Well, I’ve made it through another winter solstice here in Alaska. This means that we’ll finally be seeing an increase in light and eventually warmth over the next six months. During the last two months, the first periods of the school day typically passed in darkness. The sun didn’t begin to rise until between 9 and 10 a.m. And the last month or so, the sun regularly set around 4:30 p.m.
Not unexpectedly, many of us have a difficult time remaining alert and focused through such prolonged periods of morning darkness. I think I can speak for most Alaskans when I say that I’m truly looking forward to the growing light of the New Year.
Although I teach in urban Alaska, I’m still continually amazed by the beauty that I witness here — and even the ways I sometimes take it for granted. For example, the first snow on the Chugach Mountain range is always momentous, both in its stark signaling of the end of summer and its pristine contrast to the mountain’s rugged face.
There’s a peaceful and clean stillness that takes hold of Anchorage for the first few hours of any snowfall. Even in the midst of downtown traffic, moose sightings remind me that it is an urban area on the edge of a fantastically vast wilderness. A flight out of Anchorage on a clear day confirms this notion with an incredibly dramatic visual framed by sea, mountains, and snow. The beauty of sunny, bright, and clear winter days reminds me why I’ve chosen to make this location my home.
There are disadvantages to living here, of course. Many of the reasons I chose to teach here might also cause me to consider teaching elsewhere. The relative geographic isolation does limit trips to visit friends and family. The winters are long. The summers are spectacularly splendid, but frustratingly short. I have considered (in the midst of a four-day trip back to the Midwest) concealing my Alaskan citizenship to avoid the inevitable question: “So . . . what do you think about Sarah Palin?”
Above all, what keeps me here is the supportive group of educators and administrators I work with on a daily basis. If I have a key piece of advice to aspiring educators, it would be to 1) continually evaluate what they expect out of their profession and 2) try to find a place to teach where the principles and practices of colleagues align with their own expectations and needs. Teaching isn’t an easy job, but it’s made easier if you’re able to find administrators, paraprofessionals, and colleagues who share your educational vision.
If you’re fortunate, life tends to revolve around your passions or profession. But I’ve found it’s also important to allow other aspects of life to contribute to a sense of purpose and place. I’ve come a long way for it, but I feel lucky to have found that shared vision and sense of purpose here in Alaska.
If you’re up for it, share some positive attributes of your own location, colleagues, or community. Who or what are your anchors?