I have always been a person that does better when I know what’s happening next. I don’t have to know minute by minute, or even day by day, but I have an easier time living my life if I have some sense of what the next year or so holds. For most of my time in Alaska, I’ve been fortunate enough to live a life that accommodates this need. The first district I worked for, like many of the bush districts, issued contracts in March or April. While I didn’t know quite what would happen next when I chose to leave, I still had enough of a plan to settle my mind. Last school year, while I didn’t receive my contract until early April, there was never any question about whether or not I would receive it. The last three months have contained more uncertainty than I ever want to experience again. In the early days, my imagination would run wild with possibilities and what ifs. I quickly resorted to writing things down, just to get some level of peace. This also allowed me to start making plans for each possible outcome.

While my initial lists had more, I eventually narrowed things down to two courses of action. Because of the budget cuts proposed by the governor, the district faced the very real possibility of having to let go all non-tenured teachers, including me. If that happened, my chances of finding another teaching job in Alaska would be small, especially as I don’t want to go back to the bush. So my plans fell into two neat categories: I got a contract and stayed in Seward, or I didn’t get a contract and moved back to the Lower 48.

To say these past months have been an emotional rollercoaster would be an understatement. During the school day, my students kept me too busy to think about things too much. Of course, my fellow teachers and I would talk amongst ourselves; tenured or not, the proposed budget would have a significant impact on all of us. (The district released a list of what all would happen if that budget passed. In addition to losing teachers, it would also mean school closures, losing all extra-curricular activities, closing pools and theatre spaces, and more.) A large portion of those discussions involved whether or not the middle school would stay open next school year, and if it closed, where the students would go. While the younger students at the elementary school were mostly oblivious to all of this, I did have several discussions with my middle-schoolers, giving them as much information as I could and letting them share and discuss their feelings. By mid-April, I had confirmation that, by the last day of school, I would receive either a contract or a letter of non-retention.

Outside of school, I kept as busy as I could. I worked on the stage crew for “Blithe Spirit” (produced by the same group that put on “Joseph” last spring), which kept me busy for most of March. I planned, ran, and attended or helped with several events for Pride Alliance, a newly-formed LGBTQIA+ group here in town. I continued to rehearse with the Community Band, and we put on our Spring Concert in late April. While each event kept my mind occupied, there was always a small voice in the back of my head, wondering if this would be the last time I did something like this.

Perhaps the most difficult part of all of this was the way the uncertainty sapped my energy and played hob with my mental health. I didn’t spiral into depression the way I did a year and a half ago, but my sleeping patterns became erratic. I also struggled with binge eating for the first time in over six years. I did manage to maintain an exercise regimen, as well as keep up with practicing trombone. I continued to read (as essential to me as breathing), but mostly re-read old favorites, as I couldn’t focus on new plots and characters. Writing also became a struggle, hence the long silence here and on my fanfiction accounts. Perhaps the most heartbreaking thing was when, as we reached the last few weeks of school, students would ask me, “Are you coming back next year, Mr. CJ?” and I’d have to tell them, “I don’t know.”

The week before school ended, I received my contract for the coming school year. For the first time in months, I felt like I could breathe again. For the next year, at least, I’m still an Alaska boy. While some things are still uncertain, I know enough now that I can start moving forward once more.

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Every night this week, I’ve dreamed about moving, about needing to find a new job. Unfortunately, these dreams are likely to come true to some extent.

As with any decisions, multiple factors affect the eventual outcome. In my case, sadly, many of these factors are beyond my direct control.

The first major factor is one that’s been on-going for a while: It’s a negotiation year between my school district and my union. Negotiations began in February 2018 (yes, you read that right, 2018), and the old contract expired as of 1 July 2018. This school year, I and other employees have been paid according to the terms of this expired agreement, a practice that will continue until a new agreement is reached. The two biggest sticking points in negotiations seem to be salary increases and healthcare costs.

Speaking for myself, I did not get into education to make vast sums of money. That being said, I would like for my salary to reflect my abilities and training, and to keep up with increases in the cost of living. Salaries in my district have effectively been static for the last 5 years, with not even a cost-of-living increase.

