Saturday, November 27, 2010


Now that Thanksgiving is over with, the countdown begins for the next major holiday: Groundhog Day.  When the Groundhog pokes his head out of the hole and gives presents to all the boys and girls, we know in our hearts that this is what makes this country great.  That and a fast food restaurant that cavalierly discards the bun in favor of more chicken.  

We had an impromptu holiday dinner at my house on Friday.  My place was chosen because I happen to have a table large enough to fit seven people, not because of my hosting abilities.  And I have a TV.  The weird part was nobody but me cared that there was football on.  We had moose, swan, and lots of stuffing.  I didn’t have to break out the turkey SPAM to share with the guests, so the dinner was a success.  The swan, moose and cranberry sauce were all locally hunted or foraged by someone other than me.  Monica sent my green bean casserole ingredients, so I can’t really claim to have contributed much to the dinner.  I did use a manual can opener for the beans.

With no radio station in the area, I have been curious about how the kids find different kinds of music.  Not many of the houses here have satellite TV and even less have Internet access.  I suppose they get some of their musical taste from their parents, just like I did.   One of the first singers I remember listening to when I was little was Johnny Cash.  The other day I was absently humming Ring of Fire, when one of my students materialized beside me and began singing along.  I asked him if he knew any other Cash songs.  Listening to an 8yr old’s rendition of The Ballad of Ira Hayes with a Yupik accent is something.  I think a person can go anywhere in the world and still find a Johnny Cash fan.  We were on break, so I brought up iTunes and started choosing Cash songs.  Since they will only give you 30 seconds of each song, he was yelling at my computer because the songs were interrupted.  I did have two Cash songs on my computer, but I don’t think he’s ready for Cocaine Blues.   At least I’m not ready to listen to an 8yr old sing it.

With only three more weeks until school is out for the break, I’m getting excited.  I will leave directly from my classroom to the airport on the 17th.  I can walk from the school to the airport in about the time it takes to walk through a major airport anywhere else.  When I say we have an airport here, I don’t mean to imply there is a building.  We have a gravel runway with a turnout to pick up passengers and turnaround so it can take off again but no TSA pat downs.   I will have a four-hour layover in Anchorage, so I may try to get to know a nice bartender while I’m there. 

Since I don’t have any leftovers from the holiday dinner, I have to continue eating what I normally do.  Eating turkey for the next week would be nice, but I don’t have that option.  I think I may try a new SPAM sandwich, but this time without the bread.  Colonel, you are a genius.  

Thursday, November 25, 2010


I’m sitting here wondering what to watch on TV.  On one channel, the View offers great insight in many of today’s most important topics.  For example, I never would have thought to use my extra moisturizing cream as a laxative.  On another channel, I can watch a sack of hot air shaped as a character, entertain and receive cheers from a crowd of holiday-crazed onlookers.  Or, I could watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.  (I hope Oprah isn’t reading this.) 

I was able to eat Thanksgiving dinner a day early.  The school put on a holiday dinner for the community yesterday, which drew a crowd of a hundred or so.  The cooks did a great job of cooking turkeys, potatoes, stuffing, fry bread, cake and the rest of the feast.  My job was to be the Thanksgiving Grinch, chasing students off the climbing bars in the gym and telling them to stop running around the tables. The kids decided to make a game out of it by pretending to ignore my scowls and harsh words. 

Monica has taken care of my Thanksgiving feast for me.  She, along with her mom, packed a box full of traditional cuisine; including stuffing, gravy, pumpkin bread mix, and turkey SPAM.  SPAM is there when your family can’t.  Maybe I should submit that to their ad campaign people.  When I proposed that same idea to the fine people at Jim Beam, I received a lukewarm reaction.  Which was better than the response I got from Coors about bacon flavored beer.  It was a letter from their attorneys, demanding I  stop sending them letters.  Whatever dummies; I’ll continue to take a bite of bacon and a drink of Henry’s.

I would like to say that I am thankful for Monica, allowing me to quit my secure job and go back to school to become a teacher.  She’ll come up here next year, and begin her career change.  Teaching couples are very valuable to school districts up here, so we both should have jobs as soon as she’s done with her college.  Then she can write a blog and I can become lazier than I already am.

