Heitman’s curiously titled debut tells the story of his life, from his struggles as a child with dyslexia to his work as an educator in Alaska. Nicknamed “Whip,” Heitman grew up believing his learning disabilities would prevent him from getting anywhere in life; he acted accordingly, getting into trouble from a young age. After a stint in the U.S. Navy, however, he realized that college was for him, and he worked hard to get through it and beyond. He loved education so much that he decided he wanted to be a teacher, first in California, then in Alaska, where he and his wife, Barbara, moved after learning from another couple about plentiful opportunities for new teachers there. They began by working in a rural village, then moved on to another, even more rural village. These passages focus mainly on life in Alaska: the effect of freezing cold temperatures on regular life, the trouble with flying small aircraft, the culture that inspired the children he worked with, etc. For anyone unfamiliar with Alaska or similar regions, this part of the book is a stunning look at how climate affects every aspect of life and how a person has to adapt to live in it. After several years, the couple moved to Fairbanks, a more metropolitan, livable area, where Heitman began working with children with handicaps and learning disabilities. Here, though there are several interesting looks at the beautiful scenery, the focus shifts away from geography and on to Heitman’s work as a teacher. He was clearly an innovative, empathetic educator, and the methods described here would be useful for anyone in the field. As a memoir, the book suffers from its strictly chronological telling: The story unfolds just as life does, paving over some of the more imaginative narrative opportunities. The memoir might have worked better as a series of essays, since an assortment of interesting themes are at play. Even so, the stories about Alaska and Heitman’s work are fascinating and worth reading, and they are straightforwardly told with humor and candor that help make this memoir a joy to read.
An inspiring, informative life story; recommended especially for teachers and those who want to venture north.