As far as healthcare goes, I admit to being rather ignorant of how the district’s insurance plan works. I do know that it’s not cheap. In fact, this past fall there was an “emergency” open-enrollment period to allow employees to switch to the high-deductible plan, with the aim of saving the district money. They got their wish: According to reports from various sources, enough employees switched that the district saved over a million dollars just this school year.

Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of negotiations is that the district wants to only sign a one-year agreement, which means that, at this point, negotiations would have to immediately re-commence for next school year. While there are many aspects of this conflict I find confounding, this has to be in the top 3. Why on Earth would anyone want to keep this process going any longer than necessary? (For comparison, several other districts in the state just signed three-year agreements, meaning that their unions and districts don’t have to do this dance again for at least two years.)

To be fair to the district, they are somewhat limited in what they can and can’t promise by the budget the borough gives them. For whatever reason, the borough has not “funded to the cap” (allocated the maximum amount of money for education) in some years. I don’t know how much money the district would receive if fully funded, but it has to be better than what we’re currently working with.

But now another outside factor comes in to play: The state budget. Just a couple of weeks ago, Alaska’s new governor, Dunleavy, announced that he wanted to take $20 million from THIS YEAR’S education budget, money that is essentially already spent. Thankfully, this move is both unpopular and likely illegal, so it’s unlikely to actually pass. But just this week, the governor’s proposed budget was unveiled for next year, and it’s not pretty. While some details aren’t clear just yet, one major detail is: Dunleavy wants to cut funding for education by $320 million, or about 20%. To put that in perspective, that’s like saying 1 out of every 5 teachers loses their jobs. That’s like losing a little over two years of school time. That’s the difference between having competent paraprofessionals in schools to work with students and leaving teachers to fend for themselves. That’s the death knell for a variety of extra-curricular activities both during and after school. In short, there goes my music job.

“If you’ve lived a bad life, they send you to Hell. But if you’ve been truly wicked, they give you a tour of heaven first…”

The above quote comes from a book by one of my favorite authors, Spider Robinson. The character who says it, Maureen, has just seen a life she never realized she could have, and she’s afraid she’ll never have the opportunity to get it. She’s fortunate enough that she gets what she wants.

Me? My professional life this school year hasn’t quite been heavenly, but it’s pretty damned close. I love working with such a variety of students, teaching them about a topic that is so near and dear to me. I love the excitement on their faces as they line up outside my classroom. I love the kids who smile at me in the mornings as they say, “I see you today!” I love the kids whose days outside the music space may not be so great, but as soon as they come in they are ready to try something new. I love seeing kids who struggle in other areas excel in something and become the “experts” their classmates ask for help. While it can be a challenge, there are days when I do appreciate only having a limited time with groups of students. And while I still spend a fair amount of time on lesson plans, it’s not nearly as much as I did when I taught multiple subjects. The idea that I could lose all this is disheartening and distressing.

More disheartening and distressing is the fact that, if the music job goes away, there may not be a classroom job for me to replace it. First of all, it’s unclear at this point in time if any of my colleagues will be leaving at the end of this school year. Even if someone does leave, the proposed state budget may mean that, instead of looking to fill the vacancy, the students that would have been in that class are instead distributed among remaining teachers and rooms. I sincerely hope that doesn’t happen; not only do I not want to lose colleagues, but the idea of larger-still class sizes just sounds horrible. Most classes at the elementary school this year have 25+ kids, while at the middle school some classes have 30 or more. Then there’s the question of what’s happening with the district/union negotiations. If I’m not getting a fair contract, do I really want to stick around? I hate the idea of leaving Seward, but if I’m not working for the schools, there aren’t a whole lot of full-time job options here, and the cost of living is high.

Suppose I do have to leave Seward. I could look for jobs with other districts in the state, but that brings a whole new list of considerations. I don’t want to go back to the bush. The other large road-system districts pay better than Kenai Peninsula, and the cost of living, while still high compared to a lot of the Lower 48, is certainly less than Seward. But ALL districts in the state will be affected by Dunleavy’s budget. So would there even be jobs available?

