This is probably my last post via blogspot. I know things can change but I bought myself a domain: justgolda.com and will be trying to post from there instead.
So a lot has happened since December 8th!
Let me begin by saying that a lot of what I post online is whitewashed. By that I mean "made to look cleaner and nicer than it really is". I probably won't change that very much but this particular post is designed to tell more of the truth than usual. That being said, I have had to take time and a little distance to make sure it wasn't one of those ranting posts that are completely one sided and hateful. I do NOT want to be one of those bloggers. I have tried to see mostly good and have managed to see the good in everything, even recent events. However, it has been mentioned that as a leaver-of-Nunvaut and one who hasn't signed a media form (promising not the inform the media of anything, even after my departure), I am in a unique position to inform new recruits about the 'truth' about living and working in the north. So this is my attempt to do that.
Let me first say this: this year has been tough for a lot of reasons. I arrived in Nunavut with a lot weighing on me. I was vaguely aware of how sick my father was and I was worried about him. In October I was informed that if I ever wanted to see him again, I better come ASAP and QSO (the school board I was working for) was extremely generous in granting me special leave to assist me in going to visit him for one last time. Apparently, this type of leave is extremely rare, especially for new Nuanvut teachers. I think I have my principal to thank for his insistance on the need for this leave. I was gone for a little over a week and the day I got back my dog was attacked by another dog and harmed enough that he bled out in 24 hours, internally. A month later my father passed away. On our Christmas break I attended my father's funeral, my mother having held it for my benefit. This year almost broke me emotionally, psychologically and financially (trips out are EXPENSIVE).
So I arrived with my high hopes: I was going to teach in this extreme place, I was going to do well AND I was going to get my Masters of Education degree in three years through a university who offered online MEd degrees. Even though I was going to teach grade 7/8 (which is not a grade I ever did well with), I was going to be able to meet the challenge, even though it was hard. The reality was a little harder to bear than I thought.
The realities are this: often places in Nunavut don't offer internet, even though they say they do. My house didnt have the option of having the internet, no matter how much money I was willing to throw at it. It was just in a bad spot for the Qiniq servers to reach. Also: The schools boards in Nunavut have blocked many useful sites from use, including all social media, all images (Good luck in making those powerpoint presentations at work!), all data sharing (so don't store your resources on SkyDrive or Dropbox!), all video sites (goodbye YouTube science experiments, goodbye all Prezi!) and many others. For someone who had planned on getting their MEd in 'Technology in Education' this was EXTREMELY frustrating, especially since the people that hired me were fully aware of what I was hoping to accomplish. If they had told me, I would have taken the job offer in the NWT instead.
Here is another frustration you should know about in Nunavut: some of the principals in Nunavut think that since they are in the north, they can get away for things that would have ended their careers quickly in the southern provinces. Sexual harrassment, put-downs of their staff, physical altercations between themselves and students as young as kindergarten age, and the lack of support of their staff is common place in some of these schools. I have personally been in the position of witnessing most of the former and have heard stories from teachers who have taught in other places in the north before coming to the village I was teaching in. I was told by my principal that 'almost anyone' could become an administrator because they were so desperate. All it takes is an acceptance into the two week program which is supposed to train principals, and you are fully qualified to run an entire school! I was offered a position on that training program myself and turned it down. I didn't feel that I was going to be able to run a school WELL because I only had 6 years experience as a teacher. How many people have their own ambitions blind them to the realities of their experience, I wonder? I want to add, however, that I am sure there are mostly dedicated, committed principals in most of the schools in the NU but my experience has been that there is some that are not and you should be prepared for the fact that you might have an incompetent one. If that happens, make sure you back up all the things he/she tells you with facts from other sources because often incompetent principals will cover up their inadequacies by blaming their staff.
I have been fortunate, I think, in that I have been able to work with people who were fully committed, and mostly qualified, for their positions. The teachers I have worked with fall into several categories: 1)The old-timers who have been there forever and know the score on absolutely everything. Get on their good side because they are the best resources in the school! In a system where principals are recycled every 2 or 3 years, you need those teachers who have been there for 15 years on your side to let you know how things really are. However, they are hard to get close to because they have been burned several times and are usually a bit cynical. 2)The 'feed the children' teachers. They usually feel as if the only important thing in the community is making sure the children are fed. They often use their own personal resources to accomplish this and are adamant that their goals is the most important one in the school. 3) The "education is key" teachers who feel that the real goal of their experience is providing a top-notch education to the children who would, otherwise, be subject to the constant degradation of their education due to the lure of lowering expectations, rendering the possiblity of higher education completely unattainable. 4) The new teacher from teacher's college: I was this person in my first year. Stars in my eyes, beliefs that didn't match reality at ALL. You can usually find them weeping in the staff room at their breaks (JUST KIDDING). Okay, this is an over generalization. I met one that seeemed quite cynical already because he had already lived in another part of Nunavut. He preached that lowering your expectations would help you cope with the difficult situation of teaching in Nunavut. He told us once whose philosphy that was and from what book but I have forgotten. 5) The "heads down" teacher. The one who keeps their head down, has been there for about 3-5 years and is in survival mode. This doesn't mean they are not doing their job, just that keeping their head down is a coping mechanism and it usually works well.
