Monday, April 29, 2013

Teacher Retention and iBooks

Well it's that time of year again. New teachers are being hired left and right and contracts are being signed. If you live in Bush Alaska or work in education anywhere you know this is an important time of the year. It is particularly important in the state of Alaska though, more so in rural Alaska than anywhere else. 

The average teacher turnover in the bush is about two years. Some years in the Lower Yukon school district as many as four or five teachers will leave before their contract is even complete. Last year was a good year we only lost one. There are many factors surrounding teacher attrition in rural Alaska. The cost and the quality of housing, the pay, and access to medical facilities are all key factors in an educator's decision to come out to the bush. Many leave because they were unaware or ill prepared for what they encountered. Unknown factors such as travel costs, Internet access and cell phones, or simply the amount of daylight in the winter are all very important to a first-year teacher.

This brings me to my personal desire to better inform new hires in Lower Yukon. Many years ago a friend and I in Togiak made a 60 minute DVD for new teachers. (Yes, Tim, if you read this, I still have it!)

 We got rave reviews from new teachers, returning staff, and administration. We just wanted to make sure that our new colleagues would be more prepared than we were when we first arrived. My first time in the bush included being dropped off on a dirt runway with three dogs and 12 suitcases. I had no cell phone (there actually were no cell phones at the time), no contact information for my principal or assistant principal, and did not know where I lived. Luckily the school maintenance man, who was off duty at the time, passed by to pick up an outboard. He asked, "are you the new teachers?" I replied, "Is it that obvious?"

Needless to say there was a fairly steep learning curve. Being from Louisiana I did not know how to turn on my boiler. Combined with the fact that we had mailed bed sheets and blankets instead of bringing them on the plane, I spent several chilly nights before getting the hang of it. Eventually we got our boxes from the school and the post office and everything was fine. The reality is still quite obvious: being prepared for the Bush will make you more successful. Learning about the culture, the region, the customs, and the climate not only makes you a better teacher but it could very well save your life... or at least your sanity/dignity. 

The link below will take you to an iBook that I created for the Lower Yukon School District. I did not write most of it, but I did contribute. The text represents dozens of individuals from 10 villages. It has input from current and former employees. The pictures are from my camera or those of my friends. The quotes are real, the ideas are collaborative, and the purpose is simple. I wish to inform new hires to rural Alaska of the truth behind their new adventure. It's not sugarcoated but it is positive. I implore you that your feedback be the same.

The simplest method for getting this iBook is to click on this link using an iOS device. You may download this item to your computer and import it to iTunes, too. From there you can sync your books to your iPad, iPhone, or iPod. 

Thanks for trying this out and I hope that you let me know what I can do to make it better in the future.