On May 20 we crossed 80° North and that evening during the day's recap, the plan for the next day was to travel north north north, possibly to 81°. We buzzed with excitement at the novelty, the wonder of it all, the Facebook post we'd ultimately write. And then the sobering truth was illuminated - the sea ice concentration in the Arctic is low. NASA reported, "Every year, the sea ice cover blanketing the Arctic Ocean and surrounding seas thickens and expands during the fall and winter, reaching its maximum yearly extent sometime between late February and early April. The ice then thins and shrinks during the spring and summer until it reaches its annual minimum extent in September. Arctic sea ice has been declining both during the growing and melting seasons in recent decades."
The ice that should be there - it's not there.
So while I am astounded and grateful and pretty-damned giddy that we crossed this arbitrary yet potent invisible line, I know - we know - that we should not be on a ship in the third week of May in that part of the Arctic.
Read more about the low sea ice in the Arctic this year at
Once upon a time, not so very long ago, I had this idea that I would embark on my journey and, in real time, reflect and write and create blog posts and videos and online albums and photo books and postcards. I had fantasies of sitting in the ship's library with my pen and notebook, collecting and composing what I'd seen and experienced and manifesting deep, profound thoughts.
Yeah. That didn't happen.
My experience was so intense, so surreal, that I had difficulty finding adequate words to describe it all. Silly, inconsequential, and unsatisfying words were all I had - great, amazing, unbelievable, incredible. At the end of each day I would try. After dinner, somewhere between 10pm and midnight, I'd make my way up to the library to write. But I would get distracted. The large, glorious, gorgeous windows were too inviting and each moment was unique. The clouds were shifting, the water was moving, the ship was in motion, the ice upon the water was drifting. Each and every moment was unique.
My eyes were up and wide open. I was outside on the deck feeling the cold air and the lightly falling snow on my face. Or I was sitting on the bridge, snuggled in warmth, with a pair of binoculars looking looking looking. Oh, I tried to shift my thinking to writing something more than a bulleted list, but I just couldn't pull it off.
To put it simply, I couldn't focus.
I coined my condition Wonder-Induced ADD. It is a beautiful affliction to have.
I've been home for about 7 weeks now and the experience keeps popping up, making my heart race with the absolute wonder of it all. I've done a bit of creating, but I'm still reaching deep to find the right words. I now know that it's going to take some time.
I had a whole blog post outlined in my head last week that seemed, at the time, profound and inspirational. Today, I'm not feeling so philosophical. I'm feeling downright giddy (must be the popcorn.) If I wasn't sitting here in Chicago, I might not believe that I'm about to travel to the Arctic and have an incredible experience. Today, I'm just feeling lucky. And grateful. And a bit tired, I have to admit, because the last couple of weeks at school have been crazy-busy, crazy-wonderful, and crazy-white-hair-inducing.
But, mostly I'm grateful. Someone recently told me that I use that word alot. Grateful. (I'm grateful that he knows that I'm grateful.) Gratitude has been a theme, a mantra, throughout my life, and I think it's one of the reasons why I'm sitting here today - a little bleary-eyed, a little smelly (that trek across the airport with a 16 pound backpack and carrying a parka got the blood flowing), very curious, and abundantly grateful.
A final word about sharing - I have set up an Instagram account that students can follow. I have made it abundantly clear that I will not follow them back - not because I don't love them. Because I have no desire to see what young adolescents post and so that I can sleep at night. They nodded their heads in recognition - truth.
So, I'm ready to be ready and I'm almost ready to go. Now that it's May, it's super fun to say that I'm going to Svalbard this month. Between now and the 16th, there's alot going on, which, I have a feeling, will make this time fly by. Namely, tomorrow we start to prepare our 8th graders for the Passage Portfolio presentations they deliver right before their promotion ceremony on May 15. I love these 8th graders. We have had such a joyful, vibrant year together, and I'm going to miss them. Their last day of school is the 15th and I leave on the 16th. Perfect timing, yes? Yes. In the world of school, in the realm of 8th grade, and for teachers, May is a time of transition. It can be raw and exhausting. I'm curious about how this May will feel different with this beautiful expedition on deck. I think change is on the horizon.
