Out on the court: running, blocking, waiting with hands up for the ball. It is passed. My front foot plants down hard. Solid. I have a decision to make, in a split-second: pass the ball to another player or spin fast and shoot. I feel that I’ve reached a pivoting point in my teaching here. Do I pass the ball to another teacher who will come after me, or do I stick it out another year, take a deep breath, aim and shoot for the 3 point shot?
I have struggled these past five months, struggled with learning about a culture that has existed here for centuries, which has slowly evolved into such a stoic mind set as a group. Life in the village. It is not a reservation; but it is the end of the road. Here several families or clans settled and built up their lives. Here, the fishing boats lie belly-up in every yard, waiting for late Spring. Here, old abandoned trailers and houses with doors stuck open grow moss on their roofs; looking like hair in the night light and here, children play until darkness drives them home from the streets, unafraid and cheerful.
Why do I continue to land in places like this? Job opportunity, I guess, and a hope to bring literacy to a struggling school. But, what do you do when they mock you as you try to teach, film you to put on “instagram,” bully or openly defy you in class? Sometimes the rough-housing in the halls is alarming; loud and violent. I have also felt the stubborn silence go up when I try to introduce essay formats, having an entire class walk out on me with no regard. If I ask them to read, they sit quietly, like mediating monks with fixed gaze and settled minds.
How do I motivate them? How different this place is from Brooklyn, New York. I remember teaching summer school to three classes each with 25-35 teens and no air conditioning. Dusty, cracked chalkboards and no technology. They were a tough crowd, bussed in from the projects. But they read and they wrote ferociously. They were proud to share their thoughts. Which was why I wanted to teach in the beginning: to engage in the interchange of thought and purpose. Fast forward to this village on an island in Alaska, small classes of less than 15 students. Here their voice is imbedded within their culture, silent and secret, and I do not have access to the key, not yet.
Part of me wants to find something else, anywhere else, where I at least know how to reach the students. Part of me wants to pack it up and leave in June, satisfied with a year spent teaching in Southeast Alaska, but eager to move into deeper things. So, do I leave or stay? This is what I ponder in my sleep, and in my short walk home every night. Pivot point: shoot or pass?