Sunday, January 27, 2013


Up here, January means we are in month four of living in a deep freeze. The good news is that we only have four more months of this. When we head south in May, we’ll go from below freezing temps to whatever Oklahoma throws at us. And whatever is thrown will be appreciated. I figure (unscientific guess) I spend more than 5 mins each day just bundling and unbundling each day. That’s roughly a half and hour I could spend each week developing a conveyer belt that delivered sandwiches from the refrigerator to my chair. Now, if I can just convince Monica to build several sandwiches so I can stock the fridge.

With the temperature getting a bit cooler, its -17 as I’m writing this, everything stays frozen, including the Yukon. But it isn’t frozen solid, so there is still water moving beneath the 3-4 feet of ice. Because of the huge volume of water flowing, it sometimes breaks through cracks in the river-ice and creates an overflow. Sometimes these overflows can be a couple of feet deep. A couple of weeks ago Monica and I encountered an overflow in the Yukon River while driving our snowmobile. The outcome wasn’t disastrous, but it did include getting wet and almost losing Monica’s boot.

Our school bus. Kids ride in the sled.
When the overflow happens, it becomes like a huge Slurpee,only without the nasty colors and taste that 7-11 unapologeticly provides. Usually, a snowmobile can travel across an overflow, provided the driver has enough speed. This driver did not have enough speed, but he did over indulge regularly in desserts. The result was that we went 22 ft over a 25 ft overflow. We got stuck. We were near the edge, so Monica made a break for it and tried to get to the shore. She had one step to go when she went knee deep into the slushy mess. When she pulled her leg out, her boot was missing. It was still two feet in the slush, filled with water. Monica has always told me that her favorite sound is hearing me laugh. Apparently this does not include having a finger pointed at her while I was laughing. We were able to excavate her boot out of the mess with a shovel. Getting the machine out required some help from that same shovel, a rope, and most importantly, the help of two friends. Once we were out, we headed back home to thaw Monica’s foot out. 

This is how we travel to our basketball games.
Now that her foot is non-frozen, Monica will be heading to Anchorage on Monday for a week. She will be attending an early education conference where she will be able to talk with adults about the best ways to educate small children. I will stay here and talk to 8-11 yr olds and try to convince them that it is inappropriate to fart and burp at the same time. At the end of the day I will make my half mile walk in subzero temperatures to a cold house and a cup of coco. Monica will end her day in a comfortable room with an ice cold drink. I know Anchorage is not Honolulu, but she can have a Mai-Tai if she wants one. 

The one bright spot about being alone is that I’ll have plenty of time to work on my Rube Goldberg conveyer belt instead of wasting my time doing dishes and laundry. I don’t have access to a Home Depot, so I’ll have to make due with Lincoln Log and Tinker Toy parts. Now, I only have one day to convince Monica into making a week’s worth of sandwiches (13) before she leaves. 

Sunday, January 20, 2013


We finished our second quarter and are starting down the backside of the school year. At halftime, it is always a good idea to assess what worked and what blew up in your face. The idea is to avoid repeating the disasters and double down on the successes. Or in my case, the idea is to prove that the disasters were caused by something other than poor planning and incompetent execution on my part. 

As I may have stated before, (I sometimes forget things) I teach a multi-grade classroom; grades 3-5. While I only have 19 students, I do have to figure out how to teach three different lessons at the same time. There is no way I could do this successfully without the help of my very competent classroom aide: Monica Miller. 

I’m familiar with the comparison of trying to get several people to work together is like herding cats. I think in my case, it is more like trying to logically talk (yell) to 19 different cats who are purposefully defying my every wish. I try to keep them in three different groups, away from the litter box. Sometimes the bigger cats don’t like what the little cats are doing. Sometimes the smaller cats crawl under they tables instead of learning about fractions. But they all scatter out the door when I open it at the end of the day, only to be back the next morning. 

