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Monthly Archives: August 2015

As July drew to a close, I began to feel a sense of unease about returning to Nunap. The past school year had not exactly been easy; I had several students with severe temper issues, and multiple members of the staff, myself included, had issues with other members of the staff. I especially had issues with our principal and our dean of students, often feeling unsupported by them when it came to dealing with the myriad of student concerns I had. On top of that, I felt like I had only just barely adjusted to living in the middle of nowhere, and dreaded returning there after a summer of being able to go wherever I wanted whenever I wanted. Add in tension about all of the new teachers and the fact that my own imagination kept running a scenario where I had the same class as last year, and it’s not hard to see that I felt a little anxious as my departure neared.

Thankfully, I can now look back on those worries and laugh. I’m still teaching third grade, and compared to last year’s group this class’s behavior is a walk in the park. (There are five more of them than I anticipated, but that’s another story….)  In contrast to last year, I no longer feel unsupported by the school administration; the new principal, Dan, has already impressed me with how he interacts with staff and students alike. For example, he has made a point of reviewing the transcripts of every high school student and meeting with each kid one-on-one to discuss how to make sure they graduate on time. (Given that this year’s senior class includes a seven-year high school student, a six-year, and a fifth-year, you can see why he wants to make this a priority.)

In fact, to date I’ve had only one interaction with one of the new staff that I’d categorize as bad (I wrote about it here). Having so many new people on the staff brings a breath of fresh air to the building; I honestly can’t remember the last time there has been so much laughter during staff meetings, or when the whole bunch of us made such a point of getting together outside of school. Lucas and Andy host pancake brunch every Sunday, and so far most everyone has come each week. Just last night, Mick, New Ted (not our principal from last year but our new middle/high school science teacher), and New Cole (not my former roommate but the new high school English teacher) had everyone over to their house for a potluck. The only people missing were the couple of folks in Anchorage; everyone else brought food and conversation, making for a great evening.

Transitioning back to village living hasn’t been nearly as hard as I thought it would be. I have a new apartment and no roommate, so I can have people over whenever I choose or can just shut the door and have the place to myself. In addition to my standard hobbies of reading, working out, writing, and practicing trombone, I’m also getting more involved in school activities, such as becoming the assistant coach for the cross country team. Between running with the kids during practice and just being back for my second year, I’m greeted by many more people when I’m out and about. Even the thought of leaving my support network back home wasn’t so bad, because I now have a support network here. Lucas, Andy, and Kelly are still great friends, and I’ve even come out to Aly, the new fourth-grade teacher.

Let’s hope that Nunap 2.0 continues to live up to this fantastic start!

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It’s only the end of the first week of school, and already I feel as though I’ve never left. I’ve only seen my students for a day and a half; the rest of the time has been taken up with preparing my room, meetings with parents, and in-service meetings with fellow staff. We even had an in-service day today, Saturday. Fortunately, our new principal, Dan, had previously checked with us that this was okay. It helped that our presenter was none other than Janet, who is now in her third year of working with the school. While the program she runs has changed a little in that time, the concept is still the same: creating connections between students, teachers, parents, school, and community. A dynamic, engaging speaker, Janet has to be one of my favorite people. Among other concepts, she reminds us that all people act in order to fulfill one of five basic needs, among which are things like Survival, Power, and Love and Belonging. Janet is not fond of people sitting for long periods of time; instead, she intersperses her comments with many activities that make us teachers get up, move around, and talk to one another. During one such activity, she asked us to think of where we are and who is with us when we feel that we are loved and belong somewhere. As soon as she said it, my hand crept into my jeans pockets and found the coin my dear friend Hatter gave to me before I first came up here, and I was pulled back in time….

January of 2014 found me in something of a funk. I’d been working in the labs for longer than I had ever intended, and lately things with my coworkers had been more than a little tense. I’d submitted some of my original fiction to another magazine, but given that I’d already received two rejection slips I wasn’t hopeful. There was a minor family crisis when my cousin ended up in the hospital. Outside of work, I spent a fair amount of time working with the Initiative for Transgender Leadership (ITL) as part of a peer mentorship program for trans-identified youth. I’d helped design the program the year before, and had been flattered to ask to participate in its inaugural year. While initially I greatly enjoyed the work, lately it had been more of a drag. It felt as if we weren’t making progress on any of the several projects we had going. I worked Saturdays, so the Sunday meetings ate into my too-short weekend. When I made a suggestion, it felt as though I was being ignored. In short, I didn’t feel like I belonged. When this happened in the past, I would retreat for some “me” time; in this instance, I decided the best way to do that was to quit my work with ITL. After one meeting, I mentioned to Hatter, the “adult” at the day’s session, that I felt like I needed to do this. She asked that I not make a final decision yet, but instead offered to buy me dinner at a time and place of my choosing in the next couple of weeks so that we could talk one-on-one.