The truth is, if I lose my job with KPBSD, I’ll probably end up leaving Alaska. I never planned to spend the rest of my life here. In fact, beyond my initial two-year contract with my first district, I had no idea how long I might be here. When I left the village, I hoped/planned to find a post in the state where I could stay through the life of my current certificate, at which point I’d decide if I wanted to renew or move on. Seward seemed to be that place, and once I got the music job, I realized I could see myself sticking around, if not indefinitely, then at least through one renewal of my certification. But now…

I realize that much of what I’ve written about may be construed as borrowing trouble. After all, the district and union could come to an agreement that works for most everyone, the borough could fund to the cap, the state legislature could come up with a different, better budget that Dunleavy can’t veto and so would have to sign. It is my fervent hope that one or more of these things happen, preferably all. I’m doing what I can: attending union meetings and actions, writing my legislators. I voted in the fall; even though the people I voted for didn’t win, I can’t say I didn’t make my voice heard. But as much as I pride myself on being an optimist, I’ve also learned to listen to those anxious “what ifs” that invade my thoughts. So for the first time in some years, I’m looking again at what states are “safe” for transgender people. Once I have that list, I’ll have to start looking at their respective departments of education, to see what it would take to transfer my certificate. I could start looking for jobs, too, as it’s just about that season, but with everything so up in the air right now I don’t know if that would actually be helpful.

Truthfully, that uncertainty is the hardest thing for me to deal with right now. For the first time in a long time, I don’t know what’s happening beyond the end of this school year. I know I’ll be returning to my hometown for at least a little bit, and attending Band Camp for Adult Musicians in the early part of June, but beyond that? I can’t plan for anything.

Hopefully, I get some good news in the near future. In the meantime, thanks for reading.

I didn’t own a car in Alaska until my fourth year of living in the state. While I learned to drive in winter in the Northeast region of the US, I knew that driving in Alaska in the winter would likely be something else. So I asked advice, I listened, and I learned. I bought studded tires for the Tank (my car). I acquired a heavier-duty snow brush for clearing the car. Before driving anywhere outside of town, I’d check the weather for both town and my destination, as well as the state’s road information web site. Any time I left town, I’d throw a small overnight bag (containing a change of clothes, toothbrush, and my hormones) in the car. Aside from a couple of small mistakes (a drive in the snow before the tires arrived, a slight skid during another trip), the winter passed without any major incidents. By the time spring rolled around, I figured I’d gotten the hang of winter driving in Alaska.

This past Wednesday, I had a doctor’s appointment in Anchorage. That morning, I checked weather and road conditions; nothing that careful driving and the studded tires couldn’t handle. After filling the gas tank, I left town with over an hour to spare, just in case. At first, the drive reminded me of my experiences last winter: Relatively clear roads, snow covering the trees and ground to the sides.

Snow started to fall just past the Sterling Highway turnoff (about 35 miles north of Seward). By the time I reached Turnagain Pass (approximately halfway between Seward and Anchorage), it was coming down thickly enough that I started to have a little trouble seeing the road. But I’d seen several plow trucks, and had plenty of time, so I kept going forward.

I pulled over when I reached Girdwood. The snowfall had only increased, and I needed a break before driving the last 40 miles to Anchorage. I took the time to clean my windshield wipers as best I could, musing as I did so that I’d better head straight for the doctor’s office, rather than run errands first. Those could wait until later, if and when the snow let up.

It was still snowing as I reached my destination, although not nearly as much as I’d driven through. By the time my appointment had finished, even that had stopped. I went for lunch at a favorite restaurant. While eating, I looked up weather and road conditions on my phone. While things were clear in Anchorage and Seward, the Pass still showed heavy snowfall. The other errands could wait; if I wanted to get home that night, I’d better leave sooner rather than later.

