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Traveling teacher: