tactics to leap out from obscurity and latch onto my shoulders from behind, hanging on me like a cape. My usual style of persuasion, “Get off of me you weirdo” doesn’t seem to deter the clinger. She just jumps off and plans her next stealth attack.
This one will probably appear on American Ninja Warrior.

The Never-Ending Storyteller. This character loves telling stories but most stories end with, “Oh, I forgot what I was going to say.” Mainly because they got lost in their own convoluted and meandering zig zag. The stories never go anywhere because the direction keeps changing. And never has an end. And it’s hard to stand there and listen because you don’t want to interrupt the child. But at some point you have to just move on. With everyone else’s lives.  
me: Who in here has ever used a telescope?
chronic storyteller: (hand raised high and jazz hand)
me: (looking around room of any other hand)(sits down) Oh alright, would you like to give a brief description?   
cs: One time I was helping my dad look for our dog. He was kind of old
      and had a paw that was fluffy. One time our dog chased a rabbit, I 
      I think it was kind of red colored, and the rabbit jumped through    
      the old fence by the barn. We used to hide my brother’s toys in 
      there when he was being a brat. (pause and a look of confusion) I 
      forgot what I was going to say.
me: That’s alright. I forgot what I asked. Lets take a break.
This one will probably become a blogger.

Again, this is not an exclusive list. You may have experienced different characters in your life. Because we all can agree that these kids grow up to become coworkers of all of us. Hell, we were/are some of these characters ourselves. These characters are in every office, firehouse, submarine, police station, dispatch center, garage, lab, warehouse, church, package delivery service, sports team, etc….. If you’re not sure what character you are, just ask the person playing The Know-It-All at your job site. Don’t worry, they’ll tell you. 

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

YouTube Video

Every year I make a video for the class using pictures and videos I take over the school year. I try my hardest to make sure I use pictures and vids where the kids appear to be happy. The pictures with tears and screaming will be saved for my retirement video. 
I am the one who picks out the songs, but I choose songs that are popular with the kids. 

Here is the link.

Friday, May 15, 2015


The last week of the school year is not my favorite week. I’m not saying I’m not looking forward to the break, but the last week kind of scares the shit out of me. There are so many, many, many things that can happen that week, and most of those things do not involve smiles. And this is the last week of the school year for me.

One of the problems is that everybody knows it’s the last week. Teachers are high-fiving like a bunch of 15 year olds who just scored some Olde English. They’re all thinking, “Yeah, last week of school. I am soooo ready for this.”  That’s flawed reasoning right there, because if we realize it, so do the kids. And if they realize it, that means they are also high-fiving, mainly because they are a bunch of 15 year olds who just probably scored some Olde English.  Luckily, I teach the littles, 2-4th grade, who are all high-fiving because they scored some juice boxes. But they too can sense the end of the year, like those weird horses who can tell when an earthquake is about to happen. (I happen to think they’re just lucky.)

This will be a deliberately painful stampede.
To me it feels like a herd of cattle on the verge of a stampede. The students and I are both uneasily eyeing the doorway periodically throughout the day, as if someone’s going to bolt. I know if they stampede, I can’t stop them. I’m worried that something might spook them. And it could be anything, like a bee or the sudden slamming of a door. I usually like to sneak up behind a student and startle them. But not this week. That could cause a chaos I wouldn’t enjoy.  

Maybe they're just planning a take-over.
I also worry about one of the students breaking free; finally snapping from the pressure she’s endured throughout the year. And if she breaks, the rest will follow. I doubt any would look back to see if anyone else was breaking with them. They would be halfway home before I cautiously peeked out from behind the book cabinet. I have fortified a space only I am aware of.

Then there would have to be some sort of explanation to the principal. I have found that on average, a principal will not take a shoulder shrug as an answer to a direct question. In fact, more times than not they seem to hate it. And they love to ask questions. “Why was that kid wearing a bucket on his head?” “Who gave that student a stapler and a tube of super-glue?” These are perfect examples of where a shoulder shrug should suffice. Apparently not. 

After that, parents. 
Me: Mrs. Smith. Yes, I’m calling to inform you that your child has just ran out of the school, evidently with a bunch of other confused and frightened children. 
Mrs. Smith: WTF?
Me: I don’t know. 
Mrs. Smith: Seriously, WTF?
Me: SeriouslyI don’t know.  
A shoulder shrug doesn’t have much of an effect while on the phone.

So while I am holding out hope for this week, I’m also trying to be realistic. I will try to keep the same routine to our day as to not provoke any suspicions. And I will not be wearing my spurs just to be on the safe side.