Wednesday, August 31, 2005

I can't wait to see the northern lights this winter. This is a postcard I picked up in town. I plan on getting a bunch of postcards, framing them, and display them on the wall.

Our last picture of the musk ox. They took off after this.

Musk ox.

The musk ox started to run off. Most of the rubble on the ground is actually left over from the gold strike era. I am going to have to take more pictures of those. These pictures are from Patrick's digital camera. I still have to have mine developed.

Musk ox. They started to run off after a few minutes.

Musk ox in the formation.

The musk ox grouped themselves into a protective formation once they saw us. Patrick kept saying, "If they charge us, we're screwed."

Musk ox. These are wild, remember.

This is the herd of musk ox Patrick took Morgan and I to go see yesterday. This is on Anvil Mountain (a hill, really) less than half a mile from the apartment. In the distance is Anvil Creek, the site of the first gold strike in Nome.

Madison, August 2005. I sure did something right.

Madison and friends at the new daycare across the hall. Becca Callahan watches the kids for pretty much everyone. Madison is on the far left on the couch. They are in our apartment. That is out our window. It looks nicer with a shot of the hills.

Best of friends.

Madison and Lupe are best friends.

Madison is in front here, along with Lupe. They had a lot of fun with that box.

Madison giving a high-five. Isn't she adorable.

Madison and Lupe in the styrofoam peanuts.

Madison and her new best friend, Lupe, from across the hall.


I am not used to this age level. They are so blasted young.

We created beginning thesis statements today. I ask to write a paragraph about your favorite movie. You should (for beginners) start with a sentence like, "My favorite movie is Braveheart." It was a struggle to get that much today.

And we worked on writing a friendly letter. They couldn't take the basic form out of the book and turn it out on their own paper. My first eighth grade class is so low that I don't know where to begin.

I always wanted to be a literature teacher. Like Mrs. Lehman from Somonauk, I wanted to discuss British literature. The Romantic poets were always my favorite. Some of these kids would have a hard time with The Cat in the Hat.

I have a lot of work to do this year. I would have expected these seventh and eighth graders to be able to write sentences. I mean, Morgan, in the fifth grade, brings home worksheets from school with much higher advanced stuff. Where the hell do they lose it? How do they keep getting pushed up?

One good thing will come from these GLEs (Grade Level Expectations). It will take about 12 years, for the kids to start weeding themselves out of school now. But for instance, first graders will have to show mastery on the first grade GLEs before they are allowed into second grade. If they have to stay all summer and the next year, they are not allowed into second grade without showing mastery of the list. Period. This will go for all grades. No more pushing up just for age bracket. It will start placing the accountability on the student. I can't worry about backtracking to how to write a complete sentence. I am supposed to be working on formulating paragraphs.

We are at a crossroads in education. Either the students show mastery of these GLEs or they can't move on. It's that simple.

I ain't missing you at all

I don't have my buddy yet. Every year I have always managed to find a buddy at school to sort of talk to and bitch with. My first year at South Kitsap I had Kevin Herington, my next year at Bremerton High I had Steve Corda, and last year at the Freshman Academy I had Karen Kinney. I really miss them. I think Karen and I got along the best, especially when you threw in the wonderful Mrs. McKenzie and Mr. Sisk. Lunch was always always the high point of the day. I haven't found that yet.

It may be across the hall. Last night there were musk ox on the hill behind us, less than a mile away. Patrick Callahan took Morgan and I up in his truck to take some pictures. I will have some pictures to post later. Pat said we got closer than he had ever been. We got to see a small herd of about 8 musk ox less than 30 yards away. It was amazing. So he took us up there, through some really dense trails in the car, and showed us around. There is some real history here, if you look. He told us that the original Nome gold strike was right at Anvil Creek, about a mile from the high school and our apartments.

