About Me

My photo
Inukjuak, Quebec, Canada
Always up for a new adventure. I love Musicals, photography, my family, road trips, and beads. So far I have been fortunate enough to teach in Japan, South Korea, Kenya, and the Canadian Arctic. Currently in my 5th year in the frozen North and up for any new adventure.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Joy and Agony of Exams

It is that time of year that most look at with either dread or delight depending on their situation. As a teacher it is mostly delight with a hint of dread; delight that the time has come to torture your students, and dread that you now have to untangle their answers to formulate marks. I rather enjoy making up exams, figuring out the wording to best jump start a brain without giving the answer away. Thinking back to my days as a student, I remember how much I would freak out at exam time; unable to sleep and nervous about the outcome. Agonizing over my math and science exams, trying to reword yet another view on a piece of poetry for english exams. Now as the teacher, I find myself trying to balance a fine line between not too easy and not soul-crushingly hard. Trying to be fair to those who have studied and worked all year and yet still challenging. Now with 2 exams down and 2 to go the results stand thus: English (pretty easy but students were lazy, I actually didn't write that one), Math (perhaps a little too long and difficult), over the next 2 days we will have the Science and Social studies exams (both written by me so we will see how it goes). As my students write I find I have plenty of time to catch up on the odd pit of paper work and report cards that are due end of the week. From a teacher's point of view the week is long but not very difficult, a bit boring and yet entertaining at the same time. For the students it had been mostly a week of agony with the possibility of joy when the week is over (and of a tiny bit of worry over their report card marks). The year is winding down, boxes are being packed and classrooms are looking a bit bare as things get cleaned up for the summer. It has that bittersweet feeling about it.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

You might live in the north if....

An ever growing collection of various observations from those of us living in the north :)

1)   Going to the store is the highlight of your day
2)   -40 degrees is the new +10
3)   You call the Municipal 3 times then yell "Mother$@#%*$! sewage!!!!" (possibly happens on a regular basis)
4)   It takes 4 teachers with University degrees to figure out how an Ikea can-opener works
5)   You have to crawl over the tundra to get to school
6)   You automatically know that a Honda is a four-wheeler
7)   Not flushing is actually acceptable due to water shortages
8)   Getting your groceries is like reliving Christmas
9)   You can exclaim, "Holy *&*^ it's cold!" at least 280 days of the year
10) Being asked if you are a 'ghost' by a kid at the store because you are so white is normal
11) It's perfectly normal if you wake up to your entire house swaying from the wind
12) You have created a special knock that differs from those of the carvers
13) You can walk across town in 25 minutes but you still find an excuse not to
14) You can start a rumour and it'll get back to you 5 minutes later, sometimes with crazy changes
15) You regularly order Febreeze to fight the foul odours from the bowels of your students
16) You end up doing your laundry at school
17) You will be able to slide from school all the way to your house....possibly without a running start
18) You realize that you can do anything, then you do it
19) You could end every sentence with "Welcome to (____insert name of community____)" followed by a chuck and smile and know that there is some truth to it
20) Teachers are the last to find out what is going on and then we are expected to have a witty answer
21) When you get calls from Solo Mobile and have to explain that cell phones don't work up here
22) Jehovah's witnesses can't visit, but they sure call!
23) Tu peut manger chaque repas avec un tuque sur ta tete!
24) You can experience all 4 seasons depending which window you are looking out of
25) You are utterly confused when you try to open the door to your house with your classroom key
26) Tu sais que tu vis dans le Nord quand la seule sortie scolaire de l'annĂ©e est d'aller glisser sur la coline au coin de la rue
27) You have to adjust the projector in your house for movie night because your house is lopsided
28) Your kids leave during an anti-smoking speech to go smoke
29) Your house smells like poop when sewage removal comes
30) When you download a Fart application for your IPod to retaliate against your students
31) You know that if you are flying home from another community you will get there...eventually
32) You have had a parent bring ammunition to school for their child
33) When it takes longer for you to get dressed to go outside than it does to get dressed in the morning
34) You have ever found yourself wearing a parka and a flower lei at the same time
35) The entire town (with the exception of the school) has shut down because everyone has gone fishing
36) You have more winter socks and mittens than any other pieces of clothing
37) You can tell the difference between a snow-machine and Honda by sound alone
38) If you have ever sat outside your house in delight watching the Aurora Borealis dance across the sky
39) You have seen fellow teachers slice open a seal in the school lobby for a school activity
40) Movies and TV shows are like gold for trade purposes
41) You have ever had someone come to your door with an unidentified animal skin telling you "Good price"
42) The school has been closed for a blizzard in May
43) School announcements come in 3 languages and take about 15 mins on the PA system
44) You have seen repair men thaw out your frozen furnace with a blowtorch inside your house
45) You attend the May 24 weekend bonfire in a parka and snow pants
46) The alarm goes off at the school because the building in too cold, in JUNE.
47) The teachers are all wearing fleece to teach because the school is too cold, in JUNE.
48) You have watched a sunset at midnight and the northern lights an hour later.
49) You have helped someone move in -50C temps using hand sleds to push boxes through the snow.
50) You carry pepper spray just in case you run across unfriendly animals on a walk

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Snow Fest POV

March Break was calm and relaxing, filled with friends, snow, and a few parties. I also found the time to finally make my own pair of paluks (leather/fur mitts). A little big and slightly crooked but not bad for a first timer. The week passed too quickly, there was also the small matter of my birthday being celebrated at the end. Small cheesecake party with friends to celebrate, other than that I would have not acknowledged the day.

