2014 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™ Jen Reiter Reflects on the Year

On behalf of the Iditarod Education Department, I would like to personally say  “Thank You!” to  Jen Reiter for her outstanding leadership and determination to bring the Iditarod into classrooms around the world. Jen’s lessons, journal, and innovative approach to using technology as a technology tool and her personal ‘Skype in the Classroom” outreach are benchmarks of educational success.  It’s an honor to have Jen as a member of our educational team that strives to make sure the Iditarod is the Last Great Teaching Race ™. 

Diane Johnson, Iditarod Education Department


Homework Assignment from the Iditarod Education Department to Jen: 

“Write an article to sum up your experiences as the

2014 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail.”


tot-jen-2014I am honestly not sure that a one sentence email has ever sent me reeling as much as this one has.  That one sentence directive has a lot of power packed in to it… it means that my time is almost over and it’s going to force me to put onto paper things that I’ve been having a hard time sharing with people.  Preparing for and embarking on this journey has been my focus for two solid years and has changed me in ways I probably haven’t even begun to imagine yet.  I haven’t summed it up yet. It’s still forming in my head and tumbling out piece meal.  A day hasn’t gone by where one question from my students doesn’t get me on an Iditarod Trail story tangent for half a class period.  A night hasn’t gone by where there isn’t a dog sled somewhere in my dreams.  A week hasn’t gone by where I’m not on Skype with a school somewhere rehashing the race’s end and how it felt to watch Dallas Seavey find out he won the race or how it felt to watch Nathan and Monica finally reach the Burled Arch and earn their belt buckles.   How do you sum that up in one article? 

Everyone who asks me how it was gets the same answer, “Amazing.”  And truth be told, that word doesn’t begin to cover it.  I’ve taught about the Iditarod for so long and I thought I knew.  I honestly thought I knew what it was all about.  But I didn’t.  To actually be there on the trail and to actually see the race happen, to hear the dogs, to talk to the mushers, to visit the schools, to share meals with the volunteers, to fly with the pilots, to experience Alaska, to be there was mesmerizing.  It’s what I thought it would be and so very much more.  To experience the relationships – dog and musher, musher and vet, volunteers and villagers, students and teachers – it’s the people and the stories that they share that make the race.  It’s the tie to the history and culture of a people, the tie to the history of a trail, the urge to challenge oneself and see what we are really capable of – it’s all of that and so much more.  It’s the raw emotion – whether it be the faces of mushers coming in to a checkpoint from the Gorge or the sounds of the dropped dogs howling for their teams or a father’s face waiting for his son under the arch – it’s human emotion at its core.  I thought I knew what it was – but it’s so much more than I ever imagined.

“Sum up your experiences.” I’m not sure I can.  It doesn’t come to me as a summary. It comes to me as a series of snapshots, each with its own story.

  • The Harper brothers at the halfway point for the Junior Iditarod sitting together and sharing trail stories while resting their teams. 
  • Flying over the trail from White Mountain to Nome and seeing mushers on the trail.
  • Talking to teachers in Galena about the changes in their village since the flood and about how grateful they were that the race came through this year.
  • The small boy in Takotna who tugged on my jacket and asked if I was the teacher and how proud I was to be able to say yes.
  • Mushers caring for dogs and dogs supporting mushers.

I am honored to have been a part of it.  I’m honored to have represented teachers who have found the value in teaching with the “Last Great Race on Earth®”.    I’m grateful to have had the experience.  Thank you to the Iditarod Trail Committee and the Education Department for realizing the potential this race has to be an educational tool and for placing a priority on education.   Thanks to Finney for having the initiative to think up a program like Teacher on the Trail and the perseverance to will it into existence.  Thank you to Barbara Redington and Lacey Hart for welcoming me to the Junior Iditarod family with smiles, hugs, and jobs to do.  Thank you to Nathan Schroeder for the ride of a lifetime, the late night talks, and the stories to share.  Thanks to Monica Zappa for the unending patience to field questions from sixteen third grade boys and for making us feel like we really played a role in her Iditarod adventure.  Thanks to Dell and Skype in the Classroom for providing me with the means to connect with almost fifty classrooms in three countries from the trail.  And thanks to those teachers who welcomed me into their classrooms and for sharing the enthusiasm of the race with their students.  Thanks to the mushers, vets, pilots, volunteers, and fans who answered questions, posed for pictures, and shared their stories.  Thanks to the people of the schools, villages, and checkpoints I had the privilege of visiting for welcoming me into your lives with such openness.  Thank you to my school, Gilman, for allowing me the opportunity to follow this whim of mine.  Thanks to my boys for loving the race as much as I do, for jumping into every Iditarod project with two feet, and for helping me fill the blog with words and photos. Thank you to my family for their unending support.

My experiences will probably take me a lifetime to sum up.  I know that they will stay with me for a lifetime and I know that the experience has made me a better teacher and a stronger person. 

Jen Reiter

2014 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™

View Jen’s lessons and her journal entries by clicking here.