I have to get my pictures developed. (I am apparently too cheap for a digital camera although I used to spend almost $4 for a latte back in Seattle--that is a part of my psyche that I don't understand.) I have five rolls that I need to send off to that York processing.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Watch out for that first step...

Got some doozies to share today. I had them start with their entry task today to write a 6-8 sentence paragraph about their favorite commercial and why they liked it. I didn't know how hard that was going to be.

Many don't know exactly what a "sentence" is. (This is 7th and 8th graders, remember.) I had to argue all day with, "But I don't have a favorite commercial." I expanded the topic eventually to a favorite ANYTHING just to get something written down. I was told by one girl that she doesn't watch TV, listen to the radio, or read magazines at all. It's possible out here, I guess, although everything is here.

I thought about favorite commercial because it leads in well with the business unit where they are going to market a product of their own making. One pair decided to create "edipal glue" meaning "edible" but I joked that the glue had issues.

I have my work cut out for me. This is not just two preps, one for seventh and one for eighth. Each class is at a different level. It is more like six preps. I have to go back for my first period eighth graders to "what is a sentence." How are they supposed to be a multi-paragraphs papers soon?

Lots of work.

The Next Day

I just hate the first day of school. You get run ragged trying to figure everything out, especially when you're like me and this is your fourth year of teaching and your fourth school. I want two years in a row in something. It would make things easier. And the first day you have to give rules and just be boring. If I were a kid nowadays for junior or senior high, I would skip the first day and come on the second.

I am starting my business unit today. I want to put real world applications under the assignments so the kids don't feel we are just doing exercises out of a grammar book. They are going to group up, create a product, write a letter to ask me, the Bank of Butcher, for funding, and market the product with an actual audio commercial and video commercial that me make in class. It gives some buy-in, and then when we are doing some little grammar, I can say, "This is what we missed on the business unit." Also lets me see where they are. If a class is ahead of the curve, I am not going to dwell on little stuff. I also need to know if the class is behind. My first period class I have some "non-readers" they were called. They are so low on the reading scale that they are considered non-readers. This will be interesting to teach eighth-grade grade level expectations to someone who can't read.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Middle of Day

I am not used to this seven period day. I am used to the block schedule which is three class periods a day. Now I teach six a day. I have repeated my beginning shpiel four times already. That gets monotonous.

And I am not used to this young an age. I have seventh and eighth graders this year. They are so young, so small, and so rambunctious. I have to lay down the law early in the semester here but they are such babies. They really are. These seventh graders look no bigger than my daughter Morgan. Some are smaller, in fact. I have to do a lot more teaching about responsibility this year than I have ever had to do before. My first period is squirrely. Thank goodness I have them first.

It will be a good year. I am glad I only have to concentrate on the writing GLEs (Grade Level Expectations) and not the reading ones. That's somebody else's headache. I teach the paragraph and the essay and grammar.

I am exhausted already. I was used to a two-hour break last year! Everyday! I am used to teaching one period then stopping for awhile. Not anymore. I have to get used to four 50-minutes classes and then my lunch and prep break.

They are kids. So far there is no discernible difference between them and what I've been used to. But I thought that. Somehow I put up this magical little wall. It's not there. They are just kids.

First Day of School

I am anxious as the new year here in Nome starts. I am always anxious before school because of all the new faces. This year though, there is a bit of cultural shift as well. I am still learning now, you see. I'll be learning all year. There's a unit second semester in which the students interview tribal elders. While I am fascinated I am also timid about my lack of knowledge.

I incorporated some new stuff to start the year. Seating charts right off the bat, for one thing. I give each student a card with their name on it and their desk assignment (table assignment really since I have tables and chairs). On each seat is a picture of a superhero like Batman or Captain America or Supergirl. I thought that would be more fun than numbers. My seat is of course Superman.

I have one hour until the assembly in the RC center to start the year...

Friday, August 26, 2005

Morgan and I were succesful in jumping into the Bering Sea!

