What to Ask!

This is the new version of the Alaska Teacher Placement (ATP) forum for teachers, education majors, and school administrators to discuss working and living in the state of Alaska. Those considering an Alaskan job, or considering a new Alaskan education job ask questions, and those with information and/or opinions provide answers. Although many users are teacher or principal candidates from the Lower 48, a large number of current and former school district HR and school administrators subscribe.

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What to Ask!

Postby disneygirl » Sun Nov 22, 2015 6:10 am

Hey Teachers who have been in Alaska or are presently;

We have started the process towards moving to Alaska as teachers. Application is live online for me, and my husband is working on various things so he can post his. We are not looking to go to a big school district, we are looking for something different. In my reading, I keep seeing things like "do your homework", "ask a lot of questions," etc.. Since we have lived cross-culturally, we have learned that a lot of times you just don't know what to ask until you are there and have lived it. So for those of you veteran Alaska teachers, help us out if you can! :)

- What do you wish you would have known?
- What should be asked that someone might not think to ask?
- What things would someone coming from the lower 48 states not think of that are different?

I know it varies a lot based on each school district, but seriously anything you can think of from you area that will help me to know what to inquire about as we are doing our homework!
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Joined: Thu Sep 24, 2015 4:11 am

Re: What to Ask!

Postby marymatt718 » Tue Feb 09, 2016 9:44 pm

Hello Disneygirl,
My apologies on behalf of all of us on this forum for leaving you hanging for so long. Hopefully, I am in time to help.
I am on this same tack right now as I may have to leave my beloved Togiak this year. I told my kids that the safety of my dogs would be the force that made me leave some day, and that day may have come. I have VERY LARGE dogs and there is only one bush service that can fly them from our hub city into Togiak. We just found out they are in financial trouble and may be closing down. No other bush service has a plane large enough to carry both of them in their #500 (XXL) kennels with me as a passenger, and I refuse to put my babies on a cargo plane. So there is one consideration you might want to put on your list. i am interviewing with a location next week, but before I accepted the interview, I found out who flies to the village and can they carry my boys and me. So ask: Can the air service to your bush community accommodate my pet kennels? How do I get to the village? How many flights? Is the service regular or does it have to be chartered? $$$I have to take two flights to get to my village, so I may leave Anchorage at 8 in the morning and not get to Togiak until nearly 5 pm...in the winter, it might be several days because of the weather.
Ask some of the following, but not necessarily in this order. I'm recovering from the flu right now, so I'm a little loopy due to the cold medicine I took:
* Is there a 1 to 1 computer policy? Do the kids have their own computers?
* If there is a 1 to1 policy, do you have a monitoring program in place? (We have a program called ARD which lets us look at our students computers and shut them down if they are watching sports videos when they are supposed to be working on a project.)
* How close is the teacher housing to the school?
* How close is teacher housing/the school to the village for post office visits and shopping?
* Do I need my own transportation or does the school help with mail/shopping runs? (Our principal has two days designated for teachers without transportation to use a school vehicle to go as a group to pick up mail and shop at the AC. I have a four-wheeler, but I do appreciate an enclosed ride in the winter sometimes.)
* How close is teacher housing to village housing? (I live in the pet-friendly housing, on the first floor, near a set of village apartments. The kids like to run up and knock on my windows to get my dogs to bark. They don't do it much anymore because I have been here long enough that I KNOW WHO THEY ARE!!! and they know me and like me well enough not to torture me anymore. That first year was HELL for a while though.)
* Is there a clinic, and if so, how is it staffed? (We lost our Nurse Practitioner this past year, so our clinic is now only staffed with nurses most of the time, with an itinerant physician maybe once a month. Unfortunately, our insurance won't cover treatment by anyone less qualified than a Nurse Practitioner, so we teachers, unless we're native, can't even use the clinic here most of the time unless we are willing to pay out of our own pocket. The teachers union is trying to get that changed on our insurance, but it hasn't happened yet.)
* What computer programs do you have available to use in the classroom? ( Some schools have Moodle, some have Vocabulary.com, which I LOVE, and Reflex Math, some have AR which is an accelerated reading program. Find out what systems like these they have in place for you to use to enhance your teaching.)
* Is there a mentoring/welcome wagon/transition-help program in place? (We have the Togiak Teacher Welcome Committee, which is something I started after my first year and based on a district-wide program I heard about that Bering Strait has. It has made a HUGE difference in our teacher retention rate.)
* How early can I arrive? (The earlier the better...I'd say try for three weeks early if you can. It makes a HUGE difference, especially in your first year in a location.)
* How many students are in your school? What is the typical class size?
* If you are Middle school or high school, how many preps will you have?
* If you are elementary, how flexible is your daily schedule?
Are there pre-planned blocks of instruction such as Reading Mastery, etc.
* Are there common assessments across the district for core courses? (I hate these. It's a great idea for lower 48 schools, and I loved them when I was in Houston, but they're not so great for bush schools and their wildly varying sizes. Ours is the biggest school in our district. I had three Biology classes of up to 20 kids each last year and was expected to cover the same amount of material as the teacher in the village with only 8 Biology students TOTAL! Grrrrr!)
* Do you align with Common Core, Next Generation Science Standards, Alaska Cultural Standards, Alaska Curriculum Standards...which ones or all of them?
* What is your evaluation system and how often are we evaluated? (I have found two systems to be most prevalent: Marzano, which is what we use, and Danielson, which is what we almost used.)
* Can you describe the culture of your school? (Ask them to be fair but honest. I have friends here in Togiak now who had to be evacuated from their previous village for a week because of a death threat. Some villages, like ours, are wonderful. Some are hell-on-earth. Ask.)
* What kind of predators do I need to be aware of? ( I mean the 4-legged kind here. In the fall and spring, we have to watch out for brown bears when we walk to and from school in the mornings and evenings. During my first year, if I worked at a night recreation program, I took my dogs to the school with me, snuck them in the back door and left them in my classroom until I was ready to walk home. I didn't have a 4-wheeler until this year, so I did a lot of walking. I figured they would alert me to anything close by and anything close by would smell them and give the three of us a wide berth. Seemed to work...)
* What kind of shopping is available? (How big is the AC , if it's an AC, and how regularly is it stocked? Can you get fresh fruits and vegetables most of the year? Is there more than one village store? We have two in Togiak.)