Aside from me categorizing the teachers I have met, I still stick to the idea that most of us are committed people. So what happens up there? The amusing anecdotes doesn't tell the whole picture, does it? Here will likely be your experience in your first year in the Arctic if you are in an Inuit community (that's my only experience, so I will not speak for the Dene teachers or those of other aboriginal communities):
-You will spend most of your tme frustrated because of the lack of motivation on the part of the students. They will not do homework, they will not show up half the time and some of them will check out entirely of the process and you will wonder why they even come to school at all.
-You will call parents and find out that the apathy is family-wide. So what if their kid doesn't do homework? So what if they are late, or disrespectful, or non-attending. It is either your fault or the fault of another kid in the class. NOT their kid's fault, for sure.
-You will be blamed for most of the problems.
-if you choose to move to Nunavut, any opinions you have will be silenced. I personally received a "cease and desist" email from the union president because of some tweets. Look it up yourself if you are wondering what horrid things I said to warrant such a threat (@justgolda on twitter about November, 2012 time). The truth is that Nunavut government is afraid of criticism and you will not be allowed to express opinions as you would in any southern provinces. Also, if you teach in Nunavik, you can be fired for teaching evolution because your contract expressly forbids it.
-Your principal might not support you AT ALL. Ever. Or even worse, only sometimes and not in any discernable pattern so that you never really know what's going to happen if you send a kid to the office. Will he be punished or rewarded? You have a 30% chance of it being some kind of reprimand.
- You may have your windows broken at night because the kids are frustrated with you or think it's funny to terrorize you at night AND they know there won't be any consequences if they throw rocks at your windows.
- You may have little resources. Textbooks are almost non-existant. Many students in your class will not be able to read, regardless of the level they have managed to attain. YOu will wonder how they got this far. You will conclude that the teachers before you gave up but they probably didn't.
-The principal may not know what is going on. He or she may give you a bad evalutation for no good reaon. Don't take it too much to heart. It's not about competence up here, it's about other things entirely.
-You may not have a great place to live. YOu will most certainly run out of water and not be able to have a shower at some point.
DONT BRING YOUR CHILDREN UP HERE PLEASE!! I did this twice and I have to say this about this issue: Qualluunaat children DO NOT belong in the north! They are treated horribly by daycares and schools and in the community. Very, very few children leave the north unscathed by racism and intolerance.
Here are some stories from my own experience to help you decide whether or not to bring your child north:
The first place I taught in the arctic was in Nunavik. For the most part this community was good for me. It challenged me, I met the challenge and I was pretty happy with how it was going. However, I had brought my 7 year old daughter. The second year we were there she had a first year teacher and things started going badly. She started coming home with bruises and started getting real quiet about everything. Around November it had become really noticable and her claims that she had fallen were starting to sound really hollow. When it all came out it turned out she had being beaten everyday at school by other kids. She was suicidal at 8 years old because her self esteem had been eroded to such a degree that she believed she didn't deserve to live. I got her out of that community within a week for her own safety, both emotional and physical. The principal's first reaction was that she 'deserved it'. I don't know how I stopped myself from punching her, but I did. It took my daughter YEARS of therapy to overcome this experience.
The second experience I had in the north was in Nunavut. My son was 3 years old when we arrived and I figured that since he was younger, we wouldnt have the same problems. He started coming home from daycare in November saying that he hated 'those teachers' and the kids were biting and kicking him. He also came home one day and told me that he was 'white, like popcorn" and showed me that his legs were 'white too'. I was surprised that either he noticed or that someone had pointed it out to him. He was THREE! I didn't think that kids even saw in colour at that age. I still don't really know what happened at that daycare but he wasn't happy there. From what I saw in the school, I wouldn't want him to attend there either. The teachers were committed, caring teachers but they had no support from the administration and their ability to deal with students who were troubled was so limited. That itself would put my child at a disadvantage in school, in my opinion.
PLEASE DONT BRING YOUR CHILDREN UP TO THE ARCTIC!!! The only exception I can think of is if you manage to land yourself a great position in one of the major communities like Yellowknife, Whitehorse or Iqaluit. I have been told that is different.
I recently read a really hateful blog about the place I was supposed to move to, Tianjin, China and it made me sick to my stomach to read it. I really didn't want to be one of the ranters online, whining about a disappointing experience where I expected first world conditions in the north. I didn't. I had high expectations but not, I believe, unrealistic. I only wish to tell you what you are really in for so that you are not surprised when you get there. My experience was unique, everyone's is.
Our next move is going to be a totally different place, China. It was always my goal to move overseas and teach there. It's the reason that I wanted to get my MEd degree, because I wanted to teach overseas and it was better to have a post graduate so I could qualify to get the better jobs. However, I think I'm okay with floating about the world, gaining knowledge about new cultures every few years. If you follow me on justgolda.com, you will hear about my new experiences, untainted by the old one in Nunavut.
If you are up north still, good for you! There were some great people up there and I loved the quiet and the beauty! If you are heading up north, make sure you read everything you can get your hands on, both good and bad, and make your decision based on ALL the information. I know that nothing could have persuaded me from trying it and I am glad I did, just so I can now look back on my life without regrets for cliffs-not-leaped-off and things-not-tried.