I went all the way under into the Bering Sea. I get a patch and a certificate for this, you know!

I am the fat one on the far left.

In the Bering Sea. It is cold. And this is actually the warm time of the year.

Running into the Bering Sea.

Second day classroom setup

Had to do a lot of computer work today. I hate Macs. Nothing but problems. I can make a PC sing for me and with a Mac I feel like I am learning Japanese for the first time. There is no right click on a Mac and when you get used to that on a PC, you're screwed when it comes to Mac. And then I had this major printing problem at the last minute today before I wanted to go home. Apparently, the tech guy, Sergio, actually a Mexican gentleman that lives here, didn't install my network printer AppleTalk thing yet. I couldn't do it. I eventually fixed it by emailing it to Ms. Martens, the business ed teacher, in her PC lab! I am going to go in tomorrow and run some copies of my syllabus and classroom expectations brochure.

When we went to drop Amy off at work at Hanson's grocery store (we still have access to the school van but that ends September 1st and I don't know what we'll do to get her to work then...), we stopped at the Country Store, a True Value store, and finally got a dinner table and chairs. Only spent $329, which is a super deal here. Besides the air mattresses, this is our first furniture in the apartment. We also saw a reindeer in the bed of someone's pickup down on Front Street. Somehow, it didn't seem out of place.

I have a ton of work to do this weekend. My stuff for my Masters classes looms over me like a dark cloud. I don't even want to do it, which is worse. This film theory class stunk and my seminar in fiction class is boring. I really miss that first Poetry class I had back in February.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Classroom setup

I have this cavernous room. It must be the size of two regular classrooms put together, with no obvious signs that it is anything but one classroom. No windows, but I do have three Macs that are my own classroom's. No sharing here. And I get issued a Mac laptop that has wireless internet. How awesome is that?

Today was our first day to set up the classroom in preparation for the kids coming in on Monday. I was issued tables and chairs and not those one piece desks--thank goodness! My kids sit on the one side and my desk is way on the other side with a big gap of floorspace in the middle, another way for me to make sure I get out from behind my desk because there is no way I could teach from behind it. Gotta get out amidst the kids. The overhead sits right in the middle of them so I am surrounded, right in the thick of things.

So I spent the day doing that stuff. Still have to finish my syllabus and classroom expectations and those little things. Now I have to figure out what sort of unit to teach first. I am thinking of hitting the ground running with my business product unit. Group the kids together, have them create a product of some kind, then structure writing activities around it. Good way to show them where they need to work before getting into grammar specifics. I make them write me, the Bank of Butcher, a perfect business letter. If it isn't perfect, they have to keep doing it until it is. The Bank wouldn't give out money to a company that couldn't write a simple business letter, would they?

It's funny, one of the other teachers wanted to look over my class rosters to see who I had. I don't really like hearing the negative things about some kids but you just have to sometimes to prepare your seating chart and to be watchful. He said one of the girls to look out for was a "Glue Potter." The Glue Pot is a restaurant on Front Street. When the principal took my family around briefly, he said the Glue Pot was where all the "ne'er-do-wells" hang out (his word). That is apparently some kind of clique for a bit lower class. I will have to investigate.

Oh, and then I came home and found the last of our boxes shipped by the US Mail. I swear that they must dunk them in a puddle and then kick them around the room before while they're in transit. These brand new boxes that I got at the UPS Store in Silverdale, WA, must have no tensile strength left. They are week and can barely balance on two on top of each other any more. One box of videos and DVDs sent by media mail was completely ripped open. I am surprised that they are still in there. Amy put some dried milk in one of the boxes and one of the packages broke open. There is milk dust all over a few things.

