So this past week my teacher BFF and I took our 5 middle school students to the nearest “town”, of about 4,000 people. A few clarifications here, I live in a native Alaskan village of about 80 people so this was a BIG DEAL. We had been planning this trip for months, the budget, what we would do, where we would stay, everything. Also when I say middle school I really mean a third grader, a fourth grader, two fifth graders, and a seventh grader who is cognitively closer to the fifth graders. SO really and Elementary school field trip.
These kids did AMAZINGLY. They were respectful, they challenged themselves, they were responsible, they had a blast, and so did I! The other teacher is a pro and she had made a lot of connections and set up a bunch of awesome opportunities for the students behind the scenes. I will post pictures to help illustrate what we accomplished this week and what the kids experienced, but first I would like to reflect on a few things.
This year has been incredibly challenging to me personally and professionally. I am a first year teacher, teaching inside and outside of my content area, living in a native community as a white person, living with only 79 other people, being single, and surviving a record high snow winter for this geographical area. It has been a struggle at times, truly. But it has also been such an adventure. I have learned things about myself. Like that 400 square feet is completely adequate for me. I am a creative cook. I spend a long amount of time to do things as well as I possibly can do them. I am not great at workout videos. I can survive 20 degrees below zero. I am a tough teacher. I expect a lot from my students, and I support them when they need help reaching those expectations. Which is exactly what these kids did this week.
Sure there were times when I wished that they could keep up with their own money, or that they didn’t burp in public, even though they do excuse themselves afterwards. I will give two examples to illustrate just how hard these kids worked and how well they did. On Wednesday we went to the local police and fire station. Honestly even I was bored. The fire chief droned on without much exciting to say, the police were in a staff meeting for 45 minutes of our tour start time. But these kids asked all their questions they had written beforehand and even came up with thoughtful ones to ask when there was no police officer to ask, “Have you ever tazed a bad guy?” They were so dang cute that the dispatcher finally felt sorry for us and told the patrolling officers to come by the station and they tried on their bullet proof jacket.
On Thursday we went on a kayaking trip in the morning, which for 11 year olds is harder than it sounds, on which we saw bald eagles, seals, birds, and sea lions. After lunch we went to their last day of swim lessons, which is something that is truly nonexistent in the village even though it is on the water. That night when we were getting ready for lights out we turned on the Animal Planet. There was a show on about how mermaids really could have evolved from humans. My students kept asking me questions and suddenly I found myself explaining to them through the show how animals evolve over millions of years to adapt to their surroundings.
I used examples of birds who seem to disappear into the rock that we found on their kayaking trip to illustrate a point and a students difficulty not holding his nose while swimming to illustrate another. I never worried about telling them too much about evolution, or about whether or not they were bored. They kept asking questions. They kept connecting to what the documentary was saying. They even told the other students about it over breakfast the next day. These kids are smart. They have a lot stacked against them, but they also have “tools in their toolbelts” and I hope they keep using them.
I asked my students what their favorite part of the trip was and an overwhelming response was the police and fire station. Not the glacier tour, not the kayaking, not the farm visit, not the gorgeous cascade walks. When you grow up around bald eagles, glaciers, and seals, a police car is the ultimate sight to see.