I look at my classroom as a stage, where I get to practice my comedic skills on 9 year old cats. While their humor may not yet be refined, they laugh like hell when I say ‘poop’. I can easily tell when a joke falls flat because of the rolling of the eyes by the 5th graders and the frightened looks of the 3rd graders. The 5th graders have been with me for three years, so they are not afraid of me and are more honest. Keeping with the stage comparison, teaching three different grades simultaneously is similar to juggling. Chainsaws. While on fire. While I’m attending to one group, I have to have something for the other two groups to do. The trick is to keep from dropping one of the flaming chainsaws and burning down the classroom. This is why I spend almost as much time planning as I spend actually teaching. 
The guaranteed wrong way to diagram a math lesson on
the white board.

I know I just compared my students to cats and chainsaws, but not in a bad way. The students are why I enjoy teaching so much. Everyday will be different and everyday they will look to me for some sort of help. Sometimes I fail and sometimes I really mess it up. I will use two pictures to explain. This first picture is how I tried to teach my 5th graders what diameter and radius are. As you can see, I should have used the second way. They started to giggle when I drew the diagrams on the white board. It was then I realized what I had done. But I was stuck: Do I acknowledge my mistake by erasing the diagram, or do I continue and pretend I don’t hear them snickering? I continue, but understand I should not do that again. Lesson learned, Mr. Clay.
A better and parent approved way to diagram
a math problem on the white board.

The second half of the year is long up here. We do not have a day off from school until we end the year on May 16th. We do not get MLK Day off. Nor President’s Day, Groundhog’s Day, or a spring break. By now, we are tired of the cold, dark winter. Four more months can seem like an eternity. But luckily, we have students who try their hardest to keep this place from being anything but boring. We’re ready for the second half. 

Tuesday, January 1, 2013


Well, if you’re reading this, we made it through to the new year. I spent my New Year’s Eve like I usually do: hiding under the bed like a household pet.  When the clock struck twelve, several residents of the village stepped outside and celebrated with their rifles. I wasn’t concerned much about the noise, although I was pretty sure someone was just outside my bedroom wall. I was more concerned with their ability to aim away from houses and point toward the Bering Sea. I know some may have been impaired, but they successfully missed our house. I don’t know about anyone else’s yet. 

Monica and I spent six days in Anchorage over the break. We flew into Anchorage on Christmas Eve afternoon. Once we got checked into our hotel, we made a dash to the nearest Safeway. Monica was concerned that we should get some food, since everything would be closed that night and the next day. I was concerned that we should get to the liquor store in time, since everything would be closed that night and the next day. Luckily, the liquor store was attached to the Safeway, so both of our Christmas wishes came true.

For the next six days, we contributed heavily to the Anchorage economy. We watched a movie, bought a seal skin hat, purchased an iPhone, and visited several restaurants. We also bought more groceries and had them shipped back to the house. All in all we spent a lot of money but we did have a good time and are glad we took the time to visit the big city. 

Since we’ve accumulated enough snow, we decided to get our snowmobile up and running. We’ve had a cold winter, but not a lot of snow. But the past few weeks, we’ve had a few small storms that gave us enough snow now. The first thing we had to do was get it started. It has sat since last May, so I wasn’t sure how easily it would want to fire up. Also, I have no mechanical ability whatsoever. If it didn’t start, my only option would be to mutter something about the carburetor, whatever that is, and go back inside and watch football. It started, so we took it to the gas pumps to get some gas and oil. Thirteen gallons of gas and two quarts of oil set us back $107. I guess we weren’t done spending money yet.

Well, since the new year is here, I have to look back at my resolutions from last year and see which ones I accomplished (none). Realizing that I’m not good at completing my resolutions, I resolved to lower the bar a little bit. I resolve to watch more TV and read less. I also put this one on last year’s list, last night, right behind something about stopping procrastinating. So far I’m doing well with this one.  I am also resolving to being more aware of my surroundings and audience when I say things out loud. This should help not frighten the students as much. And not frightening the adults too. I’m tired of hearing people say, “He’s a teacher?”

With a new year, we all get the chance to start over and try again. This is my 46th new year and 46th time of trying to do a better job. Hopefully I will, even if it’s just a little better. It’s always worth the effort. I remember when I was two, I resolved not to poop my pants anymore. Boy, did that one pay off.  Happy New Year.