Close Ups: NEA-Alaska Member Insights

Whether you're a woodshop teacher in Hooper Bay or a kitchen manager in North Pole, our membership is what connects all of us.

Ivy Bowler

Teacher, Anchorage

As a math teacher at Begich Middle School, it’s my job to encourage students to make decisions for themselves. The students I teach are in middle school and, they are kind of at that point where they are on the edge of just making decisions about investing in their education or not. So it’s a pivotal point for me to offer guidance in their lives and help push them in a direction whether its a career choice or college.

My favorite part of my day is helping students have those ‘AH HA’ moments. There is such a stigma around math being good at math or not being good at math. I love watching kids who are kind of intimidated by the subject work to overcome that fear and, build that confidence and kind of being able to run with it. Those are the moments that I cherish.

Samuel Jackson, Jr.

ESP, Bethel

I’m a heating and plumbing specialist for the Lower Kuskokwim School District. If there’s no heat, water, or sanitation running, there’s no school. I have to make sure that everything is running smoothly. Being a member of NEA is important and a good learning experience for me, and I think it helps the kids a lot.

Bobby LaSalle

ESP, North Pole

I am a Speech and Language Therapy Assistant at North Pole Elementary school. My favorite part of the day is working with the kids. I work with 110 different students throughout the week. I have a different group every 30 minutes. My day goes by fast, although some days are a little more challenging than others. But we are the children’s future and the children are our future. So we need to make a difference.

My advice to other educators is to take advantage of those teachable moments. I remember once when it was kind of cold out, and a student stuck his tongue to the pole. And then he said his hands were cold. It was a moment where I could impress upon him, “Well, probably should have worn gloves. You have to take care and think about how you can help yourself.”

The doors of my school literally cannot open without the ESPs, the Education Support Professionals. We’re the custodians, we’re the librarians, the paraeducators, the speech assistants, the secretaries. Depending where you’re at, it’s the trades, the carpenters, the mechanics, the electricians. We’re the first in the building. We’re the last in the building. We are part of NEA-Alaska. NEA is a community, and it’s great to be able to be mentors to the new educators.

Kasha Jackson

ESP, North Pole

I am a kitchen manager at North Pole Middle School. My favorite part of the day is interacting with the children. I’ve have a few kids that come by regularly that come help out in my kitchen that help set up things. They seek out time to come into the kitchen. They love to learn. They love the hands on experience. I love to teach them.

My job is not just feeding people. The kitchen also teaches students how to have a good work ethic, how to work together and how to manage your own money. They each get their own account. So I try to teach them how much things cost.

I feel that the future is important and the children are the future. Whatever happens to the children of course impacts our future. NEA helps those that help the children.

David Brighton

Teacher, Kenai

I work in Special Education on Kenai. My local school district has 8,000 students in it. It’s the size of West Virginia and we have 44 schools. Some of them are fly-in Alaska Native Villages. So it’s a unique area where we have some big schools that look familiar to people from the lower 48.

NEA-Alaska is a family. It’s a powerful organization. I love being a part of it. I love the work that we do. It’s a group of educators that come together to work for student learning to make the classrooms as strong as they possibly can and help our kids get the brightest future they can possibly have.

Issues come up and they can be varied but having a group of educators from across Alaska who face some of those similar issues, we can come together and stand together to find solutions and then work with our local school districts to implement some of those solutions. That’s why NEA is important to me.

Hamimah Bjorkman

Teacher, Anchorage

I am a first grade teacher in Anchorage. Teaching my students involves interacting within one another, building social skills, and learning behavior and how you communicate in a group setting.

Every day of the school year is exciting because every day is an “ah ha” moment. When I teach the kids they’re teaching me back. And while some strategies don’t work today, they’ll be ready in three months.

Karen Salisbury

ESP, Mat-Su Valley

NEA helps with my job. There are people that come to the delegate assembly from all over the state of Alaska. They are flying in from villages or they’re driving hundreds of miles on the road system to come together. Because it’s important. And NEA Alaska helps facilitate that.

NEA also provides trainings throughout the year, which provide the opportunity for people throughout the state to collaborate who have very different school districts and different challenges in their own classrooms and schools. They provide us a chance to get to come together and do trainings together and listen to each other’s stories and to work together that way.

