Alaska Teacher Placement
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Teaching in Alaska

This section of our site is intended to answer questions potential job seekers in Alaska are likely to ask. And you should be asking questions. Working as a teahcer in Alaska – particularly rural and remote Alaska – is nothing like teaching in the Lower 48.

Alaska has opportunities, and challenges you won't find elsewhere. It is important to be an educated job candidate if you are going to find a good match for both your professional skills and interests, and your personal lifestyle requirements.

The ATP Job Bank system allows you to not only put your resume information in a detailed profile, but also specify very clearly what sort of job you are looking for, and what kind of experience you are seeking. You may wonder why this is important...well, read on!

Be an Informed Job Candidate

In addition to this general overview page, we strongly encourage you to use the resources on this website to research in more detail the school districts, and village locations around the state before applying for a position. There are wide differences in settings, so do your homework!

Not only will districts be impressed when you demonstrate your knowledge about them, they will realize that you are a serious, informed candidate. School districts really do want people working for them in their schools and villages by choice, not by accident.

Two Alaskas Exist

There are really two different worlds you need to understand when thinking about living and teaching in Alaska: urban and rural. The differences are startling.

Living or working in the urban areas of Alaska is much like anywhere else in the Lower 48 – but with better scenery and fishing! Urban in Alaska isn't "urban" like major cities in the Lower 48, either. Even Anchorage, Alaska's largest urban area, would just be a small city in comparison with most you've been to. Juneau would be considered a small town.

Sure, you may have to plug your engine block heater in up in Fairbanks to keep the car from locking up in winter, and you have to learn to drive on snow-covered roads. But, you still perform most of your day-to-day tasks the same way as you always have.

Your job search for Alaska's urban settings will be much like a search with any school district in the Lower 48. If are looking at for a position in Anchorage, Mat-Su, Fairbanks, Juneau or the Kenai Peninsula areas, you don't really need to do things much differently in terms of your search strategy. All of these districts have fairly specific hiring procedures, and although the ATP Job Bank will get your information to them, you really need to also go to their websites, and see what specific forms, timelines and documentation is expected.

» Cover all bases with applying to Alaska's urban districts – their internal applications often have very specific procedures. Use ATP's Job Bank, but make sure you know what other requirements exist. Our best to you and your successful search.

Teaching in the Bush

The vast majority of Alaska not connected to the existing road system – the Bush – is a hugely different thing.

Technically, demographers don't really have a word that adequately describes our diverse and scattered collection of over 250 small villages, towns and remote outposts. See our About Alaska page for more details about our "Last Frontier" setting.

Alaska statutes define "rural" as meaning a community with a population of 5500 or less, and not connected by road or rail to Anchorage or Fairbanks, or with a population of 1,500 or less and still connected by road or rail (AS 14.43.600-14.43.700). The vast majority of the state of Alaska meets this definition. There are other definitions.

Just like rural Australia, and parts of Africa, the remote places in Alaska are collectively referred to as "the Bush".

A study done by the Regional Education Laboratory at Education Northwest a few years ago found that about 64% of Alaska's districts, 53% of its schools, and 40% of its population are in the Bush (REL Northwest). McDiarmid and others have found that the majority of jobs for teachers new to Alaska are found in Bush settings. Teachers leaving Bush schools frequently are headed to road system districts. Therefore, if you are coming up from the Lower 48, it is not unreasonable to expect that you may begin your Alaskan career in rural Alaska.

Although statistically speaking, rural school districts lose more teachers in a typical year, this doesn't mean that all districts in the Bush have high turnover. In fact, a few rural districts have regularly had among the lowest turnover in Alaska. Turnover varies from year-to-year, site-to-site, and in relation to district leadership changes, as well as regional events and trends.

In fact, you may choose to make a career of Bush education. The respected role of career Bush educator is still found in Alaska. There are some very talented teachers and principals who would not work on the road system for twice the money, and all the fresh produce you could offer.

Many of these professionals have worked in a variety of villages over the years, and are almost living legends in education circles. Likewise, there are many well known "teaching couples" in the Bush.

Career Bush teachers and principals have made significant contributions to the lives of Alaska's village students, and are proud to excel in this particular niche of education. They have lived in, and raised their families in some of the most unique and spectacular settings on earth. Some have come up "just for a year or two", and never left.

Featured Bush Teachers

We are creating a section of this website that profiles current and former Bush educators. This section uses a wiki engine to allow anyone who registers create and edit web pages.

So, if you know someone who would be a good "Featured Teacher" entry, you can make the entry yourself! Be sure to include some basic information about the educator(s) you have recommended, and include career overview and contact information for them if possible.

