Author: Garrett Armstrong

I'm a returned Peace Corps volunteer (Ukraine 2011-2013), back in my hometown of Fairbanks and studying towards my Master's in Education. In my free time, I enjoy motorcycles, bicycles, coffee, exploring the trails outside of Fairbanks, and becoming re-acquainted with my quirky and unique hometown.

Blog 6


(Vika, one of my 5th form students from Bilovod I-III School, Bilovod, Sumska Oblast, Ukraine)

At the end of the semester, I reflected on this class and what my classroom management strategies would be. Personally, my strategy would be to lay down the foundations from the beginning of the semester for a solid semester, starting with laying out the class rules and procedures for the students. I would make it clear to the students what is expected of them. I learned the hard way that if you do not have clear rules & procedures, but instead vague “guidelines”, it means that there will undoubtedly be arguments between the teacher and the students when they misbehave and don’t know it until the teacher yells at them (Yes, this happened in my Peace Corps days. A bonus blog post on my experiences in a Ukrainian public school is coming soon). I would also have a syllabus ready so that the students could see what their course will look like and how to prepare for it.
As for everyday classroom management, it depends on the age range and subject of the class. I have observed in some Fairbanks classrooms that teachers may have very strict policies towards assignment due dates, whereas others, especially in a class that lots of worksheets and handouts are used, may have no clear due dates except for a week before finals. I would choose something in the middle, as I understand that students may have other tasks and responsibilities in their lives and would probably grant them some leeway in the matter.

Overall, I would strive to make my classroom friendly and approachable to the students. I would have a lot of materials available online for the students to view in their own time, and post assignments online as well. One teacher used this to great effect in his classes, since his students spent much of their free time online and he had to communicate with them “in their preferred medium”.

Blog 5: Reflections from a Middle-School Geography Classroom

Earlier I had the opportunity to visit and observe a 7th grade World Geography classroom here in Fairbanks. I learned a great deal and saw how to manage the energetic middle school students.

To begin each lesson, the teacher has a warm-up question, which he calls an “eye-opener”, on the subject of the previous lesson. It’s usually a simple question for students to answer individually, such as “Name three things that the monotheistic religions have in common” and he checks each student’s answer while he takes attendance. I thought this was a practical way to engage the students, remind them of the previous lesson’s topic, and take roll. Of course, with a class of 20+ students this takes some time, but I saw that the students were prepared and the teacher managed to go through the entire class of 22 in a reasonably quick pace.

The teacher used a few different transitions between class activities. He would sometimes simply announce what they would do next, or quietly bridge the activities. For example, when the students were reading a text on Abraham and his importance to the three monotheistic religions, he loaded a Venn diagram on the classroom’s smartboard so that after the reading, they could review what they read by placing terms related to the three religions in the correct circle.

One strategy this teacher used in class that I would like to use in the future is have competitions between the same age classes in the same subjects. He has introduced an online quiz game where students either answer questions on the subject or fill in the names of countries on a map, and earn points for their class team. They can follow their scores against other 7th grade classes online, and seemed very engaged in that activity. It’s a great way to make quizzes and reviews more lively.

In Response to Paul Berg’s Article “The Future of Alaska Native Education”

I agree completely with Paul Berg’s argument. The Alaska Native peoples should be able to organize their own cirricula and plan their schools as they see fit. My question remains this: what concrete goals can we make towards involving the local Natives into their local schools and education systems? I understand that they need to make their own choices concerning their schools, but I also believe that they should be offered some outside guidance and not left to fend for themselves. However, it could be possible for them to collaborate with other indigenous educators, such as members of the Maori or Sami, who are teaching their own schools and can assist them with forming their own approach to education.

Having lived in Barrow in my early childhood, I found this article particularly interesting, and it reminds me of the Native cultural events that I took part in, even though I wasn’t Inupiaq myself. If interested, here is an excellent interview from KUAC with Edna MacLean, the author of the first comprehensive Inupiaq to English dictionary. In addition to discussing her work in interviewing elders and compiling the dictionary, she also comments on how she imagines Inupiaq language can be taught in village schools. It’s a fascinating interview and worth a listen for anyone who is interested in Alaskan languages or teaching in rural Alaska.

