Every year, teachers across the country get the opportunity to be a part of the Iditarod Conference for Educators — a four-day event aimed at enhancing their curriculums by connecting them to the experiences of mushers in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.

Registration fees can cost educators up to $675, not including travel for those who live out of state, but attendees are guaranteed a ticket to the annual Musher Drawing Banquet as well as a reserved spot for a variety of educational field trips planned throughout the conference.

One of the field trips planned for this year’s conference was to veteran musher Matthew Failor’s kennel, 17th-Dog, where teachers and their guests had the opportunity to get a behind the scenes look at a sled dog racing kennel and learn more about the culture and life of a musher.

“I love it,” Dottie Cunningham, an educator from Massachusetts, said about the experience. “I love the dogs and that is one topic that every child is excited about and you can do all kinds of learning through that one topic."

Attendees were encouraged to bring devices like smartphones and tablets to communicate with their classrooms while visiting the kennel. Failor and his handlers walked through the crowd introducing each of his 52 dogs and talked to the teachers about what goes into sled dog racing.

"You know, you can learn about being a team, being a farmer, you know, I have responsibilities. I gotta take care of these dogs every day,” Failor said while on a training run with his dogs shortly after the teachers left. “You learn about the history of Alaska, traveling schedules, nutrition, genealogy, animal husbandry, so there are just many aspects to dog mushing that you can learn from and become a better person."

Educators are encouraged to use what they learn on the field trips to craft lesson plans about the trail and the lives of the mushers for their classrooms. The goal is to share their experiences with more teachers and schools around the country once the conference is over.

"It's really important to teach teachers to help students be engaged in the curriculum that they're teaching,” Dana Augustine, an educator from Colorado, said. “So, Iditarod isn't necessarily a curriculum, but it's finding ways to engage students and embed the beliefs and the practices within the Iditarod and just help them integrate it within their classroom and what they're already doing."

The Iditarod Conference for Educators is one of many events put together by the Iditarod Education Department.
One of the department’s better known programs is Teacher on the Trail. This year, you can follow Brian Hickox of Massachusetts as he rides the Iditarod trail and reports back to classrooms in the Lower 48.

Jeremy LaGoo and John Thompson contributed to this story.

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