Substitute teaching in Barrow: Inupiaq and sign but not music.


The subs in Barrow? Too few.

There might only be one or two.

    But my wife sure can teach

    When she signs, she’s a peach,

And she gives to her bargain its due.

Synopsis:  I’m a family practitioner from Sioux City, Iowa.  Avoiding burnout, I’m taking a sabbatical while my one-year non-compete clause winds down, having adventures, visiting family and friends, and working in out-of-the-way places.  Currently I’m on assignment at the hospital in Barrow, Alaska, the northernmost point in the United States.

Bethany came with me this trip, bearing good teaching credentials and looking for work as a substitute in the school system.

The schools pay the subs well.  When no slots exist for teachers, she fills in as an aid and earns more than she would have as a substitute teacher in Sioux City.

She’d emailed and called before we arrived.  She was well received at the high school and elementary school, but the middle school uses no subs.

She taught fifth grade here for a week.  Her students remember her favorably, and greet her by name when they see her.

Two different Special Education teacher has needed a replacement a couple of times.  Bethany in fact has a Master’s in Special Education.

The big surprise came when she was tapped to teach the Inupiat language immersion course in the elementary school.

She said, “I don’t speak a word of Inupiat.”

I said, “Yes you do.  Come on, umiaq, muktuk, mukluk, nalukataaq, qiviut, kiviq, uqpiagvik, anukvik, nanook, agvik, pahlayiikpiing…”

“Ok,” she said, “I don’t speak much more than a dozen words.”

“Nuvuk, anuk, tunniq…”

“Ok, ok, but that’s not speaking the language,” she said.

And she’s right; just because you can say a few words doesn’t mean you speak the language.

But Barrow’s twenty-first century language program has computers, and Bethany knows how to turn on a computer.

Today she taught sign language to the fourth grade.  Her Master’s specialty is Deaf and Hard of Hearing, and she signs well (even if she thinks she’s rusty).  She helps me from time to time with my deaf patients, one of them here in Barrow.

She helped as much as she could.  Unfortunately a language barrier is nothing compared to a sobriety barrier.

When the school here called her to substitute teach the music class, she refused.

She struggled with the music portion of her Master’s program.  For whatever reason, though she sings beautifully, carries a tune and keeps a beat, she failed every time she tried to learn to read music.  She approached her music professor at one point and said, “If you let me pass this course, I promise I’ll never take another music course for credit, and I’ll never try to teach music.  Look, I’m going to be teaching the deaf.”  That professor died while thinking it over, and his successor agreed.

Since then she has honored her end of the contract, even when the Sioux City music teachers all attend a conference at the same time, she has no other work and there are no other substitutes.

She is a woman of her word.

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One Response to “Substitute teaching in Barrow: Inupiaq and sign but not music.”

  1. mirriglassondarling Says:

    Hello, so I’m actually from Iowa City, Iowa (my Dad’s side of the family is from Cherokee, Iowa) and I’m moving to barrow here in the next week and a half or so. During my research I’ve run across this post a few times and been like, huh, another Iowan is up there already. I don’t have a job or place to stay for sure yet, (I know, my parents are freaking out) but I’m applying to substitute teach and looking for any advice or friends up there I could find. My name is Mirri and I am 24. If you or your wife would like to get in contact with me I would greatly appreciate it and any advice or help you can give me. My email is mirri888@yahoo.com. Sorry I feel really weird posting like this from the Juneau library of all places, but it can’t really hurt, right?

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