The TV came! Hooray but boo at the same time. We had insured it so that it would get here in one piece. Well, it sort of got here in one piece. The front of the plastic was cracked a bit. And now the color is a little goofy ( a lot of green, for some reason). It's all right, at least the built in DVD and VHS still work. A little 19 inch TV here costs over $200. This is our 32 inch. And we can't get the insurance we realize now because we do not have the original receipt of the TV (it's over a year old--do you save those receipts?). I wish they had told me that before I spent the $11 on insurance. But if I hadn't insured it, I bet anything that it would have come just torn to pieces.

Now I have to get to work on my classroom stuff. And my Masters classes papers are due this weekend. At least it is a good busy.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

When in Nome...

They have this little tradition here about meeting the school year head on. Today, at no more than 50 degrees outside, we jumped into the cold Bering Sea.

After our third and final inservice day, where we talked for more than twenty minutes about the frickin vending machine, we lined up along East Beach. Jon Wehde, curriculum director and last year's principal, built a bonfire. We toasted the new year with a paper cup of wine. We counted to three and raced into the water.

We did this about six pm, so everybody got to go home and get suits on and stuff. Corey Erikson, my new buddy that lives down the hall and will be teaching math down the hall from me, and I got our kids and went down to the beach. Morgan was also daring enough to go in with us, along with Corey's two boys. I wish I had the pictures but they are in one of those disposable cameras. I will post those soon.

We get a little certificate and a patch that says we did this and I will also post pictures of those one day. We only got it though by getting under the water. It was cold. Actually, as we raced in, I didn't so much as jump under the water as a wave hit me in the face. We all got back out pretty much as fast as we could and into dry clothes.

Now that was fun. It was definitely something to write home about. Morgan and I jumped into the Bering Sea in late August.

Second Inservice Day

Back on the road to normality, it seems, we had our second full inservice day today just listening to someone speak.

Don't get me wrong. Our speaker today was Barbara Coloroso, a nationally renowned expert in educational relationships. She had many good things to say. I learned a lot. It's just, why do schools insist on giving inservices that are exactly unlike the way they want us to teach? Could you sit through two three-hour periods of listening to somebody speak? It's hard, I don't care who the speaker is. Hard to sit still for so long in those plastic molded chairs around those little round tables. And for the most part, all she did was lecture. While it was an engaging lecture and she was a dynamic speaker, shouldn't this be the school district's chance to showcase all those great teaching techniques they want us to do? So they show us long lectures. I don't get it. So I may have forgotten bits and pieces. It definitely all starts to blend together.

After the inservice, we borrowed the van and went into town to open up an account at the Wells Fargo bank. Got my moving stipend today. Amy said, "Hurray, now I get to order furniture!"

Morgan got invited to go to the movies with a family from downstairs and their daughter. She saw that Sky High, actually for the second time. They have a little 100-or so seat movie theater here.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Full staff inservice

Full staff inservice today at Nome Elementary School downtown. What a nice building. Much better than the Bremerton Junior High.

It started with a native elder giving some words of wisdom and an invocation. It was actually a Christian invocation. He did have a cross on his necklace, yet he was talking about native ways and traditions in the classroom. Years ago, the teachers wouldn't let natives speak anything but English in an attempt to Americanize them. Apparently, they didn't understand the concept of America back then.

Then we had to sit through a presentation by the testing company that Nome Public Schools hired. His technological presentation didn't work several times so that doesn't instill confidence in a new tech system. However, it sounds like a good idea. Test the kids at the beginning of the year to see where the kid is by grade level and reading/language usage/math skills. They have fancy numbers for all of this known as the RIT score from between 150 to 300, then you take that and go find a book within a certain Lexile range (a completely different number but the Lexile is apparently used by Library of Congress, or so I'm told). I'm sure I'll talk about this some other time. The major aspect of it that I like is that I am not relying on very old WASL numbers for student placement. In Bremerton, when teaching ninth and tenth graders, the district was relying on a student's seventh grade WASL score. Not exactly current info.

Funny, I see that the one Isaac Asimov story about the kids getting taught by a robot instructor in their own home, reminiscing about the stories their grandfather told them of actual humans teaching. I could draw a correlation to that with this.

