Education By Experience – An Internship Testimonial

Elijah FerbracheBy Elijah Ferbrache

The Atheneum School's Intern teacher program allowed me to do things that many people only dream about; it is a lesson in education by experience.  While teaching guitar in remote Alaska Native villages along the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers, I experienced the wilderness in a way no "tourist" can.  Working for seven weeks in the villages allowed me to share in the lives of the people who call the Alaska bush home.   Now, looking back on my experience, I realize what a unique outlook I've been given on life through Atheneum's Intern teacher program. I've found all my most memorable experiences had to do with sharing in the lives of the students with whom I worked.  In Shageluk, I rode on a snow machine to a favorite fishing spot 10 miles down the Innoko River.  As I huddled around a fire with several students in the sub-zero temperatures, the older men drilled holes in the ice with an ice auger.  Soon there were half a dozen holes with people taking turns bobbing their lines up and down as the wind blew across the frozen ice.  It was a still day, yet my exposed skin still felt the bite of the cold.  There was something surreal about the rhythmic stillness of quietly dipping and pulling the fishing lines up and down.  The only background noise was the murmur of folks standing around the fire on the bank awaiting their turn with the fishing line.  When the freezing stillness became too much, I gave my fishing stick to someone standing by the fire.  After a little over an hour the students were starting to get impatient without anyone getting a bite when all of a sudden, "Jack's got fish!"  There was a surge of excitement as one of the students pulled a pike out of his hole.  "Good fish," one of the older men says with a proud tone of approval.  The students stood around admiring the fish while we teachers asked Jack what his secret was to catching such a prize.  He said, "Salt fish works better than salmon eggs."  One of the other teachers had brought the salmon we were using, and with which we weren't having much luck.  Jack showed us that experience often makes more luck. A Beautiful DayWith the student's interest renewed, many who were content to stand by the fire got involved in the fishing.  Yet, after another hour without a bite, the students started to get bored and drift toward the fire.  Then another surge of excitement, "Junior's got fish!"   The school custodian stood over his hole unable to pull out his line. The students rushed to the hole hoping to see another large pike pulled through the orifice.  Even though Junior pulled on the line he was unable to get it out!  "Must be big fish," one man says.  As the excitement builds, someone brings up the ice auger and a pick to expand Junior's hole.  After a few minutes of drilling, the school custodian pulled a gnarly stick out of the water.  At first there was a sense of disappointment in everyone's demeanor until the same older man who commented on the pike said, "Good fish".  Everyone laughed as the disappointment turned into a moment of warm community on the ice. Although Atheneum is a school engaged in the study of great books, it is also a school where everyone brings their unique experience to the seminar table.  It is around the seminar table, around the fishing hole, and around the campfire that I found myself learning by the experience of community.  It is one thing to examine a book from a "safe distance" in a classroom, but it is far better to experience books by experiencing life in a community of learning.
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