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

Teaching, Learning, and Life on Alaska's North Slope

It seem so surreal back then- leaving Minnesota for what felt like the final time- On March 28th, 2001. I was leaving my hometown, Blackduck and staringt a trek to Alaska; a journey that I hoped would lead me to opportunities in education; opportunities that my hometown did not offer me.

I left Blackduck and my friends and family to look for something. That something was both concrete and abstract. I knew I wanted to teach. I had spent the better part of the last 6 year reading and studying history (and was ready to share, ready to start my mission).

But I was also searching for something less clear, something ill defined. It was always in opposition to what I was leaving. I was leaving family, my support system, and the very land that I grew up on. Barry Lopez (Arctic Dreams) may say I was leaving an essential part of my nature, the basis of my memories.

However, I was unfulfilled in Minnesota. After completing college and failing to get into graduate school (U of W at Madison) I knew I had to start teaching. But Minnesota was not offering that opportunity and my hometown school said we are proud of you but you cannot teach OUR children. It was an existential time and I had to make a choice.

My friend Jim (Nissen) recommended a book called "Into the Wild" about a young man names Chris McCandless. The book spoke to me about getting out in the world and finding my way. It helped me see that my destiny was up to me and that my future was likely to be in Alaska. I will always be grateful to Jim for that recommendation.

I headed to Alaska to teach and to learn. I had a degree in history and the knowledge that a difference could be made. I had teachers that made a difference in my life through the content they taught (history, philosophy literature) or the way they took the time to build relationships. I had a model and a path; now I had to "follow my bliss" (Campbell).

So now, after 15 years, 5 school district, hundreds of students, and many stories of life in Alaska, I am taking the time to reflect on those lessons.

To those who came before me, thanks for holding the candle; for those who follow: look at my tracks, but blaze your own trail.

I study history because I owe something to the past- to my parents and grandparents, but also to the collective wisdom and experience that has been passed on. I have a responsibility to pass on my tips of the road and tricks of the trade.

May the river be smooth in your journey (Conroy) and may the weather allow you to catch your plane. (Biberg).

MB
ATQ, AK

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