In hindsight, I might have done better to stay the night in Anchorage, even though it would have meant missing an extra day of work. Snow was falling again by the time I reached Girdwood, and only increased as I continued south. No one on the road moved faster than 40 miles per hour, and at times went considerably slower. About the time I reached Turnagain Pass, I could barely see the road. From the Pass on, I had to stop every few hundred feet to clear my wipers, because the blades would become so caked with snow and ice they were less than effective. Vehicles formed impromptu caravans to keep going, often behind large trucks or the plows. Several times, I’d pull off to the side to clear my windshield, then once I could drive again would catch up with either the same caravan I’d just left or become part of a different one. At a certain point, I gave up on keeping the windshield clean; there was a clear patch at just the right spot, and I couldn’t stand the thought of stopping and getting out in the cold again. Not only that, I had reached the point in the road where I wasn’t sure there was a place to pull over safely.

Slowly, carefully, the caravan I’d managed to join continued to move forward. At one point, several large trucks that had apparently been at the front pulled off to the side. When I drove past, I saw the drivers starting to remove their tire chains; clearly, we were through the worst of the pass. A little further on, I noticed that I could once again see the guardrails at the edge of the road. Then I could see the dip of the ditch just beyond the road’s shoulder. Soon I could see trees and hills. By the time I reached the Sterling Highway turnoff, no more snow fell, although enough covered the road that I could tell it had only stopped recently. Between the defroster and my gradually increasing speed, my windshield started to clear. On the south side of Moose Pass, I actually got UP to the speed limit. By the time I reached Seward, the only evidence of my adventure was the truly incredible amount of snow covering the back of my car.

The trip from Anchorage to Seward normally takes me a little over two hours. That day, it took me three and a half. I’m grateful that I made it without any more excitement, like having to spend the night in the car at the side of the highway. I’ve since bought new wiper blades, designed for extreme weather. I’ve also learned of several additional resources to check for weather information.

Just yesterday, I drove the highway again. The snow had settled somewhat, but I could still tell that the weather services hadn’t lied: Turnagain Pass got almost 5 feet of snow that day. Plows have since come through, and the roads are relatively clear once more. I admit to breathing a sigh of relief when the most exciting thing I had to contend with yesterday was fog. I like snow, but I am not anxious to repeat Wednesday’s experience anytime soon. But as I’ve told myself numerous times since then, it’s just another lesson in living in Alaska.

It’s almost 8:30 on a Friday morning. I sit in my classroom at the elementary school, preparing materials for next week’s classes. I want to finish this one thing before my first class of the day arrives. Suddenly, I hear the wind chimes (which live in a closet) start making noise. What the… Then I feel the ground start shaking. I’m headed under the desk as the PA system comes to life. “Duck and cover! Duck and cover!” says Mr. A, the principal.

I don’t know how long the shaking lasts, but it can’t be more than a few minutes. I stay put until I hear the “all clear” from the PA. I reach my classroom door just as Mr. A walks past in the halls, clearly checking on everyone and everything. “Need any help?” I call.

“Not right now,” he replies.

I stand at the door for a couple more minutes, watching as a class reports to the library, noting the kids’ attitudes. They’re definitely shaken, but I don’t see many tears, and a few even muster a smile for me when they notice that I’m watching. Mr. A walks past again, deep in conversation with the head custodian and another teacher, discussing what parts of the building need to be checked. I’m still standing in the doorway when the building starts to shake again. Through the windows that line one wall of the library, I can see the kids inside duck under the tables.

These tremors last only about half as long as the first set. Not a minute after they stop, Mr. A comes on the PA again. “Teachers, we’re evacuating to the high school.” I quickly toss a few things into my backpack, grab my coat, turn off the SMARTBoard and lights, and exit my room, heading for the kindergarten rooms. If anyone needs extra help, it’ll be them.

I help zip up coats, make sure gloves and hats are on, and assure several kids that we’re going to be okay. The teacher starts leading the line out the door, and I bring up the rear, holding hands with a couple of munchkins who need the extra reassurance. We’ve just exited the building when the tsunami warning sirens go off. That, of course, jolts the kids, and me. I’m worried, yes, but I know that all of the schools are considered “safe zones”. So I take a deep breath and focus on keeping the little ones moving.