One amazing tidbit that shows we are still on a sort-of frontier is that the district ordered some new computers but they're stuck in Anchorage due to weather conditions. They either have to fly or barge everything in to Nome, Alaska, as NO ROADS LEAD TO NOME. The days of the fog stopped planes for days, and then you get no US Mail either.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Corn is 98 cents an ear

There's a big sale on produce going on at the AC Value Center, one of the two grocery stores. Corn is 98 cents an ear. I find that amazing when back in Illinois corn right now probably goes for 10 cents an ear.

Another garage sale in the morning, this one in a barn in a field out back.

Other than that, we just sort of hung out all day. I'm anxious to start school full on.

I finished two books this weekend, Cold by John Smolens and Learning for All by Lawrence W. Lezotte. Cold was a book written in perfect little movie scenes. It was Hemingway-esque in its brief prose. A good little read about a man escaping from the prison in which he was falsely incarcerated by simply walking away in a blizzard. He goes back home to try to take down the corrupt family that put him there and get back his family. Good book.

I also finished that short education book Learning for All. It was given to us during the new teacher inservice. It was all right. I initially find it to be one of those books that talks a good game but has no practical advice.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Garage Sale

Went garage saling today. (Is that how it's spelled: "s-a-l-i-n-g?")

The difference between a Nome garage sale and a lower-48 garage sale is that most of them actually take place in the house. Come to think of it, I don't think I've seen a single garage. They clean out the front room and leave everything for sale in it. We found some sweaters, some pans, and some odds and ends. The ultimate find though was our coffee pot! $5 for a 12-cup bean-grinder/brewer. Way cool. I hadn't had coffee all week (except at the inservice on Friday). I think we went through three pots today. We're from Seattle, man, we need our coffee! There is actually no Starbucks here. We actually found a part of the world where they haven't invaded yet, much to our chagrin. There is one little espresso stand, in with one of the little tourist trap shops.

Probably the biggest event of the day though is that Madison went #2 in the big potty for the first time. We were singing and dancing down the halls, "Poopy in the Potty!" a kind of rumba tune that we made up to do a conga line to.

First Inservice

Today was the first day of inservices for us new teachers. Inservices are where the district makes you sit through meetings and tell you about the upcoming year. I felt welcomed today.

And they fed us. That's a great thing. At home, we pretty much just have the staples right now. Donuts were a luxury.

Amy applied and got a job at Hanson's Trading Post, which is a Safeway store really. She is the new front end manager. She hasn't been called yet to interview for the school's paraeducator position yet but she couldn't wait. She got kind of stressed our by prices.

Then we had a wonderful bus tour for us newbies with our familes on a little yellow bus (go ahead and think about those smart remarks), led by Nome Citizen of the Year Richard Beneville. He is a hoot, a real stage presence, in fact he was on the stage growing up in New York. I loved listening to him as he showed us all over the city.

Probably the most important thing today: we were on the beach and I got to wash my hands in the Bering Sea. How many people can say that? I had the same feeling when I put my hands in the English Channel and the Rhine River in Germany. Just a wow sensation.

We saw a herd of musk ox in the distance as we picked blueberries by the side of the road for a brief stop on the tour. Madison ate more blueberries than everyone combined.

Bill Buchanan, junior high science teacher, holds a new staff barbecue out at his cabin. What a beautiful area. In fact, they lived in that cabin for two years before they got power three years ago.

Thursday, August 18, 2005


A little culture shock today as we discovered that a gallon of milk is usually $6.89 a gallon. Madison is going to be broken of her baa-baa habit real quick.

We still don't have furniture. Amy was smart enough to get us airbeds, inflatable by this little pump. Other than that, we sit on the floor.

We went to the Methodist church's weekly rummage sale. It was packed. But we did find a crock pot and a vacuum cleaner and some sweaters and only paid $7.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

The Fog

Sound like a bad movie, but I had an adventure today that could only be titled The Fog.