I am going to get back to watching TV.  I’ll sit back and watch the NFL all day and forget about the parades.  I was looking forward to seeing the Glenn Beck balloon, but they had troubles with it, so it’s a no-go.  Apparently the substance he was filled with couldn’t get it aloft.  I guess warm crap and tears don’t float.  

Saturday, November 20, 2010


I want to warn you before you begin; this post will cover subject matter that is considered boring by regular folk.  Those who do find this interesting, please put down the sharp object you are holding and move away from the children. 

In our district, we don’t give out grades and we don’t promote students to the next grade at the end of the school year the same way traditional schools do.  We are on a standards based system, where each subject has a set of standards that a student has to master before moving to that subject’s next level.  In the traditional system, a student would move to the next grade at the end of the school year, assuming he passed, moving up in all subjects (math, science, reading).  In our system, the subjects are not tied to each other for movement.  The student advances a level when that particular subject level has been mastered.  Mastering includes presentations, tests, and other work.  When all of the standards in a particular subject have been mastered, the student must pass an end of level assessment in order to move up to the next level in that subject.  This would work great if all students advanced at the same pace. They don’t.  A student could be in the 4th grade, but be in level 3 in math and level 5 in reading.  Some 4th graders are almost done with their science standards in level 4, but others have just started, making it difficult to teach to each student at their current standard level. Excuse me; I just gave myself a nosebleed typing this.  It’s really much more complicated than it sounds. 

I think this approach to education can work, but it will need some tweaking to get it right.  If I could convince the students that it is some sort of Pac-Man game, eating his way to each level, this could be a motivator for them.  (I realize I’m dating myself when I reference a video game and Pac-Man is what comes to mind.)  I am aware of the arguments against the standards based system, and have made many myself.  But by trying new approaches like this, we can improve how we educate our children. Learning how to differentiate teaching to each student is the difficult part. (I told you it was going to be boring.)

I now wish one of my superhuman abilities would be to teach to each student at an individual level.  Since we can only choose three abilities (don’t be greedy), I would have to give one up I’ve already wished for.  I think I want to keep the invisibility power. It would come in handy during those awkward moments at a dinner party, when it is my turn to contribute something intelligent to the conversation.  Instead of sharing the time I got my head stuck in the staircase banister, I could quietly disappear and go back to the bar for another drink.  To be honest, I’ve never been to a dinner party and nobody has ever turned to me with expectations of something intelligent coming out of my mouth.  But I’m keeping it just in case.  I’d probably trade my ability to walk fast.  I know that isn’t really superhumany, but I think I would use it more than some sort of fast running ability.  I really don’t have anywhere to be that quickly. So my ability to walk fast will be traded for the ability to teach my students at an individual level.  The other superhuman ability I will keep will be my power to pretend to care about other people’s problems. 

This is the kind of blog you get when nothing exciting happens here during the week. Tying together a standards based system with superhuman powers in one post is not easy.  Or as you have just witnessed, not possible.  Last week, I had the great fortune of watching a dog take a crap on a frozen lake.  No such luck this week.  I have not seen a cat in the village yet, but they’re not that funny anyway. They are more discrete about where they crap. 

Saturday, November 13, 2010


I have just a little over a month until I’m going home for the winter break.  34 days, 6 hours, and 14 minutes to be exact.  The other day, someone asked me what I missed most.  The first thing that popped into my head was what I said: “Beer and Pizza”.  If that person asking that question had been a guy, the conversation would have ended there, with a nod in agreement.  Unfortunately, the questioning individual was a female.  “Beer and pizza?  Not your wife?”  In hindsight, my best response would have been to pull the fire alarm and run, but no, I continued.  I explained that Beer and Pizza was my term of endearment for my wife.  I know she didn’t believe me, but I cannot back down now.  Like a teachable moment, this should have been a learnable moment for me, but I really doubt it was.

