Sunday, October 28, 2012


End of the first quarter. Report cards have all been mailed home and parent/teacher conferences have been held. I always feel funny talking to parents about their children. Of course I try to highlight the student’s successes but I also need to touch on areas where they need work. That part will always be a bit awkward for me because I know a parent doesn’t enjoy somebody else reminding them that their child may have difficulties focusing. But it is always awesome to be able to show a parent a paper their child wrote that surprises them. Or share an anecdote about something nice the student has done for another student.

I’ve written about this before, mainly because it brings up memories of my school years. And my report cards were not full of flowery adjectives. Unfortunately, blogging was not invented yet, so I had no way to vent my frustration. My outlet was to “not apply myself”. I was not a talented student. I’m not really sure why, because I did enjoy school. Well, not report card day.  But the rest of the time school was fun for me. 

Saturday afternoon on the way to school.
Another cruel part of report card day was that the school would send the report card home with the students. Today, we either mail them home or hand them to the parent at the conference. So, our teacher would give us the sealed envelope with instructions that they were not to be opened by anyone except our parents. We rode the late bus, so we had to wait at the school for our bus to make a 45 minute run before it came back to pick us up to take us home. 

I had to hold on tight to that sealed envelope for over an hour in my grubby little hands for fear of losing it. I knew that if I lost it, nobody would believe that story. I would be accused of destroying the evidence of my laziness. Nobody ever thought that maybe I was too lazy to conjure up such a scheme. I was forced to deliver the evidence of my shortcomings to my parents. 

My class doing a yoga exercise. Notice I am not in the picture.
What made the delivery worse was that I had two brothers who were talented students. Apparently, they did “apply” themselves. They were overjoyed to hand over their envelopes, knowing that warm smiles and possibly gifts from overseas would be coming their way. I stood a few steps back, hoping that in the celebration my parents would forget about me and my envelope. But they wouldn’t. Their joyous smiles would fade and their gaze would shift from the envelope to my eyes. Everyone in the room knew what to expect, but there was always some suspense. Maybe they were all hoping I had turned the corner and began “applying” myself. I didn’t and I was always sent to bed without supper.

Ok, maybe I over dramatized things a bit. I was always fed supper. But I do empathize with my students who may lose focus or take longer than needed to finish a project or even a single assignment. I feel for the less talented students and their plight. And I don’t enjoy talking to their parents about how “if they would just apply themselves”, their scores would improve. But I will never make my students hand deliver their own report cards. 

Saturday, October 20, 2012


I guess I missed a week. But, I have a good excuse. I was in Anchorage attending training for our after school program that I will be teaching. Ok,teaching isn’t a good verb here; I think juggling would describe it better. Either way, I have found a way to spend an additional six hours a week at school/work.

Swan Lake and our School.
The truly bad part of flying out of the village to Anchorage is that there are a lot of people there. Not New York City crowded, but more-than- 4-people-ahead-of-you-at-a-Walmart-checkout-stand crowded. And to answer your next question: yes. People in Anchorage Walmarts act exactly like people in Walmarts across our country. I did indeed stand behind the man with the full shopping cart and a handful of cash, telling the clerk to stop scanning when she hit $100. When that event happened, he then had the clerk take back some of the item that were deemed by him as unimportant, so he could add the important items. He did have the decency to scowl at me and say that this would take a while. I have seen this man in other incarnations at other Walmarts. Once as a drunk woman in Grove, OK and another as a confused, older woman with a tiny coin purse, a wad of coupons, and bad eyesight in Wenatchee, WA.

Even though I was in Anchorage only 4 days, I was ready to get back to Nunam Iqua. And in those four days things sure changed. Looking down from the plane as we flew over the tundra, I could see how much the ponds and lakes have frozen over. The small lake here in the village, Swan Lake, was 75% frozen over. It is not ready for me to walk on, but children and several rocks have found it sturdy enough to support them. Looking back at my time-dated photos for the previous years, it seems that the freeze is right on schedule. The Yukon is already starting to form ice, so that means the road will soon be reopened for traffic.