We counted our bags when we got home and found we were short one. The black garment bag. It was sent to Boise of all places, opened and checked, and sent on to Nome. I called the airport and found out where it was. I had to borrow the school's van to drive out to the airport about three miles away. It didn't seem to be such a hassle but...the fog crept in yesterday and stayed all day today. The locals say there is also smoke from the forest fires mixed in with the fog. It was super-thick, one of the thickest fogs I've ever experienced. The only other fog that may have been close for me was the second day on my drive out to Seattle from Chicago, from Sioux City, South Dakota. With that fog, I thought I would get into an accident on I-90, but I still managed to do 50-60 miles an hour. I was an early riser and the fog burned off with the morning. This Nome fog stayed thick and heavy, almost palpable, all day long. You could not see a stop sign on the street you were driving on, it was that thick.

So as I drove to the airport, with this nice little map that the Business Manger Amy Lujan, wife of the superintendent, drew for me, I almost got lost twice. And this is a flat tundra where you can see for miles on a halfway clear day. I could not see buildings from the street. I stopped twice along the way to make sure I hadn't driven too far. I got my bag and made it back. We are still unpacking.

Monday, August 15, 2005


This is my first dispatch from up north. We made it. Nome, Alaska.

After an eventful day of goodbyes, see-you-soons, and promises that we'd fly back soon, we got to the airport Sunday evening for our 10 pm flight. All the final parcels had been shipped. We loaded up 8 bags to check-in and half a dozen carry-ons. One of the carry-ons was Madison's car seat, which would come in very handy.

It ends up being three takeoffs and landings to get to Nome. The first leg was to Anchorage on a 737-800. We didn't get to see much of the city though as we landed at 12:30 am local time. Alaska is one hour behind Pacific time zone. We slept on the lines of chairs and made a little bed on the floor for Madison. It was cold and uncomfortable in those wee hours of Monday morning. I'd like to say thanks to the late-night Starbucks in the Anchorage airport for helping to provide a crabby two-year-old with milk in her baa-baa at only 35 cents a shot.

The next leg set off at 6 am. This was in a smaller 737-200 plane. We actually didn't realize we had to land in a place called Kotzebue, just north of the Arctic Circle, first. (How many people can say they have been north of the Arctic Circle?) The airport there was a solitary strip, almost completely surrounded by water. It appeared that we were going to fly into the harbor when we came out of the fog and the runway suddenly appeared. We stayed on the plane and half an hour later, after picking up a few more passengers as some got off in Kotzebue, we were on our way to Nome, about 40 minutes away. Alaska Airlines flies this triumvirate of cities twice a day.

We touched down on schedule. We were met at the airport by the Superintendent of Schools Stan Lujan and the brand new principal of the secondary school Owen Carter. Mr. Carter then gave us an impromptu tour of Nome in the van, just so we'd know where the basics were. We then got to our apartment and were immensely pleased by how nice and how big this two-bedroom apartment is. It is nicer and bigger than our last place in Bremerton.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005


I am at my mother-in-law's house, connected to the net at a slow 33K. How did I dver cope with this before? I can't believe how long it takes to load a page. I need the internet for school and it took me half an hour just to submit my homework.

We are all moved out of the apartment. Heh heh. I can't help but laugh at myself about this: we are now rooming in the RV trailer on my mother-in-law's property. Less than two weeks. I can do this for less than two weeks. I feel like a loser, but I can do this for less than two weeks. Think of the two weeks' worth of rent I'm saving. Although now I think we should've moved earlier.

We are almost done shipping things by mail. I have a car trip left of about ten big boxes or so, and maybe a few after that. It is the cheapest way, I keep telling myself, as I pay for the shipping charges.

Countdown to Nome. We leave on the night of August 14th. 10 days. My goodness, only ten days.