Arctic Update: April 23, 2014

It’s been a long while since my last post, as I have been struggling with what I should be putting here. I had the noble intention of actually filming some of my day-to-day activities, but the sticking point is the invasion of privacy for the kids and teachers that would require. There are also the usual laziness excuses, as I’ve been finding it difficult to sit down and write when I really should be. Since my last post I spent quite a while working as a substitute teacher’s aide fairly regularly. I had mostly been the Special Education (or “SpEd”) TA, working under Katrina’s mom, though rarely with her. I mostly went between classrooms and helped out as necessary, though I did spend most of my time with the “needier” kids. In this case, “Special Ed” is kind of an amorphous term, which covers anything from kids with actual brain damage (of which there are very, very few) to kids who need just a bit of a push to stay on task (which seems to be practically everybody). There aren’t any Downs Syndrome kids or anyone with a really serious disability, but there seem to be more than the fair share of kids who are just a little bit… off.

In the past few weeks, I’ve been able to spend more time in my “official” capacity as the library aide, which I prefer to think of as “librarian” since I am essentially running the place when I’m on the clock. Being a librarian jives well with my borderline-OCD love of organization, and I spent my first few weeks just getting the shelves straightened up. The library had been without a dedicated curator for some time, and the Dewey Decimal System had suffered for it. I have really been getting a kick out of it. I get to spend my day in a roomy office full of books, occasionally helping teachers wrangle their kids when they bring them in, check out books for them, and scratch my organizational itch when they bring books back for me to check in and shelve. Which is better than spending all day with the little monsters.

Maybe I’m looking back through rosy-tinted nostalgia glasses, but I don’t remember primary school being that much of a challenge for me or for my friends. I may also have a skewed view of the whole thing since I was one of those notoriously sharp little kids, who soaked up new information like a sponge. Though, I had a hard time keeping my butt in my seat, much to the consternation of all of my teachers. But from what I’ve seen of these classes, there just isn’t that kid, and everybody needs what appear to be simple concepts explained half a dozen times before they even appear to grasp it. Even then, it seems like the vast majority just don’t care. It could be a cultural thing, or a byproduct of living in this bizarre little blank world, but so many of these kids just don’t seem to want to learn anything. Then again, maybe that’s what every kid looks like from the teacher’s viewpoint; even us, back in the day.

That said, I like most of the kids involved, and when I’m substitute aiding, there are some classes where I’m just there if needed (which turns out to be not all that often), earning the easiest fat check ever. I’ve been scheduled with the kindergarteners around the time they are doing various art projects, so then my job is to just build stuff out of Lego bricks with them for half-an-hour. But it’s not all sunshine and rainbows, and there are complicated, bitter, and petty grudges and squabbles between some of the staff that catches me in the middle. This is part of the reason I’ve been struggling to write anything about any of this. I don’t know who’s reading this now (or who might in the future), and bad mouthing your co-workers is never a good idea. I’m not even sure I have the whole picture. But I can’t really talk about what I do, or my feelings about it without going into this minefield. So, no names, okay?

The basic gist is there are certain people who do not like Deb Rix for reasons I can only speculate on (my bitter inner self believes its because she actually cares about the job, and they don’t, and that makes them feel guilty), and since I am here because of her (specifically because of her daughter, who is here because of her), they don’t like me either. These people have been on something of a crusade to make her life here miserable, in the hope that she will leave, and have directed some of that attention at me as well. I have a thinner skin than Deb, but I’m more stubborn and absolutely do not tolerate petty retribution games, and I’ve made this clear enough that I’ve discouraged pretty much all of it.

What grinds my gears about the whole thing is that I have a rather comfortable daily schedule for working in the library, but I can get a phone call asking me to “come in as soon as I can”, because somebody didn’t come to work today, and didn’t feel like telling anyone about it, so the principal is scrambling to fill the position. Before I was given command of the library, this call usually came right around the time I’d assumed I wouldn’t be needed and settled in to do something around the house (once while I was in the shower). It still comes occasionally, since the librarian position is deemed expendable, but it’s less of a hassle now, since it only means coming in slightly earlier, and doing a slightly different job, rather than being the difference between coming in at all or not. For about five or six weeks straight, I worked as a “substitute” every day, with no prior warning, for a variety of reasons. The kids probably got more used to me as the Special Ed TA than the the actual one. It wasn’t that she disappeared for a month and a half or anything, but she was capable of subbing for other people; so some days she was just gone, or someone else was, and she was filling in for them, which meant I had to fill in for her. It seems to be the exceptionally rare day when everyone actually shows up to work.

Unfortunately for Katrina, her job as school bus driver came to an end a few weeks ago when the school bus itself died mechanically. It wasn’t anything she did, of course; the climate up here is murder on vehicles. I don’t think I’ve seen a working one that is more than five or six years old. But, without a school bus, the bean counters in Barrow decided they could save a buck by laying off the licensed bus driver. The kids now get to and from school with the aid of a small fleet of SUVs, which can be driven by anyone with a regular driver’s license. She has since been filling in where I used to, which works for me, as only the oddest circumstances (which happen more often than you think around here) take me away from my library.

Despite the workplace drama and the awful climate, we actually rather like it here. Yes, our internet is abysmally slow, but we can watch Netflix, and listen to Giants games on KNBR. I don’t think I will try playing any of my XBox games online, though, since the latency would be a severe handicap. We know the eternally popular MMO, World of Warcraft, (Katrina’s favorite pastime) will not connect, though the rather similar Star Wars-branded competitor The Old Republic runs fine for us. So, Katrina’s had to switch her loyalties, but has managed to talk me into joining her for this one, when I could never quite fall in love with WoW.

We’ve got a date set for the Wedding this summer, by the way. We’ve been engaged for nearly three years now, and (with some prodding from the mother division) have decided its time to follow through. The plan at the moment is to host the shindig at the Sinnott’s house (one of the Rixes mountain neighbors, who have a nice place for such a thing, and have volunteered), so we’ll be having a rather low-key wedding in Chugiak, on July 11th. As of writing, I have heard definite “maybes” from my out-of-state friends. I can’t blame them for any trepidation, though. Alaska is a ways away, none of them have been here, and I haven’t seen most of them in years. That’s why we’re not having the wedding in Kaktovik. I don’t think I could talk anyone into coming up for that.


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