Fans following the 2022 Iditarod GPS tracker may have noticed a marker moving along the trail that was not a musher. Labeled simply as “teacher,” this marker showed the position of Jim Deprez, Iditarod 2022’s Teacher on the Trail.
The Teacher on the Trail flies from checkpoint to checkpoint, following the mushers. He or she follows the race and interviews the mushers to write posts about the experience and create lesson activities and prompts for classrooms all over the country. Educators in the U.S. and beyond can go to the edu page of the Iditarod official website to print these and Iditarod-themed lesson plans including math, social studies, character education and language arts.
Through these lesson plans, students can get involved in the Iditarod in educational ways, such as figuring out how much food it takes to feed the mushers in math class or writing a personal narrative about a sled dog’s journey in language arts class.
Deprez, a teacher from Ohio, said this exposure to the Iditarod in classrooms that may have never even seen snow, let alone a real-life dog team, can become a huge source of inspiration for students.
“The kids just love learning about this, especially in the Lower 48 because it’s something so drastically different from their everyday life. … Kids obviously love dogs, so that’s a huge draw. They love competition. And so, Iditarod in general is just amazing,” Deprez said.
This effect Iditarod has on kids is what led Deprez himself to get invested in the Iditarod and eventually apply for the teacher on the trail position.
“First, I guess I got introduced to Iditarod right out of grad school where I took over for a teacher going on maternity leave. She had been teaching Iditarod to her class. I’d heard of it. I knew kind of what it was but not a whole lot so it was kind of cool being able to kind of learn about it as I was teaching it to the kids. They had just a huge connection to it. Then the following year she actually went on another maternity leave and so I saw the same reaction from the kiddos the second year, and so I was just like: ok so she’s onto something with this!” Deprez said.
Deprez was initially selected to be Iditarod’s 2021’s teacher on the trail, but could not be on the trail due to the pandemic. Instead, he spent that year writing remote posts, falling under several categories: “Moments with Mushers” that focused on interviews with Mushers from the whole fifty year span of the race, looking at how the race has changed from its beginning; “Voices of the Volunteers” that shone a light on the contribution of Iditarod Volunteers, “Classroom Connections” that gave teachers different Iditarod themed classroom activities, and “Misconceptions and More” that dispelled a few myths around the Iditarod race.
When he finally did get to fly up to Anchorage this year and participate in 2022’s Iditarod as the 23rd teacher on the trail, Deprez’s roll in the Iditarod changed again. On the trail, Deprez went from checkpoint to checkpoint, waiting for mushers to pass through and made daily posts that delineated his experiences interacting with mushers and their dogs as they sped towards Nome.
Deprez has seen the ripple effects these posts have had on students:
“For example, I was talking to my wife on the phone this morning, who is also a teacher, and one of her colleagues at her school had a student come down to her and show her a poem that they made. And it was a beautifully written poem about how she now wants to race in the Iditarod. That’s just one example, but there are so many similar stories over the years,” Deprez said.
Deprez hopes to continue his involvement with the Iditarod, in some way or another, in the future.
Image at top: Jim Deprez (left) on a bush plane headed to the Nome dog lot to drop off sled dogs. Image Courtesy of Iditarod EDU used with permission. Photo credit: Wes Erb