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.
Oki! As I sit here, I wonder what I should share. Should I share my current thoughts, feelings and fears? Or should I go the safer route and share more from my first few months?
I know the purpose of writing this column is to share the challenges I face, in addition to the culture, but the challenges from this month are still problematic and still too close to the surface. Instead of the current events, I think I will take you back in time to when I first moved here.
Oki! When I moved to Montana, people here asked me if I was used to snow. Was I ready for the winters? I responded that I was from the Poconos in Pennsylvania, a part of the Appalachian mountain range. Sure, I was ready for winter and snow.
Oki! When I moved to Montana, I thought that I knew how to be a great teacher. I knew what the textbooks said, and I did really well in my classes at Lehigh Carbon Community College and Bloomsburg University, but boy have I learned a lot in the past few months.
Yes, I know the facts and theories, however I didn’t know how to put them into practice. In fact, I am still working on it; teaching is quite a difficult job. I think the books leave out the part about students bringing in their own personalities, attitudes and experiences to your classroom and how one deals with all that.
Oki! Once the school year began, my mood began to rise and I started to feel like I was home. Yes, I still missed my family, but things seemed brighter. Of course, it was helpful that my aunt was flying out to see me at the end of the month.
A lot of things happened in September. Our air quality was low because wildfires were at their peak. However, the snow quickly fixed that at the end of the month. It was also the month that I moved from an apartment into a house. My pup, Faith, was too loud during the day for us to remain in the apartment.
Let me take you back to the month of August 2017. In my first piece, I discussed my feelings as my family drove away and left me to my new path in Montana. During that month, I found my neighbors to be a little standoffish. Only a few would talk to me, and they only had tales of terror about my new home, Browning. One neighbor even went so far as to say that I am too white to teach in Browning, and I needed to be stern, strict, and hide all my feelings in the hopes that my students and their families would be OK with me.
Have you ever felt like a total hypocrite? As I was preparing for my big move, everyone told me I was so brave, courageous and adventurous. The truth is I was terrified. What if I wasn’t what those who hired me were expecting? Would I encounter racism? After all, white settlers stole the land, sent the natives to reservations and created boarding schools for native children that were things from nightmares. Would I offend them without knowing?
Oki, means hello in the Blackfeet language. Part of teaching on the reservation, and actually anywhere in the state of Montana, requires one to include the native culture in the classroom. I admit I’m still trying to learn the language.
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.