*Waterproof pants - this was purely a vanity purchase. We're able to rent boots and waterproof pants that come in generic sizes and do not come in petite/ short sizes. So a very thin 6'2" foot person could be wearing the same size pants as me. The pants are long - maybe not for the average person, but for me, they will be long. They have a velcro cuff on the bottom to close off over my boots, but those excess inches (and I'm envisioning multiple inches of excess) will kind of balloon over the lower half of my body. I will resemble a blimp and if the right gust of wind catches my pants.....well, my imagination runs wild. Mostly, though, I think this - there will be awesome photographs of me and I don't want to look like a blimp in these pictures (and I don't want those awesome photos to capture my flight through the air like the Goodyear Blimp.) So I bought a petite-sized pair of waterproof pants. See? Vanity. Truth.
So, where am I going?
You might be surprised! Take a look at this Story Map I put together so you, too, know where in the world I'm going.
Hints to viewing the Story Map below
When I was a kid, I used to go to school then come home and play school. I would, as teacher, create a worksheet and then I would, as the student, do the worksheet before I, as teacher, would grade the worksheet. Sometimes I got answers wrong and graded accordingly.
I studied my teachers just as much as I studied any subject, and, over the course of my life, I have created a colorful and odd mosaic of what it means to be a Teacher. Teacher means you could be, among other things:
After two decades as a teacher, I can safely say this - teachers are incredibly....human. And our Teacher Journey is unique because we get to plot our own course. We make our own map. It's messy, painful and white hair-inducing. It's glorious, creative, thrilling, and never boring.
My journey now includes being a Grosvenor Teacher Fellow (GTF) and I couldn't be more excited. My experience with this two-year professional development experience started in Washington, DC, in March at our Pre-Expedition Workshop.
This year, 40 teachers from across the US and Canada are going on expeditions to extraordinary places across the earth so that we can come back home and share our experiences with our students and communities.
Teachers, are you feeling inspired?
January 3, 2018
At the end of Winter Break, as I sat down to write out lesson plans for our first days back to school, I thought alot about what 2018 would bring for my family, my students and for me. I had just read a blog post about how often we deny ourselves joy about something we’re excited about by not sharing our anticipation with others because we believe that we’ll jinx our dream. The author likened this to life being about the journey, not only the destination. I decided to use our first hour back together as a class to dream big about our lives by making vision boards.
Thus, the tidy and gleaming classroom I’d left in December was quickly taken over by glue sticks, cut-outs from magazines, and cardstock, not to mention excited, chattering 8th graders. I shared my exemplar that featured icebergs and ice and words like explore, education, and travel. I told them about the Grosvenor Teacher Fellow Program and how I’d applied the year before, I wasn’t selected, and that I was excited to try again. We hung our vision boards around the room so that we were surrounded by our dreams.
February 6, 2018
We were finishing up ancient civilization maps and I needed the wall space. I’d arrived early to take down the vision boards and sort them by class. I left mine hanging on the board to reference one last time.
As I handed them back to the kiddos, I invited them to hang them up on their refrigerators or in their bedrooms; I invited them to keep their dreams in sight. I pointed to mine and told the kids how I was dreaming of this amazing opportunity and, if I wasn’t selected, well, I’d try again next year.
10:10 - time for movement break. Half the class was already out the door when the phone rang. Usually Daisy answers the phone, but I slid into my chair, my momentum propelling the wheels toward the phone. I looked down to the caller ID……... Nat Geo Society.
I will not attempt to summarize the content of the call beyond saying that Amy from Linblad Expeditions was on the line while I was having a variety of emotional responses with about a dozen adolescents observing.
When I got off the phone, the kids were all over me - WHAT WAS THAT ABOUT????
And when I told them, they pulled me out of the classroom and onto the field and yelled to the other half of our class that, “MS. IS GOING TO THE ARCTIC!!!” They huddled around me, wrapped me up in one big, group, smelly, wondrous hug.
When we’d collected ourselves and had a passing teacher take our picture then headed back into the classroom, I stood before them with, I’m quite sure, the goofiest of smiles.
A kiddo, pointing to my vision board and obviously now a true believe in the Vision Board, said, “Ms., how did you do that?”
Jared summed it up with, “Ms., this is surreal.”
I cannot think of a better word to capture that morning. Being in the classroom, with my students, talking about our dreams and then getting this call...well, it was sublimely surreal.
As a Grosvenor Teacher Fellow, I traveled to Svalbard in May 2018! Thanks to Linblad Expeditions and National Geographic for supporting teachers and encouraging us to be explorers.
Learn more about the Grosvenor Teacher Fellowship!
This blog is dedicated to my aunt, Tina Chavez, who is always my biggest fan and supporter. When I told her about my expedition to the Arctic, she asked, "So, when do you go on the Polar Bear Express?"
She also told me to run fast from the polar bears, but naming this blog "Run, Jen, Run!" isn't as charming as calling it "The Polar Bear Express."