I never could have predicted that my teaching life would include arranging demonstrations involving marine mammals and holding my students inside because of polar bear warnings, but that’s exactly what happened.
My name is Angie. I teach high school in Brevig Mission, an Inupiaq village in the Bering Strait School District.
It’s 2021, and I love my life in the village and my job at the school. I’ve gone from never having butchered a single animal to being able to make heart and tongue soup. I’m raising a daughter who can spot a berry patch from a distance and gets it right every time. Last year’s senior class had been in my class since sixth grade. There was a lot of growth in those years, and I got to witness it all.
It wasn’t always like this. I transplanted from Idaho to Alaska in 2005 when my husband and I took teaching jobs in Shishmaref. My dream of an exciting Alaskan adventure rapidly turned into me crying on the couch when my students didn’t respond to my lessons. I felt useless as a teacher because I couldn’t get the kids to behave or meaningfully engage. I blamed my unhappiness on everything wrong with the school, the community, and the administration.
But I stayed. And I learned. I shifted from wanting to change Shishmaref to being open to the richness and value it offered. It made me a better person and a better teacher. I believe all teachers have the same opportunity, no matter where they are, so I wrote a book to help teachers thrive when they live and teach in new places.
Digging up a plant’s roots and removing it from its familiar surroundings can be jolting. Transplant Teachers go through a similar process when they leave behind the familiar for something new. The adjustments to their Transplant Home might be a little (or a lot) shocking. Transplant Teachers might doubt themselves or question the wisdom of relocating at all. But, it is possible to push through the difficulties and get to the rich reward of thriving.
The Transplant Teacher uses examples from my years of teaching in Shishmaref and Brevig Mission to illustrate how successful Transplant Teachers simultaneously look inward to change themselves and reach outward to connect with their new communities.
There are stories of my mistakes. Like the first time I tried Inupiaq dancing and accidentally copied the boys instead of the girls. Or the time I skipped wearing winter boots on a plane in December and ended up crying the whole way to Nome because my feet were so cold.
There are stories of our struggles to find successful logistical strategies, including why I order Halloween costumes in August and why there are sometimes fifteen cases of mandarin oranges by our front door.
I encourage teachers to jump at any opportunity to participate and interact with their communities. Try new foods, cut fish, bead, dance, hunt, pick berries, play Christmas games, go to feasts, play basketball! It’s normal to feel nervous or not know exactly what to do, but the benefits of forging connections outweigh the risk of embarrassment and awkwardness.
Most of all, I encourage teachers to focus on changing and adapting themselves. Most of the difficulties I experienced early on were a result of my own expectations. When I shifted my expectations, I was more open to the people and knowledge around me.
All students and communities deserve thriving teachers. And all teachers have the potential to thrive. I hope to be a part of helping teachers on that journey.
Angie Busch Alston is a teacher in Brevig Mission, a small Inupiaq village on the Seward Peninsula. She came to Alaska in 2005 for a one year adventure and ended up staying. She prizes classroom and community connections and believes all teachers can open themselves to the richness and value around them. Find her online at TheAlaskaTeacher.com.