When people ask me what I do, and I hear the words "I travel to remote Alaskan villages and teach film workshops" come out of my mouth, I imagine that to some it might sound glamorous and intriguing. When my own memory of the nitty-gritty fades, I am left with stunning moments. Returning now from Tatitlek, I have many. Stumbling on a Russian New Year's Masquerade in which my students were unrecognizable except a tuft of hair or a familiar strut. They each caught their shadow, as instructed, to carry it out of the room intact after the dancing was over. Visiting the village grave yard with students
The meat of my work though is not film, or seeing new places, or making new friends. My job is to teach. And anyone who teaches knows that it is not a glamorous job. Rewarding, intense, challenging, punctuated by moments of self-doubt, giggles, boredom, plans that are reworked mid-way through the class… in Tatitlek, it occurred to me in a new way that I am an educator first and foremost. Film is my medium, but transformed students (and a transformed me) are the end goal.
In this photo Aunty Dean explains to the students what her father called Alingnaluni Atlartuq, or Bad Winds Bring Bad Times. Tatitlek sits right next to Bligh Reef, the source of the 1989 Exxon Valdez Oil Spill that blew down through the Prince William Sound, reaching Kodiak and beyond. This moment with Aunty Dean was one of the stunning moments that stays with me. And yet at this precise moment one of my students disappeared for 10 minutes. I knew I had to stay with the students, and yet I felt nervous about where she might be, and upset that she didn't tell me where she was going. Suddenly I wasn't witnessing the interview, or the way the students took turns asking spontaneous questions. This preoccupation was not the moment of a filmmaker, or an ethnographer, but of an educator. I do not work in spite of such moments, but with them. They are the fabric of teaching, and they happen not only on a daily but on an hourly basis.
I called the student to speak with me after class, and she stated a resounding no. I told her that it wasn't an option to talk about it, that I was nervous about where she was and that she needed to communicate. I don't CARE she explained to me, and thrust a DVD about the history of Tatitlek into my hand, showing me what she was retrieving while out of the room. You aren't respecting me, but more importantly you aren't respecting yourself right now I told her, and while I meant what I said sincerely, I realized how trite it might sound, so pre-packaged and presumptuous. We both returned to our day.
These are the kind of unglamorous moments that teaching can be composed of.
Later that evening I was chopping an onion in the kitchen for an Avgolemeno soup. Students ran laps in the gym. The same young woman kept peeking in on me as she made her rounds. I suddenly was stunned by an I was really cranky today. I'm sorry. She had ducked into the kitchen to apologize. For the next two weeks she was the student that kept the class moving and alive. She was the one who greeted me in the morning and told me she couldn't wait for class. She was the one who told me she was going to miss me and Tchabo so much when we left.
|Students reflecting on life atop the village water tower during a photo shoot|