Barely five days later, I found myself seated at a table for two in a small French restaurant a couple of blocks from my apartment. While I don’t remember the actual conversation, I do remember feeling a sense of peace. Hatter listened attentively as I laid out my reasons for wanting to leave the program. She took time to think over what I said. Initially, she offered not advice but observations; among other things, she noted that I often set high standards for myself and others, and that I’m happiest when I have some measure of control over situations. Rather than judgmental or accusatory, her voice merely had the calm, measured tone of one making an objective observation. She then offered me a gift: Her permission and that of the other organizers of ITL that I should consider myself “off-duty”, that is, I didn’t need to constantly worry about how they saw the program and if it was measuring up to their standards. It sounds so silly now, but in that moment it was exactly what I needed. She further offered to help me with my then-on-going job hunt in any way she could. In that moment, and for the rest of our friendship, I could feel the love and warmth rolling off of Hatter, reaching out to envelope me.

To this day, it is a gift that I cherish.

At various points this summer, I thought about not coming back to Nunap.

I enjoyed being comfortable in sandals and shorts. The hills and trees provided a much-needed break from the monotony of the flat tundra. I loved having places to go, things to do, and people to see. Driving my car was a joy; the ability to go anywhere, whenever I wanted, a huge freedom.

But I gave my word that I’d be back for the school year, and I was raised to keep my promises. So I spent a day packing up my life and once more boarded a series of planes to return to southern Alaska.

My first taste of the village hit me in Anchorage. As I taped up a tote, a voice behind me said, “Look, you can wait with CJ while I go get the rest of the boxes!” I turned to see Jenny and her daughter Lil’ A standing behind me with a full luggage cart. For a miracle, Lil’ A smiled at me and let me scoop her up in a hug, and did indeed stay with me while Jenny retrieved the rest of the boxes from the car. I wound up staying with them all the way to the gate, and even sitting with them on the flight to the Hub. We parted ways there; they got a ride back to Nunap on a boat, while I was scheduled to take one of the commercial bush flights. Two hours later, I reached the school dock at the village and began hauling my luggage to my new home.

One of the advantages of working in a place like this is that after only one year, I have enough seniority to grab one of the single-teacher houses. It’s more of an apartment, really; two converted classrooms in the old school building, commonly called the Kindergarten Building because that classroom is still located here. The building also has two of these apartments, the teacher workout room, and storage space. Another advantage: The building has Internet! No more hanging out at the school at all hours!

Anyway, my good friends Lucas and Andy live in the other apartment in the building. They greeted me with a hug and a handshake and informed me that dinner was at their place at 5; the restaurant was actually open and having a sale. I pulled out my keys as I approached my own front door. Taking a deep breath, I unlocked the place and stepped inside. All of my things still sat where I’d left them, which was a relief; there’ve been problems in the past with teachers’ things getting moved or taken while they aren’t there. The last occupant had clearly just given up when it came to packing. I found pens, pencils, clothing, various non-perishable food items, and dishes soaking in the sink. I knew the place needed a serious cleaning, but at the moment I just wanted a rest. After a quick trip to the post office and store, I went to Lucas and Andy’s place and did just that. Kelly also came over; the four of us had a great time getting caught up after not seeing one another for two months. I was a little unnerved that Mick joined us for dinner, but he didn’t make any more transphobic “jokes”, so all went well. Actually, he, Kelly, and Andy all came back to my apartment afterwards to start with the cleaning process; over the next couple of hours we vacuumed, scrubbed, and got rid of LOTS of garbage.

I spent all day yesterday on a cleaning, unpacking, and organizing crusade. Lucas and Andy graciously lent a hand in moving furniture so that the kitchen/living/dining area could be vacuumed and mopped. I even found about $10 in change and loose bills! Last night, I once again had dinner with Andy and Kelly. We were joined by Aly, one of the many new teachers this year. She’ll be teaching fourth grade, which means she has my kids from last year and will be in the classroom across the hall. It’s funny; talking with her I can hear myself at the same point last year. She seems cool, and I look forward to getting to know her better.

Teachers have in-service starting on Monday, and the kids start on Thursday. In the meantime, I’ve still got to finish getting my apartment set up, and there’s berry-picking this afternoon. One thing’s for certain: This year will be another adventure. Welcome back!