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 teacher 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 Applitrack Job Bank system allows you to not only put your resume information in a detailed profile, and upload supporting documents, such as letters of introduction, or statements about what sort of living and working arrangement you are seeking. You may wonder why this is important...well, read on!
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.
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 cities you've been to in your experiences in most US states. Juneau, in fact, 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 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
your job search here will link to their openings, you really need
to also go to their own Applitrack websites, and follow their
guidelines for applying.
Cover all your bases with applying to Alaska's urban districts –
their internal applications often have very specific procedures.
Use ATP's Applitrack searches, but make sure you know what other
requirements exist for the Big Five districts.
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.
We have a page on this website that links to the blogs of
teachers and administrators currently working in rural Alaska.
It's a great way to gain insight into the daily lives of Bush
teachers and their families.
If you know someone who would be a good "Featured Teacher" entry,
just send us the link to check.
Or, you can email us with suggested entries.
Village residents are pretty comfortable in their world, and
skilled at living there. You it will probably go better for you if
you just accept that there is a learning curve, and embrace the
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. Why?
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. That is one reason that candidates with Peace Corps experience, or other successful situations where they have adjusted to another culture, are highly prized. 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.
Be aware that the vast majority of district interview teams will not lie to you. They don't want to replace you at Christmas, and they definitely 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 will get an honest, candid answer.
How do you become an informed candidate in the eyes of the school districts?
The instructional issues facing Bush teachers vary greatly from
school-to-school. What follows are just generalizations. Your
mileage may vary, and we do not mean to paint with too broad a
Alaska Accountability Under ESSA
As most of you likely know, the No Child Left Behind (NCLB)
legislation, which drove school programs for those receiving
Title I funds, has been replaced by the Every Student
Succeeds Act (ESSA). An understanding of ESSA is necessary
here, as Title I funding is determined by povertly levels, and
rural Alaska has more than its share of poverty using traditional
measures. If interested in the nitty gritty details about the
differences between the two acts, here is an ASCD
comparison chart that explains things pretty well.
For our purposes, it's important to note that virtually all rural
Alaska districts receive significant Title I funds, and that the
new law seems on the surface to allow more flexibility in the
statewide approach Alaska EED can take. The devil is in the
details, though, and much of the new rule making work is currently
either "proposed", or in flux at the moment.
It's also important to note that many of the regulations Alaska EED has in place, or is putting in place, are designed to meet ESSA requirements, but impact teacher certification and status, as well as statewide achivement testing regulations. Under ESSA, Alaska is at a minimum required to test grades 3 through 8 and once in high school.
Tracking the Changing Regulatory Landscape
In Alaska, changes to regulations have three phases. Alaska EED
recommends regulatory changes to the Alaska Board of Education.
They propose the changes, which then go out for a comment period.
Then, the Board adopts and/or modifies the regulations.
You can track what's happening by using these links for each
Alaska EED is also undergoing rapid change right now, with a new Commissioner who was an administrator in rural Alaska, an Acting Interim Deputy Commissioner with loads of rural Alaska experience, and many proposed regulation changes out for pubic comment as of 7/24/2016.
In addition, Alaska's new-for-205 mandatory statewide testing
program (AMPS) was abandoned during the 2015-16 school year. At
first, it was announced that it would be replaced after the school
year testing cycle. But, technical problems made testing a
nightmare for schools in April, and the testing
was halted in the middle of the testing window. This
means Alaska did not comlpete the required testing cycle, and has
for a waiver for statewide testing that school year from the
US Department of Education. The Alaska State Board of Education
removed the Commissioner soon after, and indicated it desired a
new direction for EED under ESSA.
clear at this point whether an RFP for a new, custom-built
statewide testing instrument will be fothcoming, or if some other
combination of existing solutions will be used. Updates will
likely be posted on the Alaska EED
We don't yet know what all the Alaska regulation changes will be,
but so far we have heard that Alaska is:
What Do the Changes Mean for Rural Alaska Teachers?
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.
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 must be a clear belief that students can and will succeed.
The US Department of Education in recent years has focused on the belief that only scientifically valid instructional interventions can make a difference. These are frequently pre-packaged instructional programs and interventions that districts adopt, not a set of classroom or teaching practices.
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), and now the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) have placed additional pressure on rural schools to be held accountable for student achievement levels. The national use of "Adequate Yearly Progress", or AYP measures is no longer valid, but Alaska will to test at the very minimum students in grades 3 through 8 and once during high school, and report those scores. The hope is that ESSA will allow more state-level control and decision making about suitable solutions.
Likewise, although the concept of "Highly Qualified" teacher
status seems on its way out, there will be the requirement for
Alaska schools to report on which students are being taught by
teachers who do not have Alaska certification for courses being
taught, or who teach outside of the grade level of their current
For the last couple of years, Alaska EED and districts put a
great deal of time, energy and money into preparing for using
student testing data as part of new teacher evaluation
frameworks. Even though Alaska as of summer of 2016 appears
to be moving away from requiring test data in evaluation of
teachers, many of the districts have already adopted one of the
two most popular national models that link together both staff
development on effective practices, and teacher evaluation.
It is unlikely that much else will change in the near term with
the Alaska Educator Evaluation and Support (EES)
system EED and districs have been heavily vested in:
Many districts are quite concerned with data driven decision
making now, data analysis, measuring time on task, and other
concerns that revolve around accountability.
Be ready to address questions about whether or not you could
teach a packaged, direct instruction method - particularly in
reading and math - if the district uses one. Most in rural Alaska
do have these to some degree. Often, they are schoolwide
iniatives that may require non-traditional roles for certified
teachers, such as all staff teaching intervention classes, no
matter what their certificate is in.
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, as well as highly structured intervention solutions commonly used in Alaska districts include the following easily Googled terms:
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.
Most rural, and many urban Alaskan schools with low income populations are eligible for various teacher loan forgiveness incentives. There is a database of which schools qualify as "low income" by year. You can apply even if the service was in the past, not your present position.
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 $5,000 to 100% of your teacher loans forgiven or cancelled.Again, 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!
Studies of successful Bush teachers in Alaska identified the following characteristics:
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!
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.