Monday, January 19, 2015

The First Nine Days

A long line in front of the First Air check-in counters greeted me as I pushed my fully loaded baggage cart through the large sliding doors of the Ottawa International Airport.  It was the early morning of January 3 and I was already sweating underneath my heavy Canada Goose parka.  Here we go again, my mind quipped.
My Christmas vacation was short but fun.  I spent time with family & friends, bought school supplies, walked around town, and celebrated New Years.  It was strange to barely see any snow on the ground because Ottawa is usually knee-deep in snow in late December.  I was also surprised by how warm the temperature was, hovering around the minus single digits.  My parents & friends laughed at that observation, saying that I had been spending too much time in the far north.   

I visited one of Ottawa's newest landmarks, the Airport Parkway Pedestrian Bridge  (APPB).  I was glad to finally see it completed after being delayed for two years and going over-budget.  Building bridges has been a problem in my hometown for several years, with projects suffering from poor administration, leadership, communication, financing, and scheduling.  The APPB is no exception.  A part of the bridge had to be torn down and rebuilt in 2012 due to problems with the concrete.  Then work was halted in 2013 when design faults were found in the support systems.  The city eventually went with a different company to fix the bridge and is now suing the former contractor for financial compensation.  I can safely say that the bridge didn't collapse when I walked across it twice, and it hasn't collapsed since.
Another highlight of my short vacation was having cow tongues for Christmas dinner.  Cow tongue is a delicacy in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and the Orient.  I tried my first cow tongue out of curiosity 15 years ago and was immediately hooked!  It tastes really good when slow cooked for many hours; the meat is tender & easy to cut.  I would recommend cow tongue to anyone.  Just remember that it tastes better than it looks.
The First Air check-in line moved at a snail's pace.  Once I was checked in, I had to drop off all my luggage at the oversized baggage counter.  And a long line was already beginning to form in front of that area.  When I was free of my heavy luggage, I got into another long line to go through security.  By the time I got to my gate and met the other teachers from my school, it was already time to board.  At least the boarding line was short and I was one of the first people to be allowed to step on the plane.  As the First Air plane ascended into the sky, my mind came to the conclusion that there are a lot of lines at airports. 
The plane touched down in Iqaluit with ease and taxied to the yellow terminal.  We had about a two-hour wait before the Arctic Bay flight, so I used my time wisely and walked over to Yummy Shawarma for a quick lunch.  The temperature was in the minus thirties but I didn't feel that particularly cold.  The principal joined us on the flight to Arctic Bay.  As the turboprop flew into the clouded arctic skies towards the northwest, it suddenly dawned on me that we were all heading back into dark season.  It would be another month before the sun would reappear in Arctic Bay.
Frank was waiting for me at the airport.  He and many other familiar faces greeted me as I walked into the warm & brightly lit terminal building.  The time was 5:40pm but outside, it looked like 8 or 9pm.  After Frank dropped me off at my place, I unpacked, reorganized everything, and relaxed.  It felt nice to be back.
Sunday January 4th was spent organizing my classroom, getting rid of old student work that no one would claim, and planning for the first day of the new semester.  I would be teaching three classes this semester: Grade 10 English, Grade 11 Social Studies, and Grade 10 Instrumental Guitar.
The first day of school was unexpectedly delayed to Tuesday, January 6th because there were not enough teachers for Monday.  For Tuesday, I introduced myself, shook the hands of several students' and went over the course outlines.  Grade 10 English would be my largest class with 18 students.
For the first two weeks, my English students studied literary elements & techniques, and read a variety of short stories.  I preselected the stories based on vocabulary, level of interest, and relevance.  Near the end of the second week, my students began writing their own short stories, using the literary elements & techniques they learned.
The Grade 11 Social Studies course would contain much of the same material as last semester; only the student body would be entirely different.  My new students began the course by studying the British Industrial Revolution of 1750-1850.  I slightly tweaked the lessons to include more in depth information about the inventors of the time and the significances of the devices they created.  My students learned about Edmund Cartwright (power loom), James Hargreaves (spinning jenny), Samuel Crompton (spinning mule), and James Watt (steam engine), just to name a few.
Music 10 Guitar would also be much of the same as the previous semesters because for now, I'm only teaching a basic guitar course.  However, this time, I'm going to be pushing my students to read traditional notation instead of just relying on guitar tablature, and getting them to perform in front of large audiences.  I'm aiming to have our first school performance in early February when the sun comes back.  Yes, the famous tune, You Are My Sunshine, will be on the repertoire.
It's been several months since I bought my skidoo and I'm having lots of fun driving it around town.  It still takes between 10 - 15 minutes to warm it up but that's part of the experience.  I know much gas is wasted because of idleness but when you're dealing with the arctic cold, that's all you can do.  Sometimes, the skidoo needs 20 minutes to warm up.  I haven't had the time to take it out on the land but that's coming up in the spring.  I still need time to acquire a qamutik and camping supplies.  I did, however, receive my new skidoo helmet in the mail.  It protects my entire head & face from injury.  Safety first!  The only snag is that it's a little heavy.  When I wear it with my goggles, I look like Darth Vader or one of his stormtroopers.
January 13th, 2015 was a special day for me because on that day, I achieved my first significant milestone in my full-time teaching career: 365 days of teaching!  I began counting the work days when I started teaching in Iqaluit in 2012. 
PJ Akeeagok
PJ Akeeagok, recently elected president of the Qikiqtani Inuit Association (QIA), visited Inuujaq School on January 15th to talk to the high school students about the history and roles of the QIA, and the Mary River Project.  He was also in town because the organization decided to hold his swearing-in ceremony at the local community hall (more on this in a future post). 
QIA "represents over 14,000 Inuit of the Qikiqtani (Baffin) region... The Qikiqtani region includes 13 communities from Quttiktuq (High Arctic) down to Sanikiluaq (Belcher Islands)."  The organization was established in 1996 and registered as a society in 1997.  They "work closely with [their] partners and different levels of government to ensure the Inuit are being adequately served."  They also make sure the federal & territorial governments are implementing the terms of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement of 1993.     
The QIA presentation was held in the high school science classroom.  I stood at the back and snapped a few pictures.  PJ is originally from Grise Fiord and is fluent in Inuktitut.  I recognized his face when I began teaching Grade 10 Social Studies.  He and three other Inuit students from across Canada assisted in the preparation of the Staking The Claim module several years ago.
The entire presentation was conducted in Inuktitut.  I think that was the best course of action because the students would have a better level of understanding.  The southern teachers & I still listened and tried to decipher what was being discussed through body language.  I did understand a few words here and there but I still have a lot more learning to do.
At the end of the presentation, PJ and the high school students posed for a group photo.   

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