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Leading By Example, in the 21st Century...

A teaching career in a 500 words or less

The story of my teaching career, like the life of Black Beauty, is the tale of the people in it. On the brief essay I would like to review and reflect on my 15-year teaching career and to gauge whether it is time for a change of venue at the end of the year.

The genesis of my career as a teacher starts with the several learning communities that I belonged to a young student in Blackduck, Minnesota, (1975-1988), the Marines (1990-94) and my time at Bemidji State (1988-89. 1994-98). The formative experiences provide me a sound basic education (Blackduck), allowed me to see the world and learn about diversity (USMC) and to focus on the study of history and philosophy (BSU. Oxford).
I feel fortunate to have been a member of each of these learning communities and would not be who I am with each one. They each in turn provided me with the knowledge, tools, and experience to be come a classroom teacher.

In 1998 I started teaching in Cass Lake, Minnesota as a student teacher. I did not realize it then, but it was the beginning of a "long strange trip" that brought the realities of teaching and learning home to me. I was a latecomer to the game of teaching- not getting started until I was 28, but after my time in the Marines and a solid course of study at BSU, I want ready to "take on the world".

During the 99-2000 school year I traveled to California to teach at Desert High School on board Edwards Air Force Base. This was tough duty, but in hindsight may have been my most meaningful year of teaching. I taught 3 sections of US history and 2 sections of world history and had 130 students between those five classes. It was a trial by fire and I was ready to return home after the school year, but it was an experience that I would not trade for anything except a Vikings Super Bowl win.
The follow year, I returned home to Blackduck to try my hand at substitute teaching. It did not work out and I bumped heads with my old nemesis (TM) and generally did not keep busy. It was neat to be a certified teacher in my hometown, but disappointing that I could not make more of the opportunity. I did get a chance to coach wresting for another year for the BCLB Bears wrestling team (1995-99, 2000-01) and that allowed me to regain my confidence and plan for a trip to Alaska.
In March of 2001 I headed to Alaska to seek my fortune. I knew that this was my best and maybe my last chance to make a go of things. I attended the job fair at the Hotel Captain Cook in Anchorage and signed on with the first district that offered me a contract. That happened to be the Lower Yukon School District.
I traveled to Mountain Village in August of 2001 and moved in my little home by the river. I remember looking out the window across the wide Yukon River and thought to myself "this is kind of cool" and felt that I was doing something worthwhile. I was in Mountain Village on September 11, 2001 and remember how surreal it felt to be so far away from NYC and experiencing it vicariously through a variety of media.

In 2002, I spent the first of 2 year in Kotlik, Alaska on the end of the Yukon River. This was one of my best periods of teaching. It did not end well, but for the first year and a half I enjoyed my time and felt a strong connection to my students.

From 2004-2009 I moved down to the Kuskokwim to the village of Tuluksak. Many things can be said about TLT and it was a little rough around the edges, but it is also where I met Erika and where my son Rafael was born. It was also the place where I spend the longest period of time (5 years). I also taught summer school for 4 years while with the Yupiit School District. There was happiness and sadness in Tuluksak and all I can say is that I am thankful for the time I spent in the village and remember many of the students and community members fondly.
In 2009 I transferred to Delta Cyber School and spent the next 3 years with them- 2 years with the Cyber School and 1 year up in Delta Junction. This was interesting duty and the only time (so far) that I was able to teach in Anchorage and be relatively close to my family.

After I left Delta-Greely in 2012 I went to Nome for long-term substitute position. This was kind of an interesting position as I was able to teach both US history and Spanish (even though I do not speak very good Spanish). I was also able to experience the end of the Iditarod sled dog race in Nome.

From Nome I signed on with the Iditarod Area School District as a principal/ teacher. It was a unique experience as I was at a single teacher site and was responsible for all classes in all grades. I lived in a little log cabin all burnt firewood all winter. It was a memorable year, but the fit was not right. That was during the 2014-15 school year.

Then I had a chance to go to "The Slope" (the north slope of Alaska) to teach high school English. I traveled to the Inupiaq village of Atqasuk (60 miles south of Barrow) in August of 2015 to start one of the toughest teaching assignments so far. I am not sure how this story ends (I might get rich and I might get busted) but the long strange trip continues.

It has taken me a long time to realize but I may not be cut out to be a classroom teacher. This is likely my last year of teaching and for sure my last year of teaching in the Bush. It is unfortunate that I am contemplating a career change at this stage if my life, but it is what it is. I cannot complain too much about what opportunities I have found in Alaska. It could have been better and it could have been worse, but I would not trade it for anything except maybe a bit more patience. (I will never be a doctor, as I would never have patients).
So the story of my life is the story of the people that have been in it and I have been fortunate to have some very good teachers and some interesting students. I do not know what the future will bring, but I know that all I have in today and this moment and I am thankful for that.

Yours in teaching and learning.


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Comment by Mark J Biberg on March 18, 2016 at 12:28pm

I am now in the process of contemplating what comes next in terms of teaching, counseling, or something else in the humanities.

Comment by Mark J Biberg on January 31, 2016 at 6:45am

John , I appreciate your comment. I sometimes think of that novel by Pat Conroy entitled "A River is Wide" (Conrack) in which the main characters laments, in hindsight, what little difference he made, in the grand scheme of things for the young people of Yamacraw Island. In a macro sense I sometimes feel like that; like the task of teaching and learning to great a task with too many things working against the process; but alas one has to fall back on the micro, the individual relationships between teacher and student; those teachable moments when students realize they are an equal partner in their education. I appreciate your comment and appreciate having a place (ANUAH) to stop by from time to time and join a conversation about history, change, and refection. Semper Gumby. Mark Biberg. ATQ, AK

Comment by John Trampush on January 30, 2016 at 8:51pm

Thank you for sharing this, Mark.  I've always appreciated your reflective practices and still do.  Been away from the site for a while, but am back now and starting to build reflective journalling into my weekly practices again.  Hope to talk with you more now (though our timing has never been very synchronous...)

Happy Trails,


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