I hope this helps some and perhaps will get others started to agree with, disagree with, or at least add to this posting. Look for some general things about teacher interviews on Pinterest. I've found some great tips on there, for those really weird questions the interviewers like to ask. Where do they come up with that stuff? :roll:
Download and carefully read the Negotiated Agreement for any district you are considering. That will answer a lot of general questions about insurance, salary, sick leave, personal leave, etc. Do double check on the housing in a specific site. Our district lists rental rates for one, two and three bedroom apartments in the Negotiated Agreement, but those are not available at all the village sites. My village only has two bedroom apartments. There is no other option. So ask housing specifics too, based on what is written in the Negotiated Agreement.
Good luck! And don't forget to put Togiak on your list. :D
Donna M. (marymatt718)
Posts: 95
Joined: Mon Feb 10, 2014 6:27 pm

Re: What to Ask!

Postby tallyho » Thu Mar 17, 2016 5:08 pm

Disneygirl -
Here are couple of things I didn't know to ask and might have altered my choice:
1) Is the principal a brand new principal - how many years have they been a principal - lots of brand new principals up here that are young and inexperienced? Are they from the lower 48 (they will understand you and what you are going through) or are they native (probably have a great rapport with kids and locals but they won't "get you") - you won't necessarily get both....
2) Is this a village where teachers get assaulted? - ask how many teachers have been hit by students in the last year or threatened. Not that this doesn't happen in the lower 48 too but I have heard of some villages where teachers are getting shoved regularly by teenagers - I was verbally threatened several times and nothing was done about it. One of the students assaulted a different past teacher teacher and I was wary of him all year. Decide if these are issues for you...
3) what are the chances that the Christmas flight won't go out on time and be delayed by a day or more because of weather? If you are remote this could happen. What type of plane and how is the ride in- can you handle small planes and bumpy rides?
4) How many kids in a classroom? What other subjects will you be teaching besides what you are signing up for? Do you get an aide?
5) There is no way to ask this but you should know that Alaska does not practice special ed like we do in the lower 48 - at least not in the villages - there either isn't money or no one is testing - you will have students who you think are special ed but here - they aren't.... so maybe ask about how many on site special ed teachers if any...
6) I disagree about coming up early - they will bring you up early anyway for new teacher in-service - enjoy your time with your family while you can.
7) Do you get a school computer and what kind? Is there wifi in the housing?
8) Is the toilet a flush toilet or a honey pot - I refuse to haul water myself - check to see if you have running water and a shower etc
9) How old is the housing - I have heard nightmares and mine was sub-par and some of the kitchen cuppoards I just couldn't use because they were deteriorating and gross- so decide if that is important - because it will vary.
10) rates on housing and whether you pay utilities vary widely - so you may make $4000 more in one village but the housing is going to cost you $12,000 instead of $7000. -
11) Do they take pets and are they charging a lot for them - some districts won't allow pets in teacher housing
12)How old are the other teachers and how long have they been there? You want some teachers close to your age - and teachers who have been there a long time may not be friendly to you your first year - waiting to see if you are "coming back." There is so much turn over up here - both longer term teachers and the locals kind of hold back waiting to see - it can be uncomfortable.
13) It may or may not be important to you - what type of computers the kids have - is there a smart board, are there any modern electronic anything...?
14) What is the curriculum and how strict are they about it?
15) read the insurance closely - what is your monthly cost if any? What is the co-pay? Generally you won't be covered next summer either - so ask how long it goes for.
16) Are you allowed to walk around the town? Or is it "native land" and you are not allowed there. Ask the principal how friendly the locals are to whites?
There are probably more but these were some things that might have altered where I chose to be and are the reasons I am changing schools after one year.
Good Luck to you!
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Joined: Tue Dec 08, 2015 6:34 pm

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