Caitlin Montague-Winebarger lives in a cold place but has a warm spot in her heart for kids. So when the WSU alum went to teach elementary school in Manokotak, Alaska, she paid special attention to the large number of students who seemed uninterested or were just plain quiet. She’d been told to expect that, and some of her teaching colleagues were troubled by it.
She learned that non-verbal communication was a big part of the local Yup’ik culture, and she adapted.
“Many of my students were using facial cues rather than spoken responses to acknowledge their understanding, or to let me know that they didn’t understand a concept,” she recalls. “It took me awhile to key in on this style, and it required me to be in close proximity to the students, which I wasn’t used to. But soon it became habit. I find myself using still using those cues even though I live in a completely different part of the state.”
Caitlin is now a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Her dissertation research focuses on how pre-service teachers describe culture and cross-culture, and then apply those understandings. The subject is vitally important in Alaska, where there are many distinct native cultures and at least 20 native languages.
Caitlin, originally from Cheney, Wash., headed to Alaska after earning her education degree at the WSU Tri-Cities in 2006. She met Eric Johnson, assistant professor in the Tri-Cities since 2008, at the recent American Anthropological Association conference in Montreal.
“As I told Eric, I really do appreciate the foundation that I received there,” Caitlin said in an email. “It has served me well (so far!).”
Eric and Caitlin have strong common — and interdisciplinary — interests. Her Ph.D. program is based in the School of Education at UAF, but includes coursework in anthropology, cross-cultural studies and English. He has taught in departments of anthropology, foreign language, and education and helps future teachers learn how to succeed in multilingual, multicultural classrooms.
Caitlin’s master’s degree research focused on teacher isolation and technology in a rural Alaskan school district. She also worked as a research assistant for the Alaska Native Teacher Preparation Project, which supported Alaska Native and American Indian students pursuing teaching degrees.
Speaking of another kind of degree … Caitlin says it was minus 25 Fahrenheit when she took a hike the other day and a friend snapped the picture posted here. “But it was sunny!”