Since 2005 Diane Johnson has been Director of Education for http://iditarod.com.
Even though itâs her busiest time of the year, Diane graciously answered questions about the Iditarod and her role on the web site. She talked about teaching the Iditarod, and teaching in general.
Read interview with Diane...
1. Whatâs your job like?
Diane: Iâm Director of Education for Iditarod Trail Sled Dog RaceÂ®. I work out of my home office in Aberdeen, South Dakota. I maintain the For Teachers section of the official Iditarod web site. I work with schools, teachers, after-school programs, and summer camps in all 50 states and many foreign countries. Itâs a full-time job!
It amazes me that a hundred thousand plus students follow the race each year. Weâve improved the web site, tripled our teacher participation, and have recognized academic success with students in every state.
Diane in Galina, AK.
2. Are you still teaching?
Diane: Iâm still teaching, but not in a school. Now I teach at teacher conferences and through the web site. I like to say Iâve increased the size of my classroom and teach in all time zones! Iâm inspired each week by incredible stories from teachers who share the positive academic impact using the race has on their students and on their own teaching style.
3. Howâd you get started with the Iditarod?
Diane: I was a fourth grade teacher in Aberdeen, SD. In 1999 I was picked to serve as the second Iditarod Target Teacher on the Trail. During the race I traveled from checkpoint to checkpoint in a small bush plane and shared my experiences with classrooms around the world. Now I travel to Alaska each year before the start of the Iditarod and in June for Iditarodâs Summer Camp for Teachers.
In fall 2005, I became Director of Education for the web site. My goal is to provide content so teachers can use the race to meet their school districtâs standards and objectives.
4. Do you go to the Iditarod?
Diane: Iâve been every year since 1999!
5. Do you raise sled dogs?
Diane: My husband, Mark, and our son, Michael, enter a few sled dog races each year with our 18 sled dogs. Because there are no races in South Dakota, we travel to Minnesota or other states to participate. I donât race the dogs. Iâm the trail boss and chief dog yard scooper. At age 14, Michael is considering racing in the Jr. Iditarod in a couple of years. To keep that dream alive, he must set goals and work hard with his dogs.
Diane with sled dog.
6. How do you recommend teachers prepare their students for the Iditarod?
Diane: First, I believe a teacher needs to prepare her students by showing them sheâs interested in learning, that sheâs a lifelong learner with many interests. When students see their teacher as a real person with real interests, who talks to them like theyâre real people, theyâre more apt to respond positively in a classroom.
Start with an academic focus. You donât have to be an Iditarod expert, read all the books, do all the research, or design a total unit in advance. Thereâs so much information that your learning will never be complete. Let your studentsâ needs and interests shape your unit of study.
Design each lesson to align with standards and 21st century goals and objectives. A focus on standards, goals, and objectives is crucial. Teachers donât âteach Iditarod,â they teach state and local curriculum. Iditarod is a way to reach the curriculum. Using Iditarod results in academic success.
If you use For Teachers, Zumaâs Paw Prints, and the TargetÂ® Iditarod Teacher on the Trailâ¢ on Iditarodâs web site, youâll stay current with lesson plans, strategies, and project ideas.
7. How does the Iditarod work for teachers and students?
Diane: The teaching strategies and content are engaging for students and teachers. Using the race as a tool is sound educational practice and leads to academic success, interest development, and 21st century skill building. At the end of the day, this is less about the race and more about student achievement and motivation.
Iditarod works for students because theyâre inspired by what they read and discover. They find the stories and lessons applicable to real life. Students can draw on what theyâve learned as they work to meet personal goals or overcome academic challenges. Students develop a desire to add to what they already know.
Iditarod works for teachers because it encourages teachers to be actively involved in curriculum development, which is essential to effective teaching. Topics within the study allow teachers to continually learn and grow which makes them better teachers and helps them reach more students.
Teachers whoâve used the race with students have documented that their students read more, write more, solve more math problems, spend more time in self-directed research, and think more scientifically while studying the Iditarod. Students have a strong desire to want to be at school during the race, do more homework independently during the race, and develop technology skills while following the race. Students discover the need to set personal goals and take steps to achieve those goals, lessons from the Iditarod.
Teachers, send me your results! I want to hear about your successes. Other teachers can learn from you too!
8. Will you explain how IditaRead works?
Diane: An IditaReadâ¢ is a project designed to inspire students to read independently. It can be as simple or complicated as a teacher wants it to be. Goals can be individualized so each student has a personal goal or guideline to follow. Students read to achieve a reading goal that matches with miles or checkpoints along the trail. Teachers can use the number of minutes or pages read, or students can read one book per checkpoint. For the youngest students, it includes books that are read to them.
9. In your experience, whatâs the down side of being an educator?
Diane: Professional jealousy. Colleagues, instead of celebrating the success of a co-teacher, take it as an indication theyâve failed to make a positive impact on student success. I know there are teachers out there really making a difference. They need the support of programs like our Education Departmentâs programs to inspire them to do whatâs best for students.
10. Diane, do you have any advice for teachers?
Diane: Be the teacher you are and do whatâs right for your students. Students have to accept challenges, and you, as their teacher, need to show you can face challenges and move forward, despite those around you who say, âTeach to the test.â Instead, do whatâs best. I havenât followed all the rules but hopefully Iâve made a difference in studentsâ learning and lives, and thatâs the only test that really counts.
Martha Dobson, 2011 Target Teacher on the Trail at Summer Camp for Teachers in AK.
Thanks, Diane! Youâre making a real difference in the lives of thousands of students and teachers!