Afshan Mohammad

Teacher, Eagle River High School

For my students, I try to help them build connections with the other parts of the world so they can understand what privileges we have.”

“I am a science teacher at Eagle River high school. I love getting to know my students, understanding them, and being able to understand what their needs are. That’s my favorite part of the school year.

Agnes Bowers

Teacher, Wasilla

I like the camaraderie of NEA. The connections you develop with other professionals, and being able to talk to educators from various places in the state gives me a great perspective.

Heather Rains

Teacher, Wasilla

I am a teacher at Machetanz elementary in Wasilla. The most important thing about preparing a student is embracing placed-based learning. In my classroom, we prioritize different activities that get the kids out of the classroom and into our community and environment. It helps the students gain an interest in the outside world and they discover all kinds of cool things about where we live.

Marshall Talbot

Teacher, Hooper Bay

I teach woodshop in Hooper Bay.The students and I make harpoons that they actually use to harpoon seals and whales. So we do actually make tools that are used for hunting. I’m also starting to get into drum making.”

As a woodshop teacher in Hooper Bay, I am teaching students how to build things, practical things. They build tables and chairs. They build cabinets. They build dog houses. So they actually learn practical job skills. It helps them feel “I can do this”.

Corey Shepherd

Teacher, Kotzebue

I am a third grade teacher in Kotzebue. In our classroom, the 3rd graders traditionally take a berry picking field trip in the fall while the blueberries are still nice and ripe. We bring the berries back to the classroom and do something educational with them. This year we made blueberry pancakes and blueberry syrup. It’s fun and educational because my students get to have a great time and learn about our immediate environment. My students are very in touch with their natural resources and the food chain. They don’t have to go to the grocery store and wonder where their meat comes from or where their produce comes from. Because a lot of times it comes from them picking it or harvesting it naturally.

My membership in NEA has meant a lot to me. I wouldn’t be here if my district didn’t have a strong union supporting fellow teachers and our students. They do everything from ensuring safety and quality living conditions for rural teachers as well as ensuring we have pay and benefits to recruit and retain quality educators. NEA Alaska also provides plenty of opportunities for professional development and networking. This policy assembly is a perfect example where educators from all across the nation’s largest state can get together and we really get to explore just how small of a state we really are.

Tabitha Lalonde

Teacher, Selawik

I teach third and fourth grade in Selawik. There are unique challenges for rural students.

My students have to prepare differently for what’s coming if they leave to go to college or even coming to Anchorage on field trips. So we work a lot in my classroom on exercises that expose them to other parts of the world, including virtual field trips and skype calls with people in different places around the world. So even though we’re in a remote place, my students have experience with being connected to a global community.”

I joined the NEA because I wanted to be a part of a collective voice. I think that there are a lot of great ideas for public education, but without having a strong backing and a strong support network for that, you wouldn’t be able to make anything happen.

Bradley Johnson

Teacher, Selawik

I am a high school science teacher in Selawik. Our classroom is uniquely Alaskan. Last year we had the Fish and Wildlife Service, the BLM, and the US Parks Department come in and take a bunch of my biology students out to collar caribou so they could track and count the herd. We were actually out on the water picking caribou and putting tracking collars on them. We traveled to Anchorage afterwards and gave a speech about our experiences.

I have seen the necessity of NEA, especially here where it’s not mandatory how much we work for the rights of students and teachers alike.

Chyra Sanderson

ESP, North Pole

I work at North Pole high school as an education tutor for Alaska Native students. I had two graduating seniors that found themselves to be homeless 2 1/2 months before graduating. With some hard work and determination, both students graduated and one of the students graduated with honors. I am very proud of those students and all the students I work with. They went against the odds and they achieved their goal. They’re currently working and pursuing higher education right now.

The training that I have received from NEA supersedes any training that I’ve ever received. It’s supported me with professional training and then preparing me to be able to advocate effectively for students I represent. It’s also about facing situations with more confidence, more knowledge and the right skills. No matter where I might find myself, I’ve been equipped to do the job, in part because of my membership in NEA.