Teacher on the Trail™ 2018

Hi Boys and Girls,

I have exciting news! The Teacher on the Trail™ for 2018 is Heidi Sloan. Heidi is a 5th grade teacher in Virginia . She was selected after a fun week in Alaska, interviewing, presenting lessons, and participating in many race week activities. I recently interviewed Heidi about her experience and about what she is looking forward to as the Teacher on the Trail™.








Hi Heidi, You spent a week in Alaska during the Iditarod as a finalist. Can you tell us a little bit about your week as a finalist?

“I went to vet check and saw the dogs having check ups. They were good and let the vets check their gums, joints, tummies, and scan their microchips although they didn’t like it much. We met many mushers and handlers and had a great time even though it was -10 degrees and windy.”

“In Fairbanks, the morning of the Iditarod Restart, it was -31 degrees. I took cups of hot water and threw the water into the cold air outside. It evaporated into a spectacular cloud! During the race, it was -14 at noon, cold, but so exciting to see the dogs and sleds whipping around the corner on their start to Nome.”

“ I watched a sprint race where mushers kicked at the end to make the smaller sled go faster.”

“ I watched a sprint race where mushers kicked at the end to make the smaller sled go faster.”

What was something new that you learned?

“ I learned great teaching ideas at the Iditarod Educator Winter Conference. One activity we did was a STEM activity on the fastest way to melt icecubes to remove plastic letters in our cubes. My group licked the cubes like dogs would.”

“ I learned to handle sled dogs so they don’t leaving the starting line too fast. Even though there were six of us holding onto musher Trent Herbst’s dogs with leashes, it was tough holding them back. They really wanted to GO.”

What was something fun that you did during the week?

 “The most fun for my week was to actually see the snow on the streets of Anchorage the day of the Iditarod ceremonial start, see the dogs being bootied and harnessed by mushers like Mitch Seavey and Trent Herbst, and listen to the excitement of the dogs as they yelped, wanting to run! I was able to be a dog handler. That meant I held a leash connected to a dog teams’ gangline. There were five other handlers with me trying to hold the team steady until it was their turn to leave the starting line. The dogs were jumping around, barking, and crazy ready to RUN every time the announcer counted down and yelled, “Go!” I had to plant my feet to hold my hyper dogs in place.”



What was the hardest thing for you?

“The hardest thing during the week was being able to sleep enough! We were very busy each day, and late nights were spent writing articles and lesson plans. Alaska time was four hours different from Virginia, and my body didn’t want to adapt.”

I heard you had an embarrassing moment. Can you share that with us?

 “An embarrassing thing happened when I went outside on the hotel landing to Facetime with my class. We had to talk at 5:45 AM Alaska time since that was the only time we could work our schedule. I had on my coat, hat, mittens, and boots, but was still in pajama pants. After talking and showing them the lights of Anchorage, I realized I was locked out! I had to walk down 18 flights of stairs, walk outside around the hotel to the front door, then sneak through the classy lobby in pajama pants, hoping no Iditarod staff saw me. “

It sounds like you have a fun but very busy week. Now that you have been selected to be the Teacher on the Trail™, what do you plan to do between now and the race?

“I am reading four chapter books before this summer! One is about Joe Redington, Sr. who began the Iditarod race. It’s great to know the history behind this historic trail and race. Another is about some of the native Alaskans, Athapascans, who lived in the interior along the Koyukuk River and how they lived and survived; it is fascinating! I also am writing up lesson plan ideas for teachers to incorporate the Iditarod. I will help with a few teachers’ conferences: two in Alaska, and maybe one each in Michigan and Virginia. My blog starts in June, so I will be writing little articles on sled dogs, mushers, Alaska, and more! I want to talk with and maybe visit some lower 48 mushers to see what they are doing now after the race. Setting up Skype times with classrooms around the USA will be a great way to connect with teachers and students who share excitement about the Iditarod.”

How will you prepare for your adventure?

“I inherit a sleeping bag that will be passed to me from Annie Kelley and all the former Teachers on the Trail™! Each teacher has designed a patch that is sewn on the sleeping bag. I am very excited to design a patch that represents Virginia, the Iditarod, and me. “

“Dressing warmly is really important for the Iditarod Trail. However, I have to just take a small amount of gear when I fly by bush plane from checkpoint to checkpoint. The problem is how many warm clothes to take! It can get down to -50 on the trail, so that’s a huge change from Virginia which rarely dips below 20 degrees. I need to plan well and take advice from the other Teachers on the Trail™.”

“I am exercising regularly and eating healthy to be strong for going to a different, harsher climate. It will take energy and endurance for this adventure, just like the sled dogs. I doubt I will burn 10,000 – 12,000 calories per day like the dogs do. If I did, I could eat brownies every day!”

What do you hope to accomplish as the Teacher on the Trail™?

My goal is to reach more students and teachers with the wonderful experience of using the Iditarod as a tool to make learning required standards much more engaging! Using math problems that go along with the race makes math more interesting and real. Reading articles on mushers, their dogs, and other Iditarod articles keep interest high for comprehension and writing activities. I want all students, even those who have no concept of cold, snow, and mushing, to learn about Alaska and its terrain, climate, and lifestyle as well as the Iditarod! Meeting the many villagers in the checkpoints and listening to their stories is something I hope for as well. “

Do you have any words of wisdom for the teachers out there who are thinking about applying for the Teacher on the Trail position in the future?

“If you have ever dreamed of being Teacher on the Trail™, I would say just go for it. Even though the paper work for the application is heavy, it makes you really self evaluate and celebrate what you do each school day! If you are passionate about making learning engaging and motivating for your students, you should apply. Being one of the finalists and going through the interview process, speaking to equally passionate teachers at the conference, and meeting many of the EDU staff and former Teachers on the Trail™ was definitely one of the highlights of my career.”

Lastly, what were some of the reactions of your students when they found out you had been selected?

Katya- “Our whole class knew that Mrs. Sloan won Teacher on the Trail™ when she got a phone call. We just knew this phone call was the one. She started crying and so did the rest of us. Soon after, it seemed as if the whole fourth and fifth grades were in the hallway in front of our door congratulating Mrs. Sloan. We were all so happy. Because of the excitement, we got extra recess [because Mrs. S. was having trouble concentrating!”

Michael- “When Mrs. Sloan received the call we all knew it was about the Iditarod. When she got to the phone it was so quiet you could hear a pin drop! After she hung up, she told us she got it and the whole class burst into hysterics! It was a very emotional moment because we all knew that this was one of her dreams, and that our very own teacher was going to be the Iditarod’s Teacher on the Trail™! We were all hugging her telling her congratulations. It was a great moment to be there!”

Jackson- “Out of all the times we have been excited about something Mrs. Sloan received or did, this was the biggest!”

Cameron- “It was awesome. We were doing reading when the phone call came. They called and said she won Teacher on the Trail™. I was so happy. We were cheering and the teachers heard and they started cheering as well. We hope she has a great time! And she might see the cool dogs!”


Thank you Heidi. You have a busy but exciting year ahead of you. We will be looking forward to following you on the trail.

Teachers- Check out the application for the Teacher on the Trail™. Who knows, maybe next year I’ll be writing about you!

See you on the trail,