Marshall had 48 children so it was allocated three teachers for its K-8 school. The teachers, not their degrees, guided decisions about who would teach a specific content area. A secondary factor that affected teacher workload arrangements was that one of the three teachers, the Principal Teacher, had some administrative duties.
The Principal Teacher (PT) made the final decision about student groups: K-3, 13 students; Grades 3-6, 12 students; and Grades 6-8, 23 students. His second decision was about content assignment areas. Besides teaching grades K-3, I was to teach reading and writing to all 48 students. Jed would teach Grades 3-6, plus social studies to all students and he would cover Grades 6-8. When we taught the PT’s students he had time for the administrative tasks that were part of his job. Placement of students in Grades 3 and 6 were dependent on their grade and subject readiness.
We asked about science, art, music, and PE and were told by the Principal Teacher they were not necessary. He felt students just needed reading, writing, arithmetic, and maybe social studies. His attitude was if they remained in the village they didn’t need schooling. And, if they moved from the village they would only do menial work. We did not agree with his statement, but we somehow managed to keep our mouths shut and thoughts to ourselves. In our initial conversation with him we knew there were major education and philosophical differences.
Jed and I talked over how we would weave art, music, science and PE into our classroom groups. We felt confident we were adequately equipped for integrating the different content areas in our classrooms. At first the idea of teaching across eight grades was a bit overwhelming. But, thanks to the experienced bush teachers who provided instructional strategies for different grades we felt prepared to meet the needs of the wide range of students.
Jed and I worked together as a team in teaching reading, writing, math, and social studies. We were also weaving science and art into daily lessons. Integrating across curriculum became easier as we began utilizing Marshall community information into the development of the lessons. We remembered a trip we had taken on the Yukon River when we first arrived in Marshall. A friend had pointed out significant landmarks that we decided to use in drawing a map of Marshall.
Maps became real, making them more relevant, meaningful and useful as an educational instrument. Students wrote stories about the maps after we talked in class about their importance. The map of Marshall was expanded to include neighboring villages. From there we talked about including larger cities and communities in Alaska, such as Bethel, Anchorage, Fairbanks, Nome, and beyond.
Our interaction with people in Marshall was a welcomed resource that was tremendously useful in our lesson planning. Everyone was so friendly and open to both of us. The relationships we established with different community members provided us hope for the school year. Whenever we had ideas that we shared with the other teacher they were shot down, “We don’t do things like that out here in bush Alaska.” So, we stopped offering suggestions and just started doing our own planning. We learned quickly it was better to ask forgiveness, than permission.