More than 100 Alaska high school students registered from 15 districts and 25 communities
from across Alaska, gathered in Fairbanks on March 1-3 to explore education careers
and develop leadership skills.
The 2020 Educators Rising Alaska State Conference, held this year on the University
of Alaska Fairbanks campus, featured tours of campus, classroom management skills,
Admissions guidelines, and sessions with the School of Education. Additionally, there
were hands-on activities relating to achieving goals and leadership, and a panel with
Alaska Native Education Student Association (ANESA). On Sunday evening, after the
student competitions, the Opening Banquet offered a powerful lineup of speakers:
UA President Jim Johnsen offered opening remarks to the roomful of potential future
educators. “There is no more important job in Alaska than teaching . . . more important
than my job, more important even than the Governor’s job. As a teacher, you will
educate Alaskans to create their own future. What could be better than that?”, he
said, emphasizing the importance of creating local teachers from Alaska.
Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs and Athletics, Keith Champagne spoke of the importance
of his teachers and how he wouldn’t be where he is today, an educated man from disadvantaged
beginnings if it wasn’t for his teachers and their belief in him. He offered this
encouragement and challenge to the student audience “I want you to think about how
you can do the greatest good for the greatest amount of people.”
Dean Kinchel Doerner first wanted to acknowledge that UAF stands on Indigenous lands,
offering his respects. He then spoke of the power of teachers, “You will be the biggest
variable to help students through their challenges”. “Great teachers are going to
produce great people,” he added.
Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Education and Early Development, Karen Melin
spoke of the rules that teachers were to follow in 1915 (around when UAF was founded).
The antiquated rules were shocking to the audience, drawing audible gasps and laughs,
and then she laid out the challenge for the future teachers to think about: what their
future legacy will be as teachers. “What is the teacher of this century going to do?
It’s your right and responsibility to shape what it is that teachers do in the 21st century”. Earlier in the day the Deputy volunteered her time helping in the student
competitions, pitching in where help was needed.
Amy Gallaway, a West Valley high school teacher and recipient of the 2020 Alaska Teacher
of the Year Award, emphasized the importance of recognizing that teachers hold great
power, and like the Spider Man adage, she quoted, “With great power comes great responsibility…
acknowledging this power is not only important to build confidence as a teacher, but
most importantly, to empower their students,” she added. Gallaway also discussed
her personal mission and legacy, which she boiled down to her personal hashtag, #SaveTheRepublic,
and encouraged students to consider what their hashtag might be. Her dynamic and inspirational
speech was met with a standing ovation.
Concluding the evening Sean Topkok, Associate Professor of Graduate Studies and Pavva
Iñupiaq Dancers Lead, performed with his troupe, leading the audience in a group dance.
Also in attendance was UAF Provost Anupma Prakash, who encouraged all to gather for
a group photo at the end of the event. Executive Dean of the UA College of Education,
Steve Atwater offered remarks at the Monday morning gathering before students set
out for tours and workshops.
The Monday Classroom Management workshop was led by the Alaska Statewide Mentor Project
Program Manager, Sue McIntosh and Amanda Friendshuh, 2017 Educators Rising Alaska
Student Officer President. Ms. Friendshuh is currently fulfilling her practicum in
the teaching program at UAS.
Campus tours were led by Student Ambassador and Senior, Bernard, who familiarized
students with numerous lower-campus buildings and offerings.
Tuesday morning brought the conference to a close with the culminating Award Ceremony,
where students received awards for their skills in the competitions on Sunday. Competition
categories included Lesson Planning (for STEM, Humanities and Art), Public Speaking,
Creative Lecture, Children’s Literature (Pre-K and K-3), Education Administration
and Inside Our Schools.
The conference was well received by the accompanying teachers as well. Kristopher
Wagoner, who chaperoned students from Houston High School in the Mat-Su District,
appreciated the workshop that discussed the UAF Teacher Programs. “The alternative
options for entering the teaching profession were super valuable for students who
wish to pursue a non-traditional approach to becoming teachers.” He went on to say
“At the end of the day, attending the conference will add value to my level of teaching
the Educator’s Rising pathway in hopes of creating Alaska’s future teacher workforce
straight from my classroom.”
Various students also expressed their thoughts on the conference. Ashley Yoder, from
Ketchikan, and the Alaska Chapter’s Student Officer offered her thoughts on what she
found inspiring, “Having all these students who are all so different, who come from
all walks of life is amazing to see, and they’re all interested in careers in education
is inspiring. All these kids are actively pursuing what they are passionate about
through their projects and lesson plans…it’s amazing”. Anikka Weber, of Houston High
School commented “People don’t always remember what you taught them, but how you made
them feel, and I think that was a very important message because teachers are role
models in kids’ lives and I want to be a positive role model for them.” Another of
her classmates, Jasper Ross offered thoughts about being inspired by the conference
“I was inspired by the amount of high school students that participated. There are
high school students from all over our state, that want to become educators and make
our state better.”
The conference was organized by Educators Rising Alaska in collaboration with the
UAF School of Education and Rural Student Services.
The national Educators Rising organization helps high school students explore careers
in teaching. Fewer than half of Alaska’s teachers are prepared in-state, so Educators
Rising Alaska (formerly Future Educators of Alaska) gives Alaska high school students
ways to explore education careers and provides their mentors with professional development.