Sunday, September 30, 2012


Some weeks drag on and some weeks fly by.  And some weeks I get on a plane Monday morning and head to Seward, Alaska.  Ok, that will only happen once this year, but I still get to count it as something I did.  I spent last week at the Alaska SeaLife Center learning about video teleconferencing.  

Being in such a remote part of the world, it makes sense to utilize technology that can connect Nunam Iqua, Alaska with Nunam Iqua, France.  Since I don’t have an Internet connection as I’m writing this, I cannot verify there is a group of Eskimos living in the suburbs of Paris.  I’ll ask Professor Google when I have the time.  But it could be I just made that up.

Video teleconferencing is a very good way to see different cities and cultures.  There are hundreds of groups around the world that offer live, interactive lessons about a variety of topics.  The Alaska SeaLife Center is one of those groups.  While we were there, we were able learn how to do our own live, interactive lessons. I am now ready to connect with other teachers to share our culture and for my students to learn about another culture by asking their own questions.

Just before the lights went out.
There were eight of us attending the workshop; representing the state from Barrow to Juneau.  Three of us were classroom teachers while the rest were either curriculum folk or technology nerds.  It was a good group of people to learn from too.  My own group of four did a lesson on octopuses.  Yes, the plural of octopus is octopuses not octopi.  I was informed by the resident marine biologist that only jerks use that term. We were able to touch and handle a live octopus.  Their suction cups on their arms are just like a bathtub mat’s cups.  They make popping noises when you pull it off.  Please do not ask me how I know that bathtub mats can stick to human skin.  At one point while we were handling the octopus, the power in Seward went out. This had three of us with octopus arms wrapped around our hands in total darkness.  That was a very anxious 5 seconds.

This is what a baby octopus looks like.
The other fun part of being in Seward is that it is a small town but includes services for the thousands of tourists that visit each year from the cruise ships.  That means many bars and restaurants to sample. And sample I did.  I recommend The Seward Brewing Co.  Good eats and rumor has it, their beer is excellent.

Another part of getting to towns with stores is that I can bring some perishables back. I brought back cheese, butter, cheese, coffee creamer, cheese, and lunch meat.  I am thinking that getting a cow might be a more efficient way to satisfy our dairy needs. It might also lead to an efficient way to feed the local wolf population. They like their cheese too apparently.

So the week away from home was fun but it is good to get back home.  I brought back Monica's Christmas present (Mac Book Air), I learned some awesome new stuff, and met some good people. I will be heading back to Anchorage in two weeks for more training.  I think I’ll sample some local Anchorage restaurants and find some liquid treats.

Sunday, September 23, 2012


Finding material to write about weekly (weakly?) can sometimes be difficult. Some weeks there is an abundance of events that happen and all I have to do is write about them.  Other weeks, nothing out of the ordinary takes place, so more effort is required to find things to write about.  

Well, things do happen, but I’m not going to write about everything.  When I started my blog two years ago, I made the decision to try to keep it light and humorous.  When I say ‘try’ I mean ‘do a task with little effort’. I figured that if I though it was funny, maybe somebody else would too.  And if they didn’t find it funny, at least they had solace in the fact I wasn’t in their school, teaching their kids.

We have issues up here that are just like everywhere else.  Some of the issues up here are not just like everywhere else.  We have an extremely high rate of substance abuse.  This is an issue that touches the school with a cruel, unfair hand.  With substance abuse comes neglect of children in a variety of ways we witness at the school every day.  And being in a remote area, we don’t have resources readily available to help solve these problems.  When these problems persist, the young victims continue to suffer.

We have no law enforcement in our village to respond quickly when needed.  This allows for some to not be held accountable for their actions, and continue with behavior that is detrimental to the community.   I want to strongly emphasize that the overwhelming majority of citizens are law abiding and only want to do the right thing.  But in a village with less than 200 people, it only takes a few to disrupt the community.  Like Monica says, “The smaller the room, the more potent that fart.”  I married her for her flowery prose.

Every day I get to go to work with 19 amazing kids.  Some kids come to school carrying more baggage than I could possibly endure.  They may come in wearing the same clothes for the past two weeks, having only two hours of sleep on a living room floor that night, and a small bag of Doritos for dinner.  But they walk in with a big smile on their face.  It makes the whining about Romney’s tax return or that Obama is a communist sound ridiculous and trite. 