Everyone from the elementary and middle schools gather in the high school gym. I settle on the floor with the kids, comforting a couple who are still crying. Older siblings come over to check on their younger family members. Homeroom teachers are busy taking attendance, answering calls and texts from parents. In between, all adults are trying to get more information on what’s happening. “A 7.0…” “North of Anchorage…” “Have you seen this picture?”

Time passes. Parents come and pick up kids. I feel a couple of small shakes, aftershocks, but thankfully none of the kids seem to notice. At one point, we’re told we can return to the elementary school. We don’t even make it out of the building before we hear the tsunami sirens go off again and we’re directed to return to the gym; apparently, the “all clear” was premature.

Back inside, I get the kindergarten and one of the first/second grade combos involved in singing songs like “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” and playing several rounds of Simon Says. Using the gym’s portable speaker, Mr. A announces that we’ll be staying put for the time being. One of the kindergarten teachers disappears and reappears with a bag of baby carrots for the kids. While they eat, I go check in with some of the older students and their teachers, just saying hi and making sure everyone is okay. Some kids happily chatter with friends, enjoying the unexpected break in the normal routine; others ask for a hug. The little ones are starting to squirm by the time I get back to them, so after checking with their teachers I pull anyone who’s interested into a game of “Land, Sea, Air”.

Finally, almost two hours after we first walked up, we get the actual “all clear”. The remaining students get bundled up, and we walk back down the hill to the elementary school. We’re supposed to try to have a normal day, but I know that will be highly unlikely. Every class in the building is down to a dozen or less students. When I check in with the next group I would normally see, the teacher says she’d rather the kids go the gym to run off their excess energy, a decision I whole-heartedly support. I do see my last class of the morning, but we spend at least half of their time looking for news articles and pictures of what happened this morning. We learn that there were not one but two quakes this morning, a 7.0 and 5.8, epicenters just north of Anchorage. The students’ eyes get big as they see photos of some of the damage, including a collapsed highway on-ramp. Everyone breathes easier when there’s no news of any fatalities.

The middle school is equally quiet when I arrive at lunch time. Most of my Advisory class are present, so the normal Friday routine works just fine. But the assembly that was supposed to take place during Music has been cancelled, and I have only eight students anyway. One of them suggests playing outside, so I tell them to grab their coats. We spend the last fifty minutes of the school day running up and down the small field outside the school, kicking soccer balls and throwing footballs, laughing and letting off steam.

The final bell rings, sending the remaining students home. Teachers and support staff meet up to debrief about the day’s events. It’s as much a venting session as a debrief, but several good points are made about how to be prepared for something like this in the future. Then, finally, I get to go home.

My apartment looks about like I expected: Aside from downed action figures, everything is where it should be. I smile and begin putting things back where they belong as I call my family and check in with them. That done, I hop on Facebook to check on friends around the state; thankfully, everyone reports no injuries. Time to change, and work out. Concentration, movement, and sweat combine to wash away the last vestiges of the day.

Originally written 24 October 2017

I woke this morning to a text from Mom. “Please call”

I knew right away what I would hear. Sure enough, she told me Granny R, my beloved third grandmother, had passed away a few hours ago. At my request, she told me Granny did pass in her sleep, and that Mom and our neighbor Mrs. S. were busy taking care of things. After I hung up with her, I immediately called Dad. I tried to eat breakfast while we spoke, but felt nauseous after only a few bites of cereal. Once Dad and I wrapped up our conversation, I called my sister and spoke to her as I finished getting ready for my day.

I did briefly debate calling off. But what would I have done if I stayed home? It’s not like I had anything I had to do. I was calling everyone while I got ready; I couldn’t help out with anything that needed doing back in my hometown. If I stayed in my apartment all day, I’d only think in circles and likely spiral into another depressive funk. Better to go to school and keep busy.

As soon as I walked outside, I was glad I had: Several inches of fresh snow covered everything in a layer of fluffy white, and more fell from the sky. A small smile stole across my face as I cleared off the car.