The next week was back to school, at least for a day and a half, then myself and two of my fellow teacher found ourselves on the plane headed for POV (short for Purvinituq). When I heard that there was a snow festival held there every two years, and that this year was going to be the next year I knew I wanted to attend. I mean really, how often do you get to go to a snow festival in the Arctic? We bought our tickets just after X-mas but never gave our students a hint that we were going to the festival. If they know that there is a chance that their teacher might not be at school they think they don't have to come, so it was a secret till the last day. It was funny, when we got on the plane it felt like we were heading off on our real March break, I guess it is the delight of just going somewhere new. A short flight later we were one the ground and trying to get a ride to my friend's house. We were able to call the bus but it seemed to be taking forever and a very nice fellow that worked at the airport wound up giving us a ride instead, always an adventure since all we had to go on was the house number and anyone who has ever been to the north knows that there is little logic to where the houses are. Finally found it and was able to get the key for the circus girl (there was a circus troupe in town working with the kids), settled in and headed out to explore a bit. First thoughts: POV is pretty flat, and the streets made it feel slightly like a maze, but we headed towards the water and looked for the biggest buildings as those are usually the Co-op store or the Northern. Picked up a few supplies and saw a former student who had recently moved from Inukjuak to POV, nice to see him and hear all his news. Home for dinner and got ready to join the fun at the community centre for the evening concert.

Wow, lots of country style music with a little gospel thrown in, some local rock bands, a history game show, and a fashion show. we tracked down some of our students who were playing in the festival and found out that they would be on at about 2am. So being good teachers we settled in for the night to support our students (they actually weren't bad, young and still need a lot of practice, but they were entertaining). Most nights the concerts were pretty similar, a few bigger names and some very traditional acts, highlights being the circus acts put on by the kids on the final night and some fiddlers from the south. During the days were the main events: igloo building, traditional nets fishing under the ice, a marathon, dog sled races, and most importantly the ice and snow carving contests.

The carvings were simply amazing. Taking the huge blacks of ice and snow and transforming them into such works of art. Traditional figures, each telling a story, carved over several days with a wide variety of tools. To see the carvings progress from day to day was like magic. I was happy when my favourite carving won 1st place in the contest. It was a beautiful piece of a boy climbing over a cliff to hunt birds in their nest. The artist was from Nunavut and usually does more abstract carvings of stone and other materials but for festivals he carve in ice. Stunning work. The week ended with a feast on the ice; frozen, raw meat and fish, and later the final concert night.

After finding our way back to the airport the next day we settled in to wait for our flight. Delayed of course as there were so many people trying to get to Montreal or home. At one point during the wait some of the musicians headed south got out their instruments and gave a bit of an impromptu concert. Before we knew it there were people jigging and clapping along to the music. After a wait that seemed to be forever we were finally able to board and head home. As nice as it was to be away, it was even nicer to be home again.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Dancing Lights

Today could have been better, for an easy teaching day schedule-wise I would not call it much of a success. Students were antsy, teacher was not feeling her best, algebra was seeming more difficult than usual, half my students were at the airport rather than class...sigh. Both teacher and student are counting the days if not hours till the glorious period of peace that is March break. Best part of the day was an evening call from my sister, just chatting and catching up on news, commiserating on our equally lousy days. Feeling restless, I try to settle down for night. Then I remembered that I had read something in the news about more solar flares which usually means bright northern lights. After checking the weather site, cloudy, and peaking out the window, stars, I figured a walk just to make sure couldn't hurt.

As I began walking around town I could see a faint glimmer of a ribbon beginning to stretch above the town. Not very promising but lights, or not, I figured a walk might help me sleep. The northern lights shimmered in a thin ribbon over the town, nothing spectacular but enough to make you smile. Just as I was turning towards home the ribbon seemed to coil in on itself and began to dance. I climbed the nearest snowbank and settled in to watch the show. Hovering above town the lights danced and swirled, at times looking like a rainbow piano keys tumbling. Light green, yellow and the faintest hint of pink lit the sky. It seemed as if the lights were dancing only for me. Snow machines buzzed by from time to time, an odd pedestrian crunched past, but no one seemed to notice or care about the strange teacher perched on a mountain of snow, smiling like an idiot as my scarf frosted over.