So, I do have plenty to blog about.  Monica and I don’t feel that we are here to save a village.  We are here to work in a community and try to become a member of a group where we are the outsiders.  I also don’t think I would be benefiting anyone, including myself, to comment on specific tragedies we may witness.  We love being a part of this community.  While we don’t ignore the adversities, we want to relish all of the positives; which greatly outnumber the negatives.  I will try to write about the things that make me smile and laugh, not the things that break my heart.

Sunday, September 16, 2012


The remoteness of this area is one of the main reasons we we love living here. I’m not offended by modern conveniences, but it is nice not having any cars or trucks in our village.  The occasional airplane is usually the only traffic noise we are hearing this time of year.  By November the sounds of snowmobiles will become audible; even to my annoyance.  But with the airplane noise comes the opportunity to fly out of here sometimes and see other places.  At the end of this month I will be getting on one of those Era planes and fly to Anchorage for a workshop in Seward.

Since our school is so remote, the state and district have invested heavily in technology. One of our technological goodies (I think that is the nerd term) is the ability to participate in field trips at long distance.  I will be attending a workshop on how to facilitate those field trips remotely.  Plus, spending a week in Seward and Anchorage will be a nice break.  Monica unfortunately will not be accompanying on this trip, as she has to teach my class for me.  I know they will be in good hands while a beer and a cheeseburger will be in my hands.  Yes, at the same time.

I am finally getting settled in with my class.  The new kids are still trying to figure out if I’m really that mean.  I’ve learned that scared students make quieter students.  For some of my students, this is their third year with me and they have figured out what they can or can’t get away with.  I try to give the older kids more privileges and responsibilities in the classroom, so that makes them happy.  Mostly.

This is a picture Monica took of the Yukon.
This week we had some fun in science.  I was trying to answer a question about what happens to our food after we eat it.  Now, if you think I enjoy being gross with elementary students, you are correct.  I was explaining that they all have bugs in their guts, bacteria that breaks down your food.  Puzzled looks is what I got.  So I asked them, “Who has eaten a hotdog?”  Every hand enthusiastically went up.  Then I asked, “Who has pooped a hotdog?”  Nineteen hands slowly went down.  I explained that their stomachs digest the hotdog, taking out what the body needs, and shoots the rest out the backdoor.  It was silent for about 30 seconds until one of the shy students raises his hand and says, “I pooped corn.”  Then the discussion began.  This is why I love teaching.

We have had some good frosts this week.  That means that the lake will freeze over pretty soon and our walk to school will become significantly shorter.  And colder.

I will be gone for a week and Monica will have to stay.  I feel badly for her, but not bad enough to decline to offer of the workshop. It will also give me the ability to let my class see other parts of the world through  this project.  I will bring Monica back some creamer for her coffee.  I will do a little shopping for a few perishables we don’t have enough of; mainly butter and cheese.  I should just get a cow.  And the trip to Seward will give me the opportunity to sample some more of the local craft beers.  You know, just trying to help the local economy.

Sunday, September 9, 2012


I’ve always taken the availability of electricity for granted.  I’ve never lived in a place where we lost power for any length of time, so I guess I’ve lived a charmed life.  I’ve also never been bitten by a snake, but I don’t think those two are connected.  Before we moved up here, I read about villages whose power was disrupted constantly.  Until this fall, we continued to be lucky.

We had a few outages prior to this fall, but nothing too bad.  Maybe a few hours at a time, but then it was back on, just in time for us to watch yet another reality show about Alaska.  But this year has been brutal.  

This is an uluaq, or ulu in English. It is a Yup'ik
knife used for cutting up meat and such.

Our village, like most villages in rural Alaska, gets power from diesel generators located in the village.  There is usually more than one generator, just in case one fails.  This fall, we would have 3-4 power outages a day, usually only lasting between 15 mins to an hour.  Which is not a big deal unless you have a classroom where technology is used.  I happen to have one of those classrooms.  So it has been a constant struggle to reboot computers while students are acting like it is the apocalypse.  Even though it would be the tenth time it had happened that week.  Drama kings and queens.  It does get pretty dark in the classroom during this, so there’s not a lot we can get done during this time, except for me to talk about the apocalypse.  (They frighten easily.)

