Heroic Teacher Press

Elaine Griffin: The Teacher Who Taught Kids To Dream Again by heroicteacherpress
March 9, 2012, 5:34 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Sometimes students in the smallest of places have the biggest needs.  Children suffering from poverty, neglect and rock-bottom expectations aren’t only found in the ghettos of Harlem and the slums of New York City.  Sometimes they’re found in the tiny, 37-student school in Akhiok, Alaska.  That’s where Elaine Griffin found them.

 Since she was a child growing up in upstate New York, Elaine had been fascinated by the stories and pictures of Alaska   The natural beauty and rugged landscape of Alaska appealed to her adventuresome spirit and love for distant cultures.  While working as a librarian in New Mexico, she learned of openings at the two-teacher school on Akhiok, she and her husband grabbed for the dream.

 When she arrived at the isolated, roadless village on the tundra at the southern tip of the Kodiak Island in 1974, the reality she encountered did not quite match her dream.  Though the landscape was incredible and awe-inspiring, she found a group of students plagued by alcoholism, teen pregnancy and suicide.  She found a community where students thought their lives began and ended in this desolate outpost, a community of children without dreams.  

 Undaunted, she and her husband began re-working the school, collaborating with the community and giving her students hope.  Under her leadership, the small schools at Akhiok and the nearby village of Chinak set unprecedented records for student achievement and high school graduation.  She helped to raise standards and to implement a demanding and culturally-relevant curriculum.  A world traveler herself, she opened up kids’ mind to the wonders of the world outside their tiny village.  The students from the specks on the map began to dream and, with Mrs. Griffin’s guidance, started to achieve those dreams. Many students even participated in foreign exchange adventures themselves.

 “There are many ways a teacher can positively influence learning,” Griffin explained, “including a love for books and a regard for multiple world views.  But the most important thing to me is to forge an unbreakable bond with each student based on mutual respect and admiration.”  

 Spoken like a true Teacher-Hero.  This heroism and excellence was recognized by President Clinton when he awarded Elaine Griffin the 1995 National Teacher of the Year.  Even seventeen year later, her accomplishments and words resonate.  Like great teachers everywhere, Elaine realized how important it is not only to raise standards, but also give students the love, support and dreams to attain those standards.  

4 Comments so far
Leave a comment

I ,too, am a teacher. I am a speech/language pathologist and have been teaching in the GA public schools for the past 17 years.
I have a daughter who is a marine biologist living in Seattle. She does most of her field work with whales in the Alaskan waters. My husband and I have become very interested in everything Alaskan, trying to share in her adventures.
I feel so proud to have known someone who has done such wonderful things with her life. May you have many more years of health and happiness.

Sincerest regards,
Linda Hoyt Rone

Comment by Linda Hoyt Rone

We too are fascinated by Alaska and are planning a cruise there this year. We’ve never been but have known teachers who have worked there and who have shared some stories about the needs of students and communities there. Elaine did remarkable work there that won her acclaim in the state and nationally. One aspiring administrator we know went up to the schools in Alaska to view the program she started in the 90’s and was blown away. Truly a hero in the teaching profession.

Comment by heroicteacherpress

First of all, Akhiok (very remote, south side of Kodiak Island) and Chiniak (connected by gravel road to Kodiak city) are not close to each other. The Griffins started in Akhiok and later moved to Chiniak.
I was one of her students.

Comment by Matthew

Thanks for contributing your personal knowledge about Elaine Griffin.

Comment by heroicteacherpress

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