I am where I am meant to be
Oki! I have finished my first year of teaching second grade in Browning, Montana. By the time you read this I will have started my second year of teaching. Some have asked me if I will be staying in the same school for the 2018-19 school year, and the answer is yes. Was it an easy year? No. I struggled with loneness, fears, the cold, snow, wind, health issues and teaching my students. I have overcome most of my fears, however, and I’m not nearly as lonely as I had been.
Part of being a new teacher is making mistakes and correcting them, I was able to correct most of them by the end of last school year, and I am going to start the year off right this year now that I know how. As for the cold, snow and wind, now I know what to expect. I know to stock up on the heat packs to drop into my boots and gloves. My health is still a struggle, but I know how to have good days. And I know some of what causes me to have bad days, and I will be ok.
In a past article, I stated that I would be teaching my class a few traditional games for their last culture day. One game involves participants trying to get an arrow through a rolling hoop. Another game requires a player to guess in which hand another player is hiding a small rock.
After teaching the two games to my class, I explained to them about these articles and asked them to write about what they learned that day. One of my students explained the rock and fist game by saying, “…the rules are to get the rock and put it behind your back and chose a hand if you got it rigt (right) you get a stick ouns (once) you get 3 you win.”
He is correct. One player hides a rock in her hand behind her back, and the other player looks at the hands and chooses the hand he believes holds the rock. If he is correct, he gets a stick. The first player to get three sticks wins that round.
Another student explained the hoop and arrow game by saying, “Today on Culture day I learned hoop and stick because I got to make my own and it’s like I am fishing.” She, and my other students, enjoyed being able to create and modify the game as they progressed. You see, in this game the students are given a pipe cleaner and a dowel rod with a sting hot glued to it. I showed them how to create a large hoop out of the pipe cleaner and modeled how to tie it to the rod.
Traditionally, the stick would be a piece of willow, but I made do with what I could find. The reason I used the pipe cleaner is it allowed them to make a large hoop and create smaller hoops as they progressed. The goal is to get the rod into the hoop. The boy who explained the rock and fist game drew a picture of both of these games.
A lot has changed over the 12 months since I moved to Montana. As I look back over the last year, I am amazed at where I am today, but I still have more to change, more growing to do, personally and professionally. The rest of this article will be about the growth I see, and some of what I still need to change or make a part of my life.
These articles have come to a close; however, for me it is just a beginning. Last fall, I was filled with trepidation. Would I be able to handle my new job? Would I be good enough? Did I get in too far over my head? Would I be accepted?
Those questions no longer worry me. I am where I am meant to be. Do I still have things to work on, things to learn? Of course. Teaching is a profession where you must always change and learn from experiences.
I enter this year with the knowledge that my life will never be as it once was. I will never be able to eat without caution, due to a health issue. I will never be able to forget that I have met and care for children who often don’t have enough food at home. When I was recently in Pennsylvania for the summer, my young nephew said he was starving. We had just put the snacks away to clear the table to set it for the meal. I looked at him and told him that he doesn’t know what it is to be starving.
Professionally, I recently did some training in which I found that so much of my behavior management methods were really potential triggers for my students. My techniques included clapping and flipping the lights, all of which could trigger a negative response from my students. I am left wondering if I had been more aware last year, could I have avoided the behaviors that I saw?
As I go into my second year teaching here, those techniques are gone. I can not, will not, traumatize my students in any way. The training also offered other techniques I will be implementing this year. I guess what I am saying is I have learned that students and their experiences bring different needs into classrooms in different areas of the nation.
It’s hard to compare my life in Lansford, Pennsylvania, to my life in Cut Bank, Montana. Where do I begin? Both are small towns; both were created as a result of work done there. Lansford was a coal town; Cut Bank was a railroad town. In Lansford, you learn about the Molly McGuires, Irish coal miners who wanted better working and living conditions, and the legend of the handprint in the old Jim Thorpe jail cell left by a convicted Molly McGuire, who claimed it would stay on the wall if he was innocent. The handprint is still there. We toured Asa Packer’s mansion and the church that had an elevator donated by a member of the Packer family.
In Browning, you learn about the Blackfeet culture. You learn about Napi, the lost children, buffalo and star quilts. You learn to honor and remember who you are -- what tribe you are from and your link to the life of your grandparents. Field trips are to the National Park, historic sites in the area like Ghost ridge, the Mission School, a site to see the tipi rings.
Both towns have different food. I can’t order pierogis, potato pancakes or bleenies here, but I can get cheese curds, fry bread, Indian tacos and spicy school food. It’s so spicy that I can barely eat it, but my young second graders eat it like it isn’t spicy at all.
What is my take-away? I encourage you, if you have a chance, to explore a new area when a job pops up outside of your comfort zone, take the risk even thought it’s away from family, but you feel led to go, and you know it’s legal and safe.
If you give your best, you may find yourself in a spot that you can’t believe. The day I finished this article, I had just said good-bye to my mother and younger sister, but I know that I am not alone. I find myself enjoying and treasuring my time with family more than I ever have. I know I won’t see or hug them except for Christmas and next summer. If you find yourself being led, go. This journey started based on faith, and I am still relying on my faith every day.
Thank you for reading about my journey. Nii tak ko to mat tsi no, I will see you again.