|Eva Murray lives, works and writes on Matinicus Island.
first we weed out all the crazies (and the people who think they are going to commute . . .)
by Eva Murray
It’s amazing who thinks they’d like to teach one-room school on an isolated island.
Mr. Duncan, our most excellent teacher for this past year, had to return to Wisconsin after all, so we of the Matinicus Island school board are unexpectedly faced with the task of hiring a new teacher for this coming year.
This is not, by the way, an advertisement. We go through this process frequently because this school has had a tradition of “term limits,” intended to ensure a wide variety of adult influences for these children who do not change classes, strive under the watchful eyes of coaches, or spend their toddler-hoods being driven to any sort of play group.
When I first came to Matinicus in 1987 it was in answer to a classified print ad in the Bangor Daily News that read, “Teacher wanted for one-room school.”
That is not how we do it anymore.
The Internet being what it is, we now get applicants for this position from all over the country. Of course, it would be perfect lunacy to hire somebody for this job, and expect them to live happily and independently on this enigmatic island, if they had never attempted the trip here. Applicants must be willing to come to Maine to interview. Obviously, that reduces the applicant pool considerably, and sometimes it’s too bad, because very promising-looking people just can’t get the days off. Still, it would be wrong to bring somebody out here who isn’t going into this adventure “eyes wide open.”
When applications come in on paper and online, there are always a few from people who clearly have not looked at a map. They might mention that they plan to commute daily, or they have some family obligation every weekend or they let drop that they own a bunch of livestock that would be coming with them. Some don’t like flying and get terribly seasick (you might manage with one of those problems, but not with both). Some have school-aged children but acknowledge that they’d rather not teach their own (not a lot of options left). Anybody with medical worries might think twice about this place. Actually, anybody who tends to worry for any reason might think twice.
You’ll want to be happy in your own head before you move here. You must not be running from yourself. You will run right smack into yourself in the middle of March, and it won’t be pretty.
After we’ve read a few paper applications and sorted out the ones from people who only teach Kindergarten or who aren’t really certified or who make clear their intention to convert the heathen, we make some phone calls. We’ve learned to make no assumptions about the potential applicant’s geographic acumen: “Do you realize that you are applying to work on a remote island?”
We then launch into a concerted effort to scare the teacher away, offering long lists of frightening realities such as six-week fog spells, 12-foot seas, icy roads, 50-knot winds, bad television reception, worse cell phone reception, mud, bait, arsenic, wanted felons and a complete lack of take-out latte.
Sometimes the phone goes quiet about then.
If not, we explain that electricity costs 65 cents a kilowatt hour and propane is $130 for a 100-pound cylinder and gasoline is close to five bucks if you can get it at all. Then, perhaps, add some details about small aircraft and ex-Alaska bush pilots and groceries ordered by fax. We try not to tell them quite yet about wholesale lobsters and starry nights and beautiful sand beaches and the best home cooks in Maine. They have to earn the perks.
A few somehow manage to remain intrigued, and we bring several candidates out to Matincus to visit the school, meet the children, parents and staff, and have a real interview here. This is often an applicant’s very first ride in a small airplane. That experience sometimes tells us a lot. As for setting up the visits, some here are of the opinion that the best method would be to inform an applicant that their interview is at 11 a.m. on Thursday and then see if they can figure out how to get here on their own. Most generally Natalie, who more or less runs the school board, takes pity on the prospective teachers and talks them through the complexity of “making a flight.” (This means calling the air service and establishing a tentative sort of reservation, subject to the vagaries of weather, medical flights, and random other interferences. Plan B might be see if George is running a boat trip. Plan C is call all over the place asking if anybody’s heard of any possible rides. There is no way the newcomer to an island will know this.)
Experience has shown, however, that we go through this process for nothing, because we can ascertain a great deal about a potential teacher’s island compatibility by just asking the flying service pilots what they observed of their passenger’s reaction to the whole adventure. We hardly even need a school board.