This weekend our school will be holding a community dance, featuring fiddlers from Emmonak. Communities up here have dances where they feature fiddlers regularly. Our village, sadly, has not had one in a couple of years, so people are really excited about this. It is difficult to imagine, but our village has only one event each year where the people gather, and that is our annual potlatch. Other than that, there are literally no community gatherings for the next 364 days. No places where people can just sit to share coffee, stories, and jokes. The post office is the only place where people are likely to bump into each other.  I believe that this event can help this community after a couple of rough months. 

Our whole school playing volleyball.
Now that I’ve had a couple of trips to the big city this past month, I think I’ll be hunkering down here until May. And I really don’t mind at all. I like being able to walk to work everyday. Not having to stand in line to buy Spam. And not seeing a car or pickup for another seven months. My daily arguments with the village dogs on my walk to work everyday gives me my anger-outlet. Plus, I think they are beginning to agree with my point about the upcoming election.

Sunday, October 7, 2012


When Monica and I were first married, we didn’t spend a lot of time together. You may think it was because of too much awesomeness too soon for Monica.  But it was because of our work schedules.  Monica was a 911 dispatcher at the time, working nights.  I was employed by FedEx,  working the normal 6am-7pm shift.  So we didn’t see each other much. I left for work before she got home, and she was getting ready for work when I got home.  She also had to work most weekends, so that didn’t work out for  us either.  

Then we decided that I would finish college and become a teacher.  Monica then worked more overtime so we could afford me going to school full time. I still worked at nights, driving truck for FedEx, but only for 5 hrs.  Monica started working 60 hours a week, so again, we didn’t see much of each other.

Fast forward to today.  Not only do we have the same schedule and work in the same building; we also teach in the same classroom. On top of that, I am her supervisor.  Yes, I am legally allowed, if not obligated, to tell my wife what she needs to do. This causes confusion on both our parts, because apparently at home, she is legally allowed and obligated to tell me what to do. And I’ve been informed, by Monica, that I must comply. When I ask, “By what authority?”, she just gives me that look. Gentlemen, you know that look, and ladies, you have perfected that look. That look has caused the delay of many football games and interrupted several poker games. That look has also kept the worlds’s population at a lower level than it already is. We are frightened by that look and you women know it.

I have yet to get that look in the classroom from my lovely wife.  She may roll her eyes when I tell the kids a story about my childhood that she thinks I am embellishing, but that is different from the look. She also thinks I use the word ‘poop’ too much in the classroom, but she doesn't try to stop me. When I ask her to do a task in the classroom, she politely says, “Yes Mr. Miller”. 

The best part of having her in the classroom is that she is able to help me with my disability: spelling.  I feel so alone when I am at the whiteboard (chalkboard for you old-timers) with the pen in hand, fumbling in my brain for the right letter order.  Unfortunately, the whiteboard doesn’t have those red lines appear under the word when I have misspelled one.  Usually, I’ll take a step back to get a better visual perspective of the word I was trying to spell.  Then will come a chorus of “HaHaHaHa.  You spelled it wrong!”  This by third graders. I don’t even get the courtesy cough, to let me know I should run back up to the board and erase it quickly.  Nope, just jeers and laughs.  With Monica there, I can confidently stand at the board while writing.  If I think I may have a problem, I just pause, wait for her to cough, then erase the word and use my thesaurus in my head to think of an easier word.  We have ridiculous and contradicting spelling rules.

I am thankful I have Monica in my classroom daily.  She is tough with the kids and is able to get the most out of them.  We both have the same philosophy on what should happen in the classroom, so it makes it easy to lesson plan with her.  And I always know when she’s mad at me because she won’t give me the courtesy cough and lets the kids yell at me.  I hate you resurant. (cough)