Or, you can email us with suggested entries.

» ATP's Featured Bush Educators – User-contributed profiles of current and former rural educators of note!

Village Adjustments

Village residents are pretty comfortable in their world, and skilled at living there. You will not be at first, so just accept that learning curve.

Newcomers need to view this is as a true cross-cultural experience - whether they move to a Native village or regional hub with more of a mixed population.

Everything is different:

Buying food and supplies, getting around, the smells and scenery, social expectations, and local lingo will all be different. Frankly, you will feel like you've landed on a different planet your first day off the plane.

Moving from the Lower 48 to the Bush is truly a cross-cultural experience. This is like moving overseas in many ways. We aren't trying to discourage you. Quite the opposite. But, we do want to help you make informed decisions. It's better for all concerned in the long run.

The vast majority of district interview teams will not lie to you. They don't want to replace you at Christmas, and have a vested interest in making you successful in their schools. If you ask the right questions about the village they are considering you for, you most often get an honest, candid answer.

How do you become an informed candidate in the eyes of the school districts?

  • Do your research on the districts, and villages on the site!
  • Learn from the resources on this page what some of the instructional challenges will be.
  • Get a sense of what you are willing to accept in terms of lifestyle adjustments, social isolation, cross-cultural stressors, etc.
  • Factor in the recreational, and life experience opportunities available in each possible location.
  • Get a short list of districts and sites before you begin contacting potential employers.
  • Ask intelligent, thoughtful questions during your interviews, but don't grill your interviewers.
  • Despite all the advice in the world, be prepared to keep an open mind!

NCLB & Rural Alaska

The instructional issues facing Bush teachers vary greatly from school-to-school. What follows are just generalizations. Your mileage may vary.

Remember that there are many differences in what defines effective instruction for rural, poor and cross-cultural settings within the profession. Try not to let your personal or political leanings creep into the dialogue with districts. It's best to be well-versed on multiple viewpoints.

What Works in Low SES Schools?

A meta-analysis of the research on successful programs done by Northwest Regional Education Lab puts teachers at the center of what works with at-risk students:

» The primary characteristic of successful programs for at-risk youth seems to be a strong, even intense level of committment on the part of the instructional staff. Traditional roles and role relationships are not as important as taking the proper action to achieve school/program goals. In both cases, there is a clear belief that students will succeed.

Others – including the authors of the No Child Left Behind Act's regulations – believe that only scientifically valid instructional interventions can make a difference. These are frequently "programs" that districts adopt, not a set of classroom or teaching practices.

  • U.S. Department of Education What Works Clearinghouse – Great for learning about various vendor's packaged curricula for NCLB schools. Includes a database of interventions for math, and overviews of other core areas.
  • U.S. Department of Education overview of recommended practices for NCLB schools

Many schools in rural Alaska face the problems found in low socio-economic status (SES) settings everywhere. While not all Bush communities are Low SES settings, the lack of a cash economy in most isolated villages is the norm.

This "lack of a cash economy" term doesn't mean jobs don't exist in the Bush. They do, and money is certainly used. However, in many villages the school, and a few other employers offer the only regular wage earning jobs available.

Because of this, school aides, janitors, cooks and secretaries are often holders of highly desired positions, and sometimes are individuals with significant influence in the village. Subsistence lifestyles – hunting, gathering and fishing for a living – are very common, and jobs that pay cash wages are frequently limited, or seasonal, such as fire fighting and fishing.

Most of Alaska's rural schools are considered Title I eligible. Title I is a program that gives additional federal education dollars to schools that qualify due to having high percentages of Low SES students. With the dollars come guidelines that can effect both the school, and the teachers who work there.

The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) has placed additional pressure on rural schools to be held accountable for student achievement levels that frequently fall behind the national guidelines of "Adequate Yearly Progress", or AYP.

According to the Alaska EED, most of our rural school districts have schools that failed to make AYP. Roger Sampson, former Commissioner of Education, put out a press release that explains what AYP means in Alaska.

Although 41% of schools in state did not make AYP for last year, a significant percentage of those are located in rural, mostly Alaska Native communities. A quick look at the list of schools not making AYP shows that 33 of 54 districts (61% of all districts) have at least one school that did not make AYP, 28 of 54 the school districts not making adequate progress were in rural or remote areas (52% of all districts). In other words, 85% of school districts with schools not making AYP are considered rural districts.

There are ratings from Level 1 - Level 5, based on how many years schools have failed to make AYP, that determine how much pressure is placed on the school to improve. Technically, schools in Level 5 could be taken over directly by the state.

