There were and probably still is four basic reasons people move to
Alaska to teach school: The young just out of college looking for adventure; couples who want to increase their retirement portfolio; those who want to start a fresh life; and those who can’t find a job in the lower 48 and just want one.
The young are divided into two varieties – singles who crave adventure and the married who realize that with the money they make they can pay off their student loans in just one or two years. They leave debt free and, if they are careful, have a little nest egg to buy a house back in the lower 48. Some stay longer of course and pay cash for the house when they return which usually coincides with them wanting to start a family.
The older couples are usually retired school teachers and want to fluff their retirement nest egg. They claim they are going to stay until vested in the Alaskan state retirement system but usually leave after three or four years. They begin to miss the life they had near shopping centers and restaurants and their children start to have children and the grandparent things pulls them home.
The person who wants to start fresh and thinks the last frontier is just what is needed usually find that places change and people don’t. They leave after one year or sometimes at the semester.
The last group of people, and the ones becoming more prevalent, are those just looking for a job. They are first year teachers who can’t find employment in the lower 48 or those who have been laid off from teaching positions and any job will do. They really don’t have the desire to go north but a recruiter paints such a rosy picture, that they think why not. Not a good reason. They start putting their resumes out the day they get here and as soon as a job in the lower 48 opens, they leave.
One of the bigger problems with education in bush
Alaska, or at least it use to be, is the turn over rate. We always had a huge turnover rate in every school I taught in. My first year I saw 60% of the teachers leave, the next two years 50% left and one year I went to a school that every teacher there was new. Try to run a business with turn over like those.
So why you may ask did I go to
Alaska, and more importantly why did I stay as long as I did and would under the right circumstances go back again? Good question, one that I have not satisfactorily been able to answer in my own mind let alone explain to anyone else.
There were days I would have gotten on the next stage out of Dodge but reality would strike and staying was the only logical thing to do. The money was a draw but it wasn’t enough to go in the first place and not enough to keep me there longer than I was. There were more kids that irritated me than warmed my heart and if any of my friends from back home would call and I was not at home, my answering machine said “Greetings from the land of nonsense.” That quote always seemed to sum up about how I felt about the place day-in and day-out and all the idiotic situations that occurred in and around the villages. Someone said I was odd to go and stay or the phrase I liked best was that I was just one dog short of a team.
The best reason I can come up with as to why I went and why I stayed and would go back was the fact that I had a dazzling social life. I had plenty of friends back in
Independence especially and I knew they would be glad to see me, but after the flurry of get togethers they would manage to ease back into the life they had with out me. Some how they all would have managed to move fore ward while I was gone.
My social life in
Alaska was much more active and stimulating than any other place I ever lived. It was out of necessity of course to keep from going bonkers but the interaction between and among teachers kept me busy and stimulated. Other villages were better than some but there was always something going on to keep from getting cabin fever. had the best teacher interaction and the village I liked the least. While Hooper Bay Noatak had very little teacher to teacher contact on a social basis but the village I liked the most. There was always something going on and the community made you feel a part of it. Go figure.
But back to the social life. In
, and this is as true as I can recall, the following was a typical week: On Sundays we would go to the Hooper Bay Marshall’s for coffee and pastry. Later that same day a bunch of us would pile onto a four wheeler and sled and go to the beach to hunt clams. On Monday, those of us who did not eat clams would go back to the beach to see what had washed up the night before, some times a whale would be there if we were lucky, or even a walrus if we were really lucky. On Tuesdays the Gillans came over for dinner and always had pictures to show us about the previous summer they spent at a youth camp or tell us stories about the last 10 years they had spent in . Wednesday we had a Bible Study with the local missionary, which we sacrilegiously called Back to God Night. Thursday the Krolls would come to dinner and we would watch our favorite TV show (it was such a favorite I can’t remember what it was now) but if the cable was out, which it tended to be now and then we would just gossip about everyone one else. Which we figured was alright because it was not Wednesday. Friday was pot luck at Marta’s or Jane’s and Saturday we would usually dine with the Neufeldts. Life did not get a whole lot better than that. Hooper Bay
I realize that Tom Wolf was correct when he coined the phrase “you can’t go home again” and I don’t want to relive the past I just don’t want to forget it.