Every time I go anywhere in Juneau, I am greeted by a chorus of "Hey, Ms. Garot!" Renting a movie at Blockbuster, eating out or trying out the steam room at JRC. It doesn't matter where or when.
Shopping for groceries, I stop and talk to parents concerned about their child's progress on a recent essay or project. Getting my hair cut, I discuss the state of the world with the receptionist, who also happens to arrive late everyday to my first-period class. Stopping at a red light on Egan, I am dared to race by any number of Juneau's newest licensees. My students are everywhere. I wouldn't have it any other way.
In a recent teacher magazine, two subscribers were debating whether it was prudent to live in the same community in which you teach. One teacher liked to be able to identify with and participate in the daily lives of her students outside the classroom. The other teacher appreciated her life away from the classroom and her distance from life at school. The latter obviously never taught in Alaska.
Maybe if I lived in Eagle River and made the commute to a south Anchorage school to teach, I might have a more balanced view of the situation. However, that has never been my experience teaching.
My first teaching gig was in the rural community of King Cove. With 800 people as your neighbors and no place to go, there wasn't much separation from school life and home life. Everyone knows which house is yours, what you ordered to arrive on the barge and how much you weigh (to balance the small plane that takes you in or out of town). Just because I was a teacher did not mean I was exempt from the same small-town intimacies.
Juneau is a little different. It is a small town, but it has big city elements. At the high school, I can go days - weeks - without seeing a teacher who teaches in another part of the building. There are people who work at JDHS who don't know my name (and I know I don't know some of their names either). I have friends who live in town with whom I have to make appointments to get together. Otherwise, our paths would never cross in our busy lives.
But for some reason, the kids I teach, their families and their friends surface everywhere I dare to tread. It never fails to bring a smile to my face.
Sometimes I wish for a little more separation (when I'm buying tampons, for instance, and someone is asking me about a due date or begging for an extension on a project). Sometimes when I see one of my students, hiding behind the cheese in the back corner of Safeway, refusing to introduce me to their mother, I bet they want their space, too.
But when I make eye contact with a student across the restaurant or in line at the movies, and we wave to each other with great enthusiasm, I hope they get that same warm, fuzzy feeling I get when I see them at the intermission of a symphony concert in which I am playing. It is great knowing someone out there knows you. It's also great knowing someone out there cares enough about you to look dorky in front of her friends to say hi to her teacher (or in my case, her student). The connection between a teacher and her student is strong. There's no escaping it!
Kristin Garot teaches social studies and English at Juneau-Douglas High School.