As I sat atop my mountain of snow, watching the northern lights, I reminded myself that this was one of the things I love about living in the north. I love the fact that it is possible to walk out my front door and see the Northern Lights. And after a crappy day there can be still something to make you smile and remember why you came up north to teach in the first place. The only thing I could have wished to have tonight was my camera, but the memory in my mind will have to do. The feeling of the snow, the wind, cold, and the light dancing just for me.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

In the stillness of the 'white'

Morning after an 'almost' blizzard. The weather report had told us that we were under blizzard alert, but as we could still see the majority of houses in town no one paid much notice. As the evening progressed the winds grew stronger, I felt my house shake a little and allowed myself the pleasant thought that I might get a 'blizzard day' at school the next morning. Alas, I woke to the silence that comes after the storm. However, walking to school I was struck by the silence of the town. Too early for the snow plows and sand truck to be at work. No school for students meant few snow machines were out in the early morning, no school busses either. Just silence and new white drifts. The wind had blown old and new snow around so much that all paths and roads were hidden. White on white plays tricks on you in the soft morning light as you navigate familiar routes. You do not even notice a snow drift until you walk into it and find the snow creeping toward the tops of your boots. The snow makes things warmer, if you call -15 warm, and if you live up here you do (past few weeks have been hovering around -30 plus wind). The higher the sun climbs, the more depth and definition you begin to see in the pure whiteness that surrounds you. It often gives me the desire to take a running leap into a snow bank, only the knowledge that under the snow is hard, wind driven ice stops me. As the town wakes, the stillness is broken by the normal sounds of winter, snow machines roaring, and chains clinking. But for that brief moment in the early morning, all is silent and white the day after a storm.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

An Exchange of Information (otherwise known as Report Card Night)

Waiting, listening, hoping; I sit at my desk. Waiting to for parents to come, listening for footsteps headed down to my end of the corridor, and hoping to get a chance to talk to the parents of the students who are struggling. It seems that sometimes during report card night, while you are glad to see all parents, the one you really need to see are the one you never do. It is always a pleasure to discuss a students progress with caring parents, even if there is nothing specific that you need to say about his or her work. But I can not help but wish that the parents of the students who skip class too often, or the ones never seem to find a way to not lose their work, or the ones who are perfecting their impression of a zombie while in class... I wish that they could find time to come in and discuss their child's progress. The phone calls later do help but they are not the same as sitting face to face and being able to show them exactly where their child is struggling. Maybe sometimes it is the 'face to face' that is the issue; sometimes until you actually have that piece of paper and a person physically explaining what is happening for it to become real. Reality is not always what we want to hear, preferring the possibility that there might have been a mistake. There is also that slight chance that a report card mailed home may never see the light of day again as it may be kidnapped by a fearful student. While I did have the chance to show my students their report card and discuss where they need the most work, there are a few whose parents I would dearly love to see. Tonight there is the added distraction of blizzard preventing some from coming in to the school, and I also know that a number of the parents are out of town at the moment, and sadly some parents are ill. I understand that is is difficult for some to have the energy after work to go out again, to fight the weather and wait, that many would rather just go home and relax. But there is always that hope that some might make the choice to come in and find out first hand what their children have been up to. For some there isn't that much time left. Tonight has not been one of my better report card nights, I have only seen one of the parents of my students, and sad to say she may be the only one I will see.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Sounds of Winter

Since coming back from Christmas holidays my mind has been thinking of an article I read some time ago describing the sounds of winter in the north. I wish I could remember the name of the author, but since I can't I will to make my own description.

Walking around town, to and from school, heading out on the land, they are all linked by sounds. In town we don't really have many traffic sounds, no horns blaring or the sounds of busses and transports laying on the brakes. Instead there is the buzz of skidoos skidding on the ice or cutting through the snow. Hondas have their own roar are they rip through town laden with kids joyriding or people out doing their shopping. The only big trucks we have are for sewage, water, and sand; linked by the rumble of their engines and the clinking of the chains on the tires. Mornings and evenings are marked by the sound of howling dogs; saying hello, goodbye, and anything else you can think of. It seems are if 7am is one of their best times to converse, if I ever sleep through my alarm I can always hear the dogs. Comforting thought in a way.

Then there are the noises we make. The kids calling and shrieking to one another as they play in the snow, sliding down the hills and snow banks, chasing the odd puppy or too around their house. When walking anywhere you become aware of the sounds that comes from your own movements. The material of snow-pants and parkas has a distinct swishing sound. The crunching and squeaking of boots on the dry snow as you tramp through the tundra. There is also an absence of sound from within the tunnel of a parka hood. WIth the hood up on my parka I find that my sense of hearing is almost completely deprived.

The final sound is the wind that often blows through and around the town. It lightly teases flags and fur, blowing softly, barely a whisper. It picks up, slapping cables against houses, snapping flags, pulling the breath from ones body. It builds to a howl that warns of and accompanies a blizzard as it roars through town, closing over and blocking out almost every other sound as people and animal take refuge from the storm. Until finally the quiet returns to signal the end of the storm and the town begins to stir again, digging itself out from the snow.

Many people have asked me how you live with the quiet of the North, and I have to laugh a little as I try to explain the difference in the sounds between north and south. For myself, right now I'd take the quiet sounds of the north over the constant noise of the south any day.