But, it looks like the problem has been solved.  On our way to work yesterday, we talked with a man who was waiting to go to the airstrip.  He said he was here to work on the generators and thinks he had the problem fixed. He said words like “air in the fuel line” and “breaker’.  I swear he even said “salami pudding”.  I don’t know because I’m not mechanically inclined. I was born without the Mr. Goodwrench gene.  I don’t know how to work on a car and never had the desire to. Some people find that odd or even offensive that a man doesn't know how to fix his own car when it breaks down. I ignore them and go back to my specific skill set: eating and updating my moth collection.  (Not at the same time, that would be ridiculous.)  So far, we’ve yet to have a  power outage since seeing the stranger, so I guess it wasn’t an hallucination from breathing moth dust.
Another look at the delta and the mighty Yukon River.
Again, these are Monica's photos. This shows why it
is so difficult to get from one place to another.

We are getting into our groove at school.  The students remembered that they don’t like doing school work and their teacher remembered that he doesn’t like writing lesson plans on Saturdays.  But even with the larger class, we’re making it work.  One 5th grader told me he missed me this summer.  I asked him how he’s going to feel next year when he moves up the the middle school.  He said, “Sad”.  Then his face lit up and he said, “I’ll have a locker!”.  So it seems I will be easily replaced by lockers.  

With the power fixed it looks like football season will be enjoyable.  Last week the power went out during the last few minutes of a close game, so I wasn’t looking forward to a whole season of that.  We now can go back to the charmed life of continuous electricity and snake-bite free living. Until the next big storm and they have to string together paperclips as a makeshift power line.  

Saturday, September 1, 2012


Week one down, 39 to go.  It’s not like I have a countdown set up on my computer dashboard, but I kind of do.  I’m not a teacher who complains about his job and only does it for the big money in education. I love my job. But I do enjoy getting the time off at the end of the school year.  I think it’s like a marathon runner.  They enjoy the training and the run, but I imagine that by mile 17 they’re completely over the thrill and just want it to end.  I understand the ridiculousness of comparing myself to a marathon runner.  The only marathon I want to be involved in is a Man Vs. Food marathon on TV.  Even with that I’ll need a break or two.

The class is ready for Clint Eastwood's lecture.
So our first full week of school is over and all of us are still alive.  There are more than a few changes from last year.  We have a new principal.  I don’t know how this will affect me because it is still early.  I had fooled my old principal into thinking that I knew what I was doing.  I’m hoping the new one will be as easily fooled.  We also have a new science/math teacher and Social Studies teacher for the HS/MS.  That doesn’t seem like a big turnover, but when we have only 7 teachers in the entire K-12 school, it does make a difference.  Our SS teacher grew up here in Nunam Iqua and taught for 12 years at other schools in the district, so he’s making his homecoming.  The math teacher is just out of school and beginning her career here.  She knows what the challenges will be and is ready.  The rest of us will be able to help Bethany because it wasn’t very long ago we were in her shoes.  I keep telling her that the hardest day of teaching was her first day.  Every day after will get easier. I hope she believes that.

The biggest change this year is that Monica will be my classroom aide.  I will now be my wife’s boss. Unless she reads this, then she’ll put a stop to that nonsense.  She’ll be in the my classroom until just after lunch.  After that she will have a half-hour break and start her preschool class.  So with two jobs and being a full time college student she will be plenty busy.  But being the helping husband I am, I told her she didn’t have to do the laundry until Friday nights.  And dishes could wait until the next night while dinner was cooking. Since clothes don’t fold themselves, she could do that while taking breaks from her college courses. I should be writing a blog about how to keep a marriage strong.  We didn’t make it to nine years because we listened to Dr. Phil.  (Happy Anniversary honey)

One thing that didn’t change is that I’ll still have students in my classroom.  I have 19 this year, which is about 7 more than I had last year.  More kids, more desks, and more grey hair.  Actually, the amount of grey I get is counter balanced with the rate of hair loss.  So whatever I gain I lose.  If I can translate that into weight I’ll be rich.  And skinny.  But they are a good group of kids, most of whom I’ve had in my class before. They know most of my tricks so I’ll have to find find some new ones. 
This is a picture Monica took of sunrise.

The weeks will rush by now since we’ll be so busy.  Come Feb. that will all change: time comes to a dark, cold crawl.  So for now we’ll keep busy with everything coming at us and not worry about the countdown.  I’ll just have to hope for a Here Comes Honey Boo Boo marathon in February.