4 Rules for the Classroom


A classroom should be focused on its main goal: for every student to learn as much as possible in a lesson. Like all goals, this involves cooperation, and cooperation requires certain mutual understanding and rules that would foster an environment that students could easily learn and flourish in. My rules as a teacher would be very straightforward to that end, but (as many of us know from classroom experience) this is not always apparent and the rules need to be outlined and explained to the class. I believe that these four rules will increase the students’ respect for one another, their teacher, and their education.


  1. Be respectful of the person speaking at the moment. No yelling, interrupting, or distracting classmates with chatting during the lesson.
  2. No horseplay, running, jumping, or gymnastics in class.
  3. No personal electronics, including mobile phones, in class unless approved by the teacher.
  4. Be on time, and if you are late, enter the classroom quietly.

For more content on rules and procedures, I want to share a resource that I recently discovered: California Services for Technical Services and Trainings’ online training course for rules & procedures for K-5 teachers. There are 5 modules on the website, with pre-tests, lessons, and reviews to learn more about implementing rules and procedures in the classroom. I found this website rather helpful already, and hope that you do too.


And as a bonus, I wanted to post a link to something I, personally find tremendously helpful for a lot of things: teacher videos. This portal has a lot of videos of practical activities on a wide variety of topics. There are videos for teachers to watch for ideas for class activities, as well as clips to share with students as additions to lessons. They even work on my house’s slow internet connection, so I think they work on a slower bandwidths.



Hello – Garrett Armstrong

Hello everybody!

[caption id="attachment_2001" align="alignnone" width="300"]Garrett at Gogolfest, Kyiv, Ukraine Me at Gogolfest, Kyiv, Ukraine[/caption]


My girlfriend Ana and I at the end of the Overlook / Mt. Healy trail in Denali Nat’l Park.
A little about me: was born and raised in Fairbanks, studied History and English at Carroll College in Montana, and the really interesting bits start in 2010, when I set off for Ukraine with the Peace Corps.
I spent almost 2 years in Ukraine as a TEFL volunteer teacher. While there, I was assigned to a small farming village in north-central Ukraine called Bilovody. I co-taught with the school’s English teachers in every class, from 1st Form to 11th. My favorites were the 11th form classes, who were generally eager to learn English in preparation for university. Even the “back of class kids” were interested in learning English so that they could play Uno or understand the dialog in their favorite action movies (Sylvester Stallone is still a big deal over there). Before the end of the first semester, I knew all my students by name (not too hard, as I had about 104 students).
After I finished my Peace Corps service, the Maidan protests began in Kyiv, and what was a small student-led protest against the then-president Yanukovych’s sudden decision to disengage from the European Association Agreement and swerve to Russia’s Eurasian Customs Union escalated into a nationwide protest. I thought to myself, “I gotta stick around now, this is a pivotal moment in Ukraine’s history’. So I moved to Kyiv after my service was complete and taught English lessons for I.T. companies around the city while I observed the following events and talked to my Ukrainian friends and students about what would happen next. In the meantime, I learned more Ukrainian and Russian, got to know Ukraine better (and spend lots of time in L’viv, one of my favorite cities on Earth), and enjoy the warmer weather.
In that time, I also studied in Krakow, Poland, for a month with British Council. I earned my CELTA certificate for TEFL there, and also experienced Poland. When not studying for my course there, I enjoyed exploring the storied and beautiful city of Krakow, learned some Polish, and improved myself as an “amateur” teacher. However, I also realized when I returned to Kyiv for work that I wanted formal training as a teacher. I also wanted training in classroom management. On the topic of the article we read last week in class, I have had to manage classes where the students didn’t see the point of learning English and wanted to goof around, play chess, and really do anything but try to study. So
I returned home this April to study for my Master’s in Education, which I am on a year-and-a-half track. I haven’t started my student teaching yet, but am looking forward to it next fall, when I plan on taking PRAXIS II for History, English, and possibly Latin as well.
In my free time, I enjoy cycling on roads, trails, and bogs, riding and maintaining my 41-year-old BMW R60/6 motorcycle (pictured below), reading, studying Ukrainian and Russian, and brushing up on my Latin. Someday I hope to teach high-school History and English classes. Latin would be wonderful too.

Thanks for reading and I’ll see you all at class!