I reached out to Sara a little while ago because I really wanted to feature teaching in Alaska as part of this Teachers Abroad Series. I know technically Sara isn't "teaching abroad" but Alaska is one of those places that is a world of its own, which is probably why I've always wanted to teach there! Unfortunately it can be a little tricky for South African teachers to get a teaching placement in the US of A, so I'll just admire Sara's teaching situation from a far ...
KD: Tell us about yourself - who you are, where you are currently living and teach and your teaching experience.
SL: My name is Sara Lucas and I am currently living in Kenai, AK. I teach at Kenai middle school which is less than a mile from my house. I am currently teaching 6th grade Math and Science in the morning and Algebra in the afternoon. This is my first year in Kenai, but my 6th year teaching. I previously taught for 5 years in Toksook Bay, AK with is about 500 miles west of Anchorage.
KD: What made you decide to teach in Alaska?
SL: When I was about ready to graduate from Hanover College, in Indiana, I was able to attend a job fair close to my parents, and where I grew up. I jumped at the opportunity just hoping to get some experience interviewing, but not really looking for a job, as I wanted to leave the state. I was excited to travel to a new place and thought that there would not be many, if any, opportunities that would take me to a place other than the midwest. While there I looked for every opportunity that would allow me to travel to a new place. There were many mission type teaching positions that I visited with first, but quickly realized this was not for me. (I was a about to be a new grad with no money and these positions required me to fundraise my salary.) I then found the Lower Kuskokwim School District and signed up for an interview. I interviewed and loved the thought of going to Alaska. A few weeks later they contacted me for another interview with the assistant superintendent who was in charge of hiring recommendations. From there I was given the opportunity to interview with the new site administrator for Toksook Bay. Almost immediately after that I was offered a position. I had no other offers at the time so I jumped on it.
KD: What’s it like living there?
SL: Where I am at now is really no different from any small town in the United States. We have staples like Walmart and Subway. It is about 3 hours to Anchorage by car or a 20 minute plane ride. The biggest difference is the amount of flying or driving that I do here. When I do leave it takes me a while to get to where I am going. I also have done way more flying than I ever imagined since moving to Alaska 6 years ago. When I was living in Toksook Bay I would travel at least once a month and it was all by plane. Most villages are inaccessible by roads and the only way in or out is by air travel.
KD: What do you love most about teaching where you are?
SL: I love being on the road system now. There were perks to being in a village with simplicity of life being the best part. I didn’t have many other worries outside of school. Everything in the village revolved around the school and life was easy. I am now thankful to live in a place where I can drive and go to a legitimate grocery stores (with fresh foods). I have also started playing hockey with a local women’s team, Kenai River Queens. I had never played before but am loving learning the sport and the great group of women it has connected me with.
KD: What’s the most challenging aspect of teaching in this part of the world?
SL: The hardest part is being far away from my family. I miss out on a lot of family gatherings and functions, but I love the state of Alaska. It is a constant pull and one day I will probably try to move closer to my family. For now, I am happy where I am and know that I can always call home when I need to.
KD: What advice do you have for others wanting to teach and travel abroad?
SL: My advice is to go for it! I have never regretted my decision to move to bush Alaska right out of college. I love to travel and getting a job in a far away place was perfect.
KD: How can I teach where you are?
SL: Go to http://www.alaskateacher.org/. ATP is a great source of information, and has a database that posts all job openings in the state. They also host a job fair in Anchorage and attend a few others in the lower 48. They have a wealth of information for teachers who are newly moving to the state as well.
For some reason it is always encourage and a pleasant surprise when other teachers enjoy teaching in rural communities as much a I do. I definitely have teaching-travel envy! Alaska will forever remain on my extensive list of teaching destinations for the future.