Growing Teachers for the Arctic

Martha Stackhouse says that in her position as the coordinator of Iḷisaġvik’s new Teachers for the Arctic program, she is motivated by a goal set over 30 years ago by the late Eben Hopson Sr. As mayor of the North Slope Borough, Hopson said he hoped to see a day when 70 percent of the North Slope Borough School District’s certified teachers were Iñupiaq. This percentage would match the district’s student demographics which, according to research, plays a positive role in student achievement.

“When a teacher knows their students’ families and is related to them, the students tend to work harder,” Stackhouse says.

Research supports Stackhouse’s contention. According to Dr. David Beaulieu, editor of the Journal of American Indian Education, “Native teachers bring with them a knowledge and many attributes essential to teaching Native students that do not result from formal training. They have knowledge of the community and of the children and have grown up in the community; they know the lives of the children and have language and cultural knowledge that will aid them in their instructional roles. It is not necessary to focus on sensitivity training and other forms of orientation typically related to professional development for non-native teachers…a Native teacher, particularly from the students’ own community, shares with those students a culturally competent way of interacting and communicating.”

Currently, less than three percent of the North Slope Borough School District’s 163 type-A certified teachers are Iñupiaq, while 81 percent of its 1811 students are. Clearly, Eben Hopson’s dream remains unrealized. This is a situation that Stackhouse hopes to change through a comprehensive teacher preparation program that will begin with Future Teachers for Alaska (FTA) clubs in the schools and follow students through college and even provide on-the-job support once they graduate.

The program will be individualized for each student, providing an array of services including tutoring, study groups, and support for family issues. Stackhouse will work with students earning AA degrees at Iḷisaġvik, as well as those already enrolled in education courses elsewhere. For those wanting to earn bachelor’s degrees without leaving home, she will work to coordinate distance delivery. She hopes to meet with students as a group every three to four weeks and hopes, too, to work with those currently employed as paraprofessionals in the schools to teach them classroom management and lesson plan development. Stackhouse says that she is soliciting community support for the program.

“It will take all of our North Slope communities pulling together to make this dream a reality. We urge all of our elders and adults to encourage our young adults and adolescents to consider education as a career field. We should even encourage them to go beyond teaching, as we need administrators in our North Slope schools as well. This is a career in which one will no longer need to look for another job as long as they are interested in education. It is an answer to the scarcity of jobs in our communities that are constantly being eliminated due to budget cuts.”

Interested in learning more about Teachers for the Arctic? Contact Martha Stackhouse.