What is home? Where your heart lies, or the address where you live?
In 1994 and 1995, a TV series aired called “Christy” staring Kellie Martin. In it, a 19-year-old Christy leaves her parents’ home to teach in Cutter Gap, a fictional Appalachian village. In the pilot of the series, Christy watches the train as it leaves her at a lonely, isolated station.
“That train was my last link with home,” she says. “Everything dear and familiar was disappearing over the horizon.” Why do I mention this? I mention it, because on Aug. 2, 2017, it echoed my thoughts perfectly. I was sitting in my car with my puppy, Faith, as I watched the cars containing my family drive south on Interstate 15, as I needed to head West on Highway 2 to my new home in Cut Bank, Montana.
My name is Carina Stoves. I was born in Bethlehem and lived in Allentown for 11 years before moving to Lansford. In ninth grade, I decided to become a teacher and that decision did not change as I completed high school. In 2011, I graduated from Bloomsburg University with my degree in elementary education. While I was in college, I heard that Pennsylvania trains about 80 percent more teachers than it needs and that most education majors end up leaving the state to work. I never imagined I would be one of those graduates. Yet, here I am.
After college, I spent one year as a paraprofessional and an emergency substitute teacher. The next four years, I was a regular substitute teacher in the same district. I worked over 100 days every school year as a substitute teacher in the district’s elementary schools. Like most of the districts in the area, however, it was not planning to hire anyone anytime soon. So I started to look elsewhere.
Most districts want two-to-three years of experience, and subbing does not count. I could count the two months I was a long-term substitute, which means I was in the room daily as the teacher, until the teacher returned.
That April, I came across a website where schools throughout the nation, and some other nations, post positions they need to fill. I was applying in districts in states including Florida, North Carolina and Georgia. You get the point. They were districts in need, in warmer climates, in the same time zone of Pennsylvania, and near my family, but my application was not among those selected.
Then one Monday evening, I received a call from a school on a Native American reservation in Browning, Montana. A school official saw my resume on the site and wanted to conduct a phone interview with me the next day. By the weekend, I found out that the school was checking my references. The next Tuesday, just one week after the interview, I received a call followed by an email to offer me the job, in the grade of my dreams. I was ecstatic!
The job was an answer to three very specific prayer requests I had made. The first prayer request was that if I couldn’t find the right job, it would find me. My second prayer request was that if an offered job was the right one for me, I would not be allowed to mess up the interview. My final prayer request was that if an offered job was not the right one for me, the interviewer would lose my number and email and not be able to contact me.
This job, after five years of praying for the first request, found me -- on a website designed for schools and educators to find each other. The interview went fairly well even though I know I did poorly on a couple of the questions, especially ones dealing with Native American culture. And finally, since they both called me and then emailed me within a half hour’s time, they obviously didn’t lose my contact information. All three of my prayer requests had been answered. This had to be the right job for me.
Cut Bank, Montana, where I now live, is about 35 miles east of Browning which is part of the Blackfoot Native American Reservation. Browning is near the base the Rocky Mountains and has one road in and one road out. After going through Browning, continuing on Highway 2, you end up in East Glacier Park on the eastern side of the Rocky Mountains. In a few places you can pull off of the road to enjoy the scenery and of course, take pictures. In one of the spots, a waterfall cascades down the rocks. The scenery truly is breathtaking up in the mountains -- looking up at the sky, across the fields and over the slight hills.
Cut Bank is 2,188 miles from where I grew up and I’ll admit to experiencing a sense of loneliness and isolation as well as feelings of hope and confusion. Hope, because I truly believe that I was sent here for a reason, I just don’t know what that is right now. Confusion, because the culture is different and Native American language is posted throughout the school. As is expected, there are many cultural differences and challenges to be faced. My plan is to share my experiences with you as I explore those differences and meet those challenges.
Slowly, I am starting to get used to being here. I can only trust that when I start working with the children, I will finally feel at home. I recall a college professor asking my class what normal is? My current question is this: What is home? Is it where your heart lies, or is it the physical address where you live? In time, hopefully both will be the same for me.