The Unalaska City School District opened its doors to students once again last month. And along with new mask-wearing, social distancing, and hand-washing measures, the district has welcomed six new teachers.
Over the past couple of weeks, I've been interviewing the school's new staff members and asking them what it is that has brought them to teach in a remote town in the Aleutian Chain. In response, nearly all of them mentioned something about an allure in Alaska and the Aleutians—some generally nondescript and somewhat hazy appeal—almost as if the island or the state cast a foggy, nautical spell that drew them in.
And when I asked Scott Baker, Unalaska's new junior high social studies teacher, how he ended up on this remote Aleutian island, his response was the same.
"The lure of Alaska brought me back again," replied Baker.
Baker taught in villages near Kotzebue for two years and then in Aniak for a year before moving back down to teach in Oregon last year. And while Oregon is near what he considers home in Vancouver, Washington, Alaska's lure was strong enough to pull him thousands of miles north again.
And like the other teachers I spoke with, as our conversation developed, Baker described a captivation that seemed less to do with an appeal of mystery in the Aleutian fog, and more related to a far more substantial element within the school and community.
"From day one, [Principal] Wilson has always said that the community here is so supportive of this school," said Baker. "I don't know a lot of [the] community yet, but I sense that [support] because I can see it in the kids."
After graduating from Washington State University in Vancouver, Baker has held various teaching and coaching jobs throughout Oregon and Alaska. And he said some of that earlier work as a coach played a major role in his decision to become a teacher.
"I knew I wanted to be a teacher at a younger age," reflected Baker. "Right out of high school, I took two courses at Clark College Vancouver, and got into coaching, actually. And it was coaching with other coaches who were teachers already, and just seeing the passion that they had and the fun that they had working with kids—that's when I knew I needed to get into teaching."
Baker hasn't had much free time to explore the island, having only arrived just about a month ago. He said he's also been preoccupied with confronting new challenges in the classroom, due to COVID-19 health mandates. But as an antique and vintage fishing pole collector and avid fisherman, he said he looks forward to casting a few, soaking in the coastal life, and enjoying the slower pace of things on the island.
"I could sit out here and look at the docks and watch the boats come and go all day long," said Baker, motioning toward the windows in his room, which look out toward Front Beach. "I love that."