Teachable moments are moments that arise unexpectedly throughout the day and can be used to help educate a student.  Sometimes I am present when they happen.  I will occasionally take a student out for a walk in the hall as reward for good behavior.  The reward isn’t really the walk; it is the candy I hand out with some worldly wisdom included for free.  What kid wouldn’t appreciate that? 
While gazing out the window with an eight-year-old boy, we were treated to a viewing of a dog taking a crap on the frozen lake.  I didn’t look out before I asked, “What do you see out there today?”  “There’s a dog pooping.”  Marvelous.  A lone dog hunched over on the frozen lake and me without my camera.  The teachable part of the moment was when we discussed how it would be frozen by the time he walked home.  Unfortunately, neither one of us thought of making a ‘poopcicle’ joke at the time.

My wife has convinced me that I haven’t written about my walk to school and dead people.  Since the terra firma here isn’t so firma, regular cemeteries won’t work.  The ground, when thawed, feels like a sponge when you’re walking on it.  So instead of burying someone after they pass away, they stay above ground.  And the cemeteries are not a centralized collection of caskets and tombstones.  They seem to be placed randomly around the village, including next to walkways.  That does make sense, since cemeteries elsewhere are near roads.  I walk by three ‘cemeteries’ on my walk to school each morning.  One casket is placed so close to the trail that a person can bump into it if you’re not paying attention.  The cemeteries in the village are not very big, usually just a half-dozen or so in each group.  I don’t know how it is decided where to place a casket, or who decides.  I was a little disappointed at Halloween when nobody hid behind these casket boxes and jumped out at people.  I think it would be funny even on Thanksgiving.

I am looking forward to spending some time at home.  Not having a store in town isn’t as difficult as I thought it would be, but it will be nice to expand my menu once in a while.  Although having chili and rice twice a week hasn’t diminished it’s appeal to my taste buds.  I sure miss my Beer and Pizza.

Saturday, November 6, 2010


A polar bear, an Eskimo, and a Rabbi walked into a bar.  I have nothing more after that. The strangest part of this scenario is that everyone knows that polar bears and Rabbis are mortal enemies.  I’m pretty sure they just accidently showed up at the same time.  Maybe the Rabbi and Eskimo showed up together, discussing how to interpret the Talmud into Yupik, and the polar bear just showed up because he was thirsty.  Plus, polar bears love nachos.  Can you tell nothing exciting happened here the past week?

I had an uneventful Halloween.  It turns out there was some candy left over and I had enough to hand out.  I even had enough for some to come through twice.  Apparently, covering you face with a hood is a costume.  The candy I handed out was Whoppers.  I hate Whoppers.  I ate a whole carton of them once when I was a kid and I got sick. I still have troubles eating them.  I had a similar experience with Southern Comfort.  I DID NOT give out Southern Comfort as treats. 

Winter has settled in here.  We have about 6 inches of snow on the ground with more to come.  It is getting down in the mid teens at night and mid 20’s during the day.  The old timers say that the winters are not very bad.  The interior of the state will routinely get into the -40s, but since we are on the Bering Sea, it keeps our temps quite mild.  Mild is relative, so I’ll get back to you with the meaning of mild.

It is only the first part of Nov and it stays dark most of the day now.  It gets light around 1030 AM and dark at about 7 pm.  We lose more than 5mins of daylight each day right now.  The sun is also low on the horizon, so it takes a while for the sun to get up and do its job.  I haven’t seen it in a week since it has been cloudy for a while.

Our first Friday each month is used for in-service for the staff, so that’s what we did.  I do think it is a good reminder for teachers to understand how boring it can be for the kids to sit there and listen to us drone on about something they really don’t care about.  I’ve heard that teachers make the worst students.  Doctors make the worst patients.  Nuclear physicists make the worst pastry chefs. I had a lawyer joke to insert, but I have a brother and a couple of cousins who might get upset.  You’d think they would have thicker skin.

If anyone can find a punch line for the joke I started, I’ll include it on my next blog.  I’ll try out making this an interactive blog; interactive meaning somebody else writes it and comes up with funny things to post.  That’s what teachers call “student centered learning”.  Letting the students chose what they want to learn about, and have them look it up.  If you can tell a student to use a dictionary to look up a word they want to know how to spell, why can’t you give them an algebra book when they have a question?  Even if it is about germs.