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.