Since I started blogging about my adventures as a teacher in rural Alaska I've gained a pretty steady following of readers (thank you!). Some of them are the friends and family that I figured would read this blog, but quite a few are other teachers
I've gotten a lot of emails from fellow teachers who are considering venturing into the bush for their own Northern Adventure asking about what I think is important to know when considering the move. I could write a book on the topic, and there are tons of opinions out there from jaded first years and career bush teachers alike. After careful consideration and a lot of list making, I've narrowed it down to my top four. Here they are!
1. The Isolation
I know you've seen this before and, if you're anything like me, you've brushed it aside with a simple "I know it's isolated, that's why it's rural!" but really consider this, because it's isolation like you've never felt before. You will be stuck in the village. And before the snow sets in and you can start snow machining to other villages I mean stuck. In the warmer months travel by plane is the only way to get around and it's not cheap. So unless you're willing to shell out the money for a weekend get away your village is your world. You can head out for a bit of a break and participate in subsistence activities like hunting and fishing, but it's still isolated. Very peaceful though.
2. The Relative Cost
Part of the allure to teaching in the bush is that rural districts pay quite a bit more. Remember that it's all relative.
Let's first talk about the cost of living in a village: it's high. Everything you need has to be shipped in and that can cost almost as much as the product itself if you're not careful. Then there's housing costs. If you are signing a contract and don't know about housing, ASK! Heating a house out here can cost several hundred dollars a month in the winter, so if your district isn't paying for your stove oil you can break the bank on heating alone. Paying for internet and cable in your home can also be pricey, so those may be luxuries you choose to forgo like M. and I did. And then there's rent- which you may pay to your district or to a landlord. Make no mistake though, when your district says housing is provided it usually means they deduct your rent from your paycheck, so make sure you check.
So just remember that while you are getting paid more, you are also spending more.
3. Patience and Planning Are A Must!
The problem sets in when you think of a great project for your class last minute and you just need that... oh, no... don't have that. And then there's that great recipe of your mom's that always makes you feel better after a long day and all you need are tortillas, ground beef, onions and.... oh, nope... none of that... or that. It sounds small, but around the third or fourth time you experience this you start wanting to bang your head against a cabinet. It can get frustrating if you don't plan ahead.
4. A Lot of Villages Are Dry
I've never been much of a drinker but from time to time I do enjoy sitting down with friends and a cold beer. I never realized how much I enjoyed having that option until I moved somewhere where possession and consumption of alcohol is illegal. There are just some days where I would like to blow off some steam from the day with a beer and pizza. Instead, I settle for enjoying a glass of crystal light with my roommate while we make our own pizza. It's cathartic in its own way, but just not quite the same. So if alcohol is a major part of your life make sure you know whether or not your village is dry.
Really, when it all comes down to it, the best thing you can do is make a list of things that are essential to your life and ask your district if they are available. Trust me, they've heard it all so don't be ashamed to ask if a village is dry or if teacher housing has running water (that was something that went on my list, honey buckets are not something I can live with long-term).
If you find a district that is compatible with your list of basic necessities (and be honest when you make it, no one needs to see it but you so if you know you need cable at home write it down) I say go for it! No experience I've had has measured up to my time in the bush. Take the chance, try it for a year, and have fun =)