Because of this, many districts are quite concerned with test scores, data analysis, measuring time on task, and other concerns that revolve around accountability. While some teachers view recent trends as a "narrowing of the curriculum", others view the drive toward accountability as long overdue.

Be ready to address questions about whether or not you could teach a packaged, direct instruction method if the district uses one in reading or math, as these are fequently used as part of "School Improvement Plans". Solutions that are paid for out of these funds have to be "scientifically valid", and that means that there are lists of suitable purchases for curriculum products.

Why should you care? Not everyone wants to, or is able to teach highly scripted lessons, or highly structured curriculum components. Find out if the districts you are interested in have mandated instructional packages, and a little about how they work.

On the other hand, if you are skilled at using any of the tools a district is using, this will be a serious plus on your interview sheet.

Common direct instruction, and highly structured solutions used in Alaska include:

  • Reading First
  • Star Math
  • Accelerated Reader
  • Success for All (SFA)

Are You Highly Qualified?

NCLB, which is actually enforced through the state Department of Education and Early Development (EED), has placed increasing pressure on teachers, too. You would be wise to learn some basics about how your qualifications are viewed in Alaska before you interview.

Are you "highly qualified", or not? If you are highly qualified in your current state, you really should document your status with a letter. It makes things much easier when you move here.

Here are some resources to help you learn your status:

» Alaska EED – Highly Qualified information links

Cross-Cultural Issues

Because most of the schools in the Bush are located in Alaska Native communities, it is wise to educate yourself about the various cultural subgroups in the state, and cross-cultural education issues. Our page for researching potential locations has lots of links to help you find out which Alaska Native subgroups live where, and to learn a bit about each culture before you interview.

Teacher Loan Forgiveness Programs

Most rural, and many urban Alaskan schools with low income populations are eligible for various teacher loan forgiveness incentives.

There are very specific criteria that allow some teachers in low income schools to get part or all of their loans paid off. The rules vary by loan type, certification area, school, and number of years you teach there, but range from a total of $5,000 to $17,500 in loan cancellation.

TCLI Eligible Schools in Alaska - 344 Schools in 2006:
http://www.alaskateacher.org/downloads/tcli_alaska_2006.xls

Also, this is not just for new teachers. If you meet the listed Stafford or Perkins loan criteria, and taught in one of these schools, you should really check it out.

The list that the U.S. TCLI folks keep goes back to 1998, and as long as you fill out the form, and have the Chief Administrative Officer of the district you worked for sign it, you may get some repayment help. You can get credit for service in eligible schools that you've worked in since 1998. It's pretty cool, and I don't know why this program isn't better known!

TCLI Website:
This site is searchable by year, state and district — https://www.tcli.ed.gov/CBSWebApp/tcli/TCLIPubSchoolSearch.jsp

Contact Adam Weed, adam.weed@alaska.gov 907 465-6685 for more information about TCLI.

For some quick information, try these links:

Effective Bush Teachers

Studies of successful Bush teachers in Alaska identified the following characteristics:

  • Skills to assist all students in meeting high standards – Effective rural teachers use a variety of techniques to assure that all children progress. Differentiated instruction is one such approach.
  • Intellectual breadth and curiosity – Most village teachers must teach subjects outside their fields.
  • Multiple talents and practical skills – Rural communities need teachers who can do more than teach school but can also lead or coordinate extracurricular activities and enrich the school environment.
  • Political skills – In small communities, teachers must be astute politicians and be wary of community politics.
  • Interpersonal savvy – In Alaska Native villages, teachers must decipher the unwritten rules of cross-cultural communication. They will be judged on their personal as well as professional qualities.
  • High academic expectations and varied teaching strategies – Effective rural teachers have a strong academic orientation and do not use cultural differences to excuse low achievement. They also have many teaching strategies to use in different situations.
  • Entrepreneurial spirit – Effective village teachers form educational partnerships with the community, and design education that fits particular places.

What's in a Grade Level?

You should also be aware that multigrade schools are quite common in the Bush. These have three or more grade levels combined for instruction, and require some quite different skills than a graded classroom.

We have some links on our Multigrade Teaching page that should help you understand how and why education in this setting is both challenging and rewarding.

Finally, one of the best sources of information is our ATP Forum. Post your questions about requirements, districts or villages. Anonymous postings are fine. You may be surprised who responds...we have many experienced Bush teachers, district administrators, and Alaska EED officials subscribed!

Links to Additional Resources

Here is a list of resources that you may find useful as you consider teaching in Alaska, but particularly in the Bush.

Good luck, and let us know if you find resources we should add, or discover broken links.