As a kid, in-service days meant another day off of school.
As a student teacher, in-service days meant sitting in the meetings along with my mentor. I tried to pay attention, but at least half of the time my mind was elsewhere, like an assignment for one of my classes or my work schedule for the upcoming weekend.
As a day-to-day substitute, in-service days meant a day where I didn’t have to worry about getting woken up by the phone.
As a long-term sub, I did have to attend the meetings, and I had to pay attention to the topic at hand. In many ways, those days were just like any other. I didn’t have to wear quite as nice clothes as I did on days that the students were present, but I still had to get up, drive to the school, sit in the library, and then drive home again at the end of the day.
Here in rural Alaska, in-service meetings can fall into one of several categories. First, there is the site in-service. Like the in-service meetings I sat through back in the Lower 48, these days involve heading over to school and listening to either my principal or a visiting speaker talk to us. Then there are the site in-service days where all of the staff sits in the library in front of the videoconference screen and listen to a speaker, typically someone located at the district office in the Hub. Finally, there are the in-service meetings that require actually going to the Hub.
As a first-year teacher, I’ve been required to attend three of these gatherings. Even though the meetings themselves aren’t until Saturday, I and the other new teachers actually fly in on Friday afternoon. We get to socialize while eating dinner, and the district staff are available to drive us to one of the two local grocery stores and/or the movie theatre. We are put up for the night at one of the schools, sleeping on cots and air mattresses. It’s not the most comfortable bed, but it beats some other places that I’ve stayed.
The following morning, breakfast is served a la carte in the school cafeteria. People stumble in sometime between 7 and 8, yawning and making a beeline for the coffee. Around 8 the speaker(s) for the day start their presentation. The good ones are dynamic enough to make us forget the less-than-quality sleep of the night before. The bad ones are studies in death by PowerPoint. Fortunately, the room is large enough that we can get up and move around without bothering other people. Around midday we break for lunch, and then it’s back to work. The presenters usually wrap up by 3 or so, at which point everyone pitches in to collect trash, pack up the leftover food, and put away tables and chairs. At some point, either during lunch or one of the shorter breaks, everyone packed up their sleeping bags, cots, and personal items; now everyone gathers by the doors with their luggage, waiting for their rides to whatever airline they’re flying with. By dinnertime, I’m back in Nunap.
I originally wrote the above in the fall, intending to post it before Christmas. The most frustrating aspect of those first-year in-service meetings was the way that my weekends became almost non-existent. I very much looked forward to this semester when those meetings would not be occurring anymore.
I forgot about one thing: the optional trip to the Hub for the annual Cama’i (pronounced jă mī’) arts and music festival. As a first year teacher who has promised to return next year, the district would pay for my pass to the festival and allow me to stay once more on a cot at the district office (given the cost of a hotel room in the Hub, this is a great offer). On the one hand, going would mean another short weekend; on the other hand, when would I have an opportunity like this again?
In the end, I decided to fly in on Friday afternoon and stay until Saturday evening. Andy, one of my fellow first year teachers, and Lucas, her husband, also came. The arts show took up most of the lobby and front hallway of the high school, with an amazing array of native handicrafts for sale. You could buy a quspuq (kŭs pŭk; the traditional hooded shirt) in a variety of sizes and fabrics, or a hat or slippers made out of one of several types of animal skins. Beaded and ivory jewelry filled many tables, as did small handmade toys, decorative dance fans, and uluuqs in a range of sizes. Also available were photographs, prints, and paintings depicting aspects of tundra life or scenes from Yup’ik mythology.
Of course, this was an arts and dance festival, so I made a point of going to see some of the dancers. I’ve always been fascinated by dance in any form, and Native American dancing is beautiful no matter what. Even though I couldn’t understand what was being sung, I greatly enjoyed listening to the rhythmic beat of the drums and watching the precise movements of the dancers. Most dancers, regardless of where they came from, wore similar outfits: quspuqs, pants, and boots. Depending on the dance, some added feathered headdresses, masks, gloves, or other props. Other than drums, voices, and the occasional bell, no other instruments were used. Some dancers moved slowly, while others went so fast all of the pictures I took are blurred. Like so many other things I’ve done since I arrived here, I’m glad that I experienced this at least once.