I’m on morning recess duty this week. When I opened the doors to the playground this morning, the kids that were there immediately ran out, smiling. One student walked five steps, stepped off to the side of the path, dropped to the ground, and immediately made a snow angel. As I walked further on to the playground, I noticed many students on their hands and knees, packing and rolling snow. By the time the bell rang fifteen minutes later, no fewer than seven snowmen in various stages of completion dotted the area. As I sent the kids inside, I turned my face to the sky, blinking against the still-falling snow. “Good-bye Granny.”

 

Left, right, left, right, left, right, left, right.

I am so grateful the sun came out. After a day and a half of torrential downpour, I was starting to think I’d have to use the stationary bike again for today’s workout.

Check both ways at each intersection before dashing across. Left, right, left, right, left, right, left, right.

Really, though, I’ve been lucky: This autumn has been unusually warm and dry. All through September, we had more sunny days than not, and temperatures as high as the upper 60s. In contrast, last year I wore my rain jacket and waterproof boots on an almost-daily basis, and needed long sleeves more often than not.

Left, right, left, right, left, right, left, right. On to the bike path that follows the waterfront.

Hard to believe that it’s already October. Like the song says, “Each day just goes so fast/I turn around, it’s past”. I think part of that is due to my new job. As the music teacher, I no longer spend my days with only one class. Instead, mornings are spent with four to six different groups at the elementary school, and afternoons at the middle school include two classes.

I interviewed for this job because I wanted to, because I knew I could do it. I still firmly believe that, although in the beginning I did have a few moments of “what the heck was I thinking?” Nearly at the end of the first quarter, though, and I think I’ve found my rhythm.

Left, right, left, right, left, right, left, right.

During a typical week, 99% of the students at the elementary school pass through my classroom. (The only students I don’t see are those that attend the afternoon pre-kindergarten class.) First through fifth grades have spent the last few weeks learning solfege (do re mi fa so la ti do). Kindergarten are working on the differences between fast and slow, high and low, long and short. Pre-K mostly sings and dances, although this week we did try out the Boomwhackers (pitched plastic pipes struck against the ground).

In addition to planning each week’s worth of lessons, I also have to think about performances. Veteran’s Day is fast approaching; the elementary school typically hosts a meet-and-greet with local veterans, and many classes make artwork or perform for the occasion. And of course there’s the traditional end-of-semester/holiday performance. (For that one, I’m going to follow the precedent set last year and have only grades 3-5 perform; K-2 will get the spotlight in the spring.) I guess I’d better start finding songs for that….

Left, right, left, right, left, right, left, right.

The last time I taught middle school was 6 years ago, 4,000 miles away in the inner city. The middle school here is different, to say the least. Although the building houses 6th, 7th, and 8th grades, I’ll only teach the first two groups this year. This quarter, I’ve had half of the 6th grade, and the other half will have music during the 4th quarter of the year. (Seventh grade will get music during 2nd and 3rd quarters.) Actually, 6th grade music is being taught with Jo, another teacher. She’s teaching the kids ukulele, while I cover breathing, singing basics, and teaching recorder. When not teaching, I’m figuring out how music will look for the 7th graders, as they won’t be getting ukulele lessons.

Left, right, left, right, left, right, left, right.

Music’s not the only thing I teach at the middle school, either. I also have an Advisory group. The idea behind Advisory is that it’s a small group setting (I only have 8 kids in my class) that addresses the students’ social and emotional needs, as well as reinforcing how to be a good student and covering topics that might not otherwise appear in school. In other words, it’s a mentoring group. My Advisory group happens to be all 7th graders, and it’s become one of the best parts of my day.

Left, right, left, right, left, right, left, right. Oh hey, there’s an otter! Slow down, stop, watch it play for a few moments.

One advantage of my new job: I don’t spend nearly as much time planning as I once did. Since I finish my days at the middle school, my days also end earlier than they did last year. All of this now-available time has been put to use in various ways. For example, it used to be that when I got to school in the morning I used almost an hour to make sure things were ready for the day. Since that’s no longer necessary, I’ve moved my trombone to the elementary school and now practice for 30-45 minutes every morning. I’m taking advantage of my lengthened afternoons to kick my workout routine up a notch.

The otter dives. Time to move on. Left, right, left, right, left, right, left, right.

One of my goals for my workouts is to get outside more. I love watching the scenery on my runs. Now that the tourists have gone, I don’t have to play dodge ’em on the path nearly as much. The RV parks next to the path have pretty much emptied out; even the one that allows year-round camping only has a few vehicles remaining.

Leaves are changing colors and dropping off trees. There’s a chill in the air that wasn’t present a week ago. Snow dusts the tops of the nearby mountains. I can’t imagine it will be long before we have snow in town.

Left, right, left, right, left, right, left, right.

For now, I’m enjoying the sun. I take a deep breath, and keep running.

 

Content warning: Forced “outing”

I don’t know that I’ve ever started a school year without feeling a little nervous, either as a student or as a teacher. Some years, the New Year Nerves are minimal. For example, at the beginning of my third (and final) year in Nunap, they mostly stemmed from knowing there would be a lot of new faces on staff. Other years, they hit hard. Last year’s move to Seward falls neatly into this category: New town, new district, new school, new students, new coworkers, and other issues (detailed here) led to nerves and a depressive episode unlike anything I’d dealt with in some time.

For better or worse, this year’s nerves are closer to the “hard” end of the spectrum. Part of it is because of a professional choice I made: I applied for, and got, the job of music teacher for the elementary and middle schools. For the first time, I’m not a regular classroom teacher. Instead, I get to teach kids about music and make music with them five days a week. This is both amazing and terrifying. After all, I no longer have a single homeroom to worry about; I’ll be instructing kids from kindergarten through eighth grade. While I do have a strong music background (started band in fourth grade, minored in music performance in college), all of my educational training has been geared towards a general ed classroom setting, which can be quite different. I know I can do this, but I still feel pressure to prove myself. I also have to figure out the ins and outs of working in two different buildings, with two different bosses, two different sets of coworkers, and two different schedules.

The other part of this year’s Nerves is because my personal life has impacted my professional life in a way that is… complicated. I have to admit, I debated whether or not to even write about this here, for reasons that will shortly become clear. However, I started this blog with the intent to show the life of a regular person who just happens to be transgender, which, I think, means including the bad along with the good. So here we go: Late last school year, my boss informed me that some parents had learned that I was transgender and were complaining to the school about the fact that I worked with kids. Some had even gone so far as to e-mail links to this blog to other teachers in the building. When I first learned about this, I felt blindsided. At no point had any parent approached me with their concerns/complaints. To their tremendous credit, those of my coworkers who received those messages merely forwarded the e-mails to the principal and did not engage the parents in further discussion on the topic. In the course of talking with my boss, I learned that he and the district have known I am trans from the get-go. So on the one hand I felt a sense of relief and gratitude, because, as I’ve long hoped, the fact that I’m trans did not impact my being hired for a job. On the other hand, I suddenly felt this overwhelming loss of control, because the decision to tell my story had been taken away from me.

Needless to say, I was very relieved when school ended and I headed back to the Lower 48 for the first part of the summer. Spending time with friends and family gave me a chance to get a little perspective, breathe, and just relax. I got back to Alaska in mid-July, and spent the second half of my summer playing tourist, exploring the areas around Seward and Anchorage. As the start of school approached, I did wonder about if there would be any fallout from the revelations of last spring, but I made a conscious effort not to worry about it unless and until it came up.

Teachers reported to work this past Tuesday. Since then, I’ve learned that yes, this will continue to affect my professional life, in ways both negative and positive. Unfortunately, some parents have decided they don’t want me teaching their students. That’s their choice. I admit, I hope they someday change their mind. Regardless, I have also learned that I have the support of all three local principals, and have been greeted warmly by coworkers both old and new. I still don’t know who got dragged into things last spring, and while I sometimes wonder, ultimately, it doesn’t matter. My colleagues have been nothing but professional and respectful, and at the end of the day, that’s all I can ask for. (To any coworkers who may be reading this, thank you.) So I’m going to spend the remaining two “teachers-only” days getting my rooms set up and doing my best to be ready for the first day of school. Academic year 2018/2019, here I come!