Awesome # 30: Arctic Winter Sunrises

What’s awesome about arctic winter sunrises is the fact that they don’t demand the sacrifice of sleep. Obliging to the desires of one who wishes to have their sleep and the grandeur of a sunrise too, arctic winter sunrises wait until a less obtrusive time to grace arctic dwellers with their magnificence. But, unlike winter sunrises in the high arctic, which don’t occur until anywhere between 11:00 and noon, winter sunrises here don’t induce the same extreme northern winter fatigue.

Currently, the sun begins to rise shortly before 8:00. Closer to solstice, however, this is delayed until 8:30 or so. For the average working Tasiujamuit (I believe most people start work at 9:00 here), that affords ample time for one to do one’s various morning things before catching the sunrise at its crescendo en route to work.

With the school situated directly parallel to the bay, my 3 minute walk to work involves one of the more breathtaking panoramas in the village. In stunning contrast is a vibrant orange sky over the bay ice that’s a combination of crisp, untainted white and glacial blue. Between the two rises what’s either dusty arctic snow hovering in the wind just above the ice, or a fog that’s the beautiful consequence of tension between the sun’s warmth and the bay’s cold. Even at -50 degrees, I can stand for a moment and feel a hint of heat radiating from the sun where my face isn’t covered by coyote fur and scarf.

Regrettably, neither my words nor my camera adequately capture this arctic winter sunrise. But, in the hopes that a combination of the two will do it at least a little bit of justice, I will post 2 photos. I took these photos in late November from in front of the school. This was before the bay froze entirely, but when the sunrise was at it’s 8:30 AM peak.

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Awesome # 29: Cynthia

After extensive conversations with my friend in “The Big City”, I’d decided to go ahead and fork over the fare for the flight there to visit. I was to leave [Friday] evening and return [Sunday] – giving me, with sleep, a full 48 hours…

…When I’d arrived at the airport, there was a note taped to the door, handwritten on looseleaf in both English and Inuktitut. But in my state of euphoric anticipation, I walked right past it unseeing. My flight was cancelled.

The reasons behind the cancellation, I’m unaware other than it had something to do with a medi-vac and winds too strong to land.

Needless to say, I was disappointed. If you could fill a balloon up with the exhilaration I’d come to feel by the time I left my house to go to the airport, I felt what I’d imagine it would feel like deflating. And, I couldn’t help but be more than a little miffed. The airline had re-scheduled my flight for this afternoon, but seeing as that’d cut my mini-vacation clear in half, I requested to postpone my flight until next weekend – a request for which, to add insult to injury, I was told I’d be penalized with a preposterous fee of 100$.

This, I’d written on Saturday.

I was inspired to write this second post of awesome today after speaking with Cynthia – a reservations supervisor (I’m assuming) for the airline with which I booked my flight. Cynthia, because she has a heart, because she’s empathetic toward the frustration that can often accompany traveling in the north, and because she understands the essence of good customer service, kindly re-scheduled my flight to “The Big City” with no preposterous fee of 100$. Thank you Cynthia for being awesome.

Awesome # 28: Kamut Bread

Yesterday, between running and volleyball practice, I was hit with a twinge of domestic-ness. Specifically, I wanted to bake.

I was tired of the same old Jodie-fied version of bannock (I replace Crisco with apple sauce and regular flour with whole wheat – making for a bread much healthier, but much too dry to serve to other people without shame).

I was also out of whole wheat flour. I have been for awhile, but, determined not to order food cargo until now, I’d been using up the little bags of rye and spelt flour that I’d bought out of curiosity. Neither make a very good bannock and, fresh out of those ones, I assumed that kamut – the only flour I had left – would be no better.

I decided to step outside of my bread making comfort zone (that involves no more than 5 ingredients and no such thing as proofing or rising or timing anything other than the baking itself). I “googled” a recipe for easy kamut bread and found the recipe that I’ve copied below, in a post by a fellow WordPress blogger.

While I believe that my bread should have risen a bit more, it turned out into a delicious change of pace, hence today’s post of awesome: kamut bread.

Ingredients:

2 3/4 cups water
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/8 cup honey
1 package dry, active yeast
6 to 7 cups kamut flour

Directions:

Mix water, salt, oil, honey, and yeast together in a large mixing bowl. Stir to dissolve yeast.

Add five cups flour to the water/yeast mixture. Mix/stir slowly. Continue to add just enough of the remaining flour until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl, about five minutes.

Take dough out and place in a large, clean well-oiled bowl. Cover bowl with a plate and let rise for an hour or until doubled in size.

When dough is ready, divide into half and knead each half for a few minutes until smooth. Place loaves in two well oiled 8-inch bread pans and let rise in warm area of kitchen until doubled in size. The second rise will greatly improve the flavor of the bread.

Bake at 350 degrees F, 25-35 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool.

Awesome # 27: Meteorological Surprises

I’m a runner, and, since moving to Tasiujaq, I’ve really come to fancy my near-daily runs to and from the airport.

But even though I’m comfortable running in temperatures as low as -25 degrees Celsius, I haven’t been able to run since November for two reasons.

First, even though baseline temperatures have ranged, on average, between -20 and -30 since November, they’ve been consistently pushed down to anywhere between -30 and -50 by windchill. And, situated on tundra north of the tree line, there’s barely a thing here that hinders arctic winds that, in my experience, can gust with a vengeance as intensely as 120 kilometres per hour. While this doesn’t happen with frequency, they have, on average, still been gusting far too strongly for me to be able to run without considerable struggle (I can handle winds gusting at about 40 kilometres per hour, I’d say).

Second, with winter solstice came 2:30 PM sunsets, leaving it much too dark by the time I’d the opportunity to run (which is usually around 6:00 during weekday evenings). My last run took place on a calm, mild November evening just after quality skidoo tracks were formed (skidoo tracks help cover the otherwise treacherous ice on the road). It was pitch black, but I’d wrapped a headlamp around my ankle to both light up the road a little bit, and make me slightly more visible to the people traveling on the road around me – something I decided to do when I was running the previous evening and felt a headlightless truck that I didn’t see brush past me a little too close for comfort.

I felt no danger until I reached the last curve in the road, just before the bridge, and realized:

1. If I were to slip on the ice, I could easily fall over the ‘cliff’ (it’s not steep, but it’s still a significant drop-off that leads, at some points, into a sizeable patch of foliage, immediately beside the river);
2. No one goes down there, thus, I could be stranded and injured in the cold for who knows how long; and
3. There are wolves around now that the caribou had come, I didn’t have my knife with me, and there were 4 dead caribou hanging from nooses over the bridge just a few feet away (I’ve heard from some that the Inuit hang them there to lure wolves so that they can shoot them, and from others, that they do so to dry out the meat so it doesn’t taste so game-y).

Solstice is behind us now, but the sun still sets by 4:00. And, though I could run during the days on weekends, it’s been far too cold and windy.

I’d heard rumours this week that the weather was supposed to be very mild this weekend. I didn’t want to get my hopes up. I immediately thought of the possibility of going running this weekend, but, in my experience, it’s been warm enough but far too windy on past occasions.

But yesterday, just after I relished my breakfast in bed, I consulted the Environment Canada website to check the forecast for the day and found that it was, at the time, -11 degrees and winds were calm. I looked out my bedroom window (which overlooks the bay, with the municipal office in the foreground), and saw that the Nunavik flag that is usually flapping vigorously in the wind hung almost limp on its pole. I abandoned all of my plans for the morning, jumped into my running gear and embarked on what turned into the most wonderful run I’d completed in a long time. I ran to the airport and back, and around the village twice – 90 minutes and I don’t know how many kilometres.

Meteorological surprises are awesome, especially in the dead of winter. And, what’s even more awesome is that today, the weather is much the same, and I’m about to bundle up for another run. This may be my last run before spring (if this winter is anything like last, it can be -40 to -50 until May), but I’m thankful that I can take advantage of this awesome now, however transient it may be.

Awesome # 26: Breakfast in Bed

Lately I’ve been craving a mini-vacation – a get-away, just for a weekend. But, seeing as the only way for me to travel past the point that the road ends (no more than 10 kilometres outside of the village in either direction) is by very pricey, and very tiny airplane that only comes twice per day (once during school hours), opportunity for me to partake in such a get-away is a rarity.

However, after extensive conversations with my friend in “The Big City”, I’d decided to go ahead and fork over the fare for the flight there to visit. I was to leave yesterday evening and return tomorrow – giving me, with sleep, a full 48 hours. It was to be a tremendously expensive weekend. but, given both the weekend I had in store, and my otherwise financially modest lifestyle, I felt at liberty to indulge without guilt.

I taught all day yesterday barely able to contain my excitement – excitement that I’d staved off all week for fear of disappointment, because I’ve come to learn that nothing is predictable in the north. It wasn’t until my reservation was made and I had my ticket in hand that I really allowed my excitement to be made manifest, and it translated into a severe case of giddy jitters that had me floating through the halls of the school humming.

My flight was to leave at 6:50; I’d arranged for a drive to the airport at 5:40. Nevertheless, I stood anxiously peering out my living room window since 5:20, fully dressed in my parka and boots, with my backpack at the door and ticket in hand. By that time, to say I was excited would have been a serious understatement.

When I arrived at the airport, I sensed a suspicious quietude. Usually, within the hour of a flight arrival, I see the Co Op truck and the school bus on their way to pick up or drop off cargo; I see Hondas, skidoos and other such vehicles on their way to pick up or drop off passengers. But last night, the only movement between the village and its little airport, aside from our truck, came from a flock of ptarmigans on the tundra. The airport was empty save for 2 women preparing to shut off the lights and call it a night.

There was a note taped to the door, handwritten on looseleaf in both English and Inuktitut. But in my state of euphoric anticipation, I walked right past it unseeing. My flight was cancelled.

The reasons behind the cancellation, I’m unaware other than it had something to do with a medi-vac and winds too strong to land.

Needless to say, I was disappointed. If you could fill a balloon up with the exhilaration I’d come to feel by the time I left my house to go to the airport, I felt what I’d imagine it would feel like deflating. And, I couldn’t help but be more than a little miffed. The airline had re-scheduled my flight for this afternoon, but seeing as that’d cut my mini-vacation clear in half, I requested to postpone my flight until next weekend – a request for which, to add insult to injury, I was told I’d be penalized with a preposterous fee of 100$.

I’m fully cognizant of unforeseen circumstances, and the reality that is travel in the north. However, I still believe that if the airline commits to a flight time on a schedule, and if a customer invests his or her money, the airline should at least be willing to accommodate such a request in light of the context, honour their commitment to good service and waive such a fee in the event that they cancel a flight on a whim. Anyway, that’s a bone I will pick with management on Monday.

In the meantime, I woke up this morning still a tad crestfallen. Nevertheless, I was determined to luxuriate in as much enjoyment that I could squeeze out of my weekend otherwise gone awry. And, as though the flight cancellation were a personal attack on me, I felt the need to avenge the airline with a reluctance to undergo my usually productive day. Confident that my basking in the glories of lazy Saturday mornings was a way of avenging the crummy situation, I forsook my typically mundane Saturday morning routine for a period of pure lethargy and, rather than jumping into my morning usually consisting of housecleaning and a workout, I indulged in breakfast in bed. After all, my vindictive slothfulness does have such a great impact on the situation (of course, I’m joking).

All joking aside, breakfast in bed is an awesome to which I’ve been oblivious for far too long. While it’s not something I care to relish in with frequency, it is something I’d like to do more often. Oatmeal, blueberries and yogurt take on a much  more delectable flavour when eaten while curled up in bed, and, though I was still sad to not be in “The Big City” eating breakfast with my friend, it wasn’t a bad way to spend my Saturday morning.

Awesome # 25: Sharp-Witted Hilarity

Prior to studying Elementary Education at Acadia, I’d completed a degree at Mount Allison University, majoring in Psychology and minoring in Philosophy.

Memories of my undergraduate studies, which I’d commenced more than a decade ago, have become foggy figments in my mind. Of course I remember my friends. I remember the most special moments, my favourite places in Sackville and each eye-opening step I’d taken into adulthood. I also remember my best and my worst professors, the most gruelling exams, the most laborious assignments and the occasional obligatory all-nighter. But, when it comes to the specifics of my scholarship, I recall not much but the vague gists of theories and a scattering of names of famous philosophers and psychologists.

I do remember, however, my first year Introductory Philosophy course. I also remember the many academic hipster types with whom I’d shared the class. This (and many other) class was full of them. Academic hipster was a trend that some could pull off with authenticity. Seemingly natural to them was the flair of intellectuality, the beatnik fashion of one stepping out of a Kerouac novel. I’m not going to lie, I wished I could pull it off, too. But for others (myself included), it was an obvious façade.

Clearly, I can recall one particular conversation with a guy who was 1 year my senior. It took place probably within my first few weeks of university. He was one of those ‘wannabe’ academic hipster types, but he was one who, unlike most (I intend to make no generalizations), he thought he knew it all.

At the time, I was a credulous, unworldly and intellectually weak 17 year old fresh out of high school, and I was largely intimidated by his air of academic superiority and arrogance. After a discussion of Plato, Descartes and any other well-known philosopher, and after he’d mocked my relative epistemic oblivion (it wasn’t my fault, my high school offered no philosophy class in which I could learn about these people), he told me in absolute seriousness about a philosophy exam that he’d once written.

Apparently this exam consisted of a single question, to which one was expected to respond in a short essay consolidating one’s understanding of the meaning of life: “Why?”. And, regarding himself to be so clever and amusing, he told me that he responded with “Why not?” – an answer that was apparently so genius that his flabbergasted professor felt compelled to gave him an A+.

At the time, I contemplated the possibility that this was a fabrication. I was tempted to call his bluff, but I didn’t know him well and I wasn’t sure. But I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard this tale since, from people who are convinced that it was a tale never told before. I became sure that it’s an over-used cliché of an urban legend.

My awesome for the day was inspired by the photograph below. Though the responses to the questions in this photograph may be over-used and cliché, I’ve never heard them before and I found them largely amusing. They made me laugh. First, I laughed because it reminded me of that conversation way back in 2001 and the guy who thought he was so sharp-witted and original. Second, I laughed because these responses, I think, truly are sharp-witted and original. If I were marking this exam, I’d be tempted to give at least partial marks for their hilarity alone.

1. In which battle did Napoeon die?
*His last battle.

2. Where was the Declaration of Independence signed?
*At the bottom of the page.

Q3. River Ravi flows in which state?
*Liquid.

4. What is the main reason for divorce? 
Marriage.

5. What is the main reason for failure?
*Exams.

6. What can you never eat for breakfast?
*Lunch and dinner.

7. What looks like half an apple? *The other half.

If you throw a red stone into the blue sea, what will it become?
*It will simply become wet.

9. How can a man go eight days without sleeping?
*No problem, he sleeps at night.

10. How can you lift an elephant with one hand?
You will never find an elephant that has only one hand.

11. If you had three apples and four oranges in one hand and four apples and three oranges in the other hand, what would you have?
*Very large hands.

12. If it took eight men ten hour to build a wall, how long would it take four men to build it?
*No time at all, the wall is already built

13. How can you drop a raw egg onto a concrete floor without cracking it?
*Any way you want, concrete floors are very hard to crack.

Awesome # 24: Moments of Teacherly Satisfaction

As awful as this sounds, I’d be lying if I said that moments of teacherly satisfaction were a regular experience for me.

Until recently, I’d been teaching a multi-level class of grades 3, 4, 5 and 6 – the entire primary English sector. As one might imagine, this is a near-impossible grade combination, and, as far as I know, I’m the only teacher in all of Nunavik to have such an assignment.

My class is small, comprised of a whopping 9 students. However, consisting primarily of boys aged 8 to 13, it’s by no means un-energetic.

Further, with complex behavioural issues exacerbated by a lack of much-needed supports (student assessments, special education, teacher’s assistants and other such services that are either hard to come by or entirely nonexistent in the north), I’d spent the better part of the past 4 months struggling to find a way to merely make my classroom function. And I’ve encountered many a frustration – to be honest, I’ve often left the school at the end of the day quite perplexed as to what it was, exactly, I was doing.

For the longest time, my goal for the end of the day was for everyone to leave the class unscathed and smiling, as well as, I hoped, having learned at least a little something new (no matter how minuscule). I took each day “one at a time”. I prayed constantly for patience and compassion, as well as the humility to take nothing personally. And, I made a point to regularly “wipe the slate clean” for a new beginning – be it at the end of each period, after recess, after lunch, or at the end of the day. Don’t get me wrong – I do have a wonderful group of students (6 of whom I’d taught last year), and there has certainly been no shortage of effort on their behalf. This is just a challenging pedagogical circumstance, and it would be regardless of the teacher and students involved.

In any classroom – even in a single-level one – differentiation is essential. In any group of students of roughly the same age, any teacher knows that each is bound to work and gain understanding of content at a different rate. While some of the class will remain just the right amount of challenged, some will fly through with barely a sweat, while others will struggle to understand. Strong teaching, in part, entails accommodating this.

In a multi-level class, differentiation is the cornerstone to functionality.

Differentiation necessitates students’ ability to work, to some degree, independently. And problematic, in my situation, is the fact that this is something that my students, until now, haven’t really learned to do. In the south, the ability to work independently is mastered as early as in kindergarten. Here, in contrast, it’s something that I see unmastered, even at the secondary level. As far as I understand, this stems from a few reasons:

1. In a school such as the one I teach in, classes are small enough that much of the work can be accomplished together. For example, the students I currently have in grade 5 began their second language learning (in grade 3) together, and it was just the 4 of them. I only started teaching them last year (when they were in grade 4, but I knew that working independently is not something they were asked to do very often). In the south, on the other hand, classes larger than 30 students are possible, and the need for differentiation (and, thus, independence) is greatly increased, and the effectiveness of whole class group work decreased; and,

2. Much of the schoolboard-devised curricula in Nunavik encourage group work and cooperative learning, with very little emphasis on independence – be it in Math, English, Science or Social Studies. This, I believe, is because:

A) Students are learning in a second language. In ESL teaching, it is common that much of the content and language is taught through games and conversational activities so as to work students’ oral competency, and reading and writing activities are designed to be completed together; and,
B) It seems that the Inuit cultural need for cooperation and collaboration (which was essential for survival historically) is translated into education. This is reflected in the curricula – much of which is culturally adapted.

I was inspired to write today’s post of awesome in the middle of a Math class I was teaching yesterday.

Striving to establish as much routine as possible, a typical Math lesson in my classroom involves: oral recitation of one of the times tables/skip counting/anything else that can effectively be learned by rote (yesterday was the 5 times table), review of recently learned content where I ask my stronger students to help explain the steps to solving a set of problems (yesterday was translating Arabic and Roman Numerals), completing an activity together (yesterday was filling in a clock using Roman Numerals), playing a game together or in small groups and then, independent work.

Given the multiple levels in my class, the independent work that I assign is differentiated accordingly. This is something I’ve been attempting to put in place since August, but I have been posed with a significant challenge given the strong need for scaffolding (or, teacher support) in the group. Usually, my students barely have their respective worksheets in hand before my name begins to chime from virtually every direction. They immediately call to me for help, regardless of how well they know the content – it’s like a reflex.

This is something that would be easily manageable provided that patience were a virtue in the room. But, until recently, it was not. In my attempts to answer each student’s question chronologically, I’ve faced many a flying desk or temper tantrum, and, when then forced to play the role of a bodyguard, I’ve had students give up completely when they needed a teacher. I’ve also been told by exasperated students that I’m a bad teacher, despite the 9 to 1 student to teacher ratio.

Yesterday, we’d finished steps 1 through 4 of our Math lesson, and were preparing to spend the next 20 minutes working independently. I handed out students’ worksheets and explained the task, then sent my students on their way. I braced myself for the bombardment of questions I was sure would come.

I waited. Not one student called my name.

I took a sip of my coffee (which usually sits untouched), and I looked around. Each and every student sat deep in concentration as they solved the problems on their worksheet – alone.

The room was quiet, save for the sound of manipulatives swishing along the floor, pencils scratching across paper or students counting under their breath. For the first time ever, they completed their entire assignment unaided – entirely independently. Now, it’s altogether possible that yesterday’s independent work was just an easy assignment – that my experience was simply one of luck. But, really and truly, I’d seen this coming for a few weeks and I think it’s safe to say that my students have grown.

Needless to say, this was a huge moment of teacherly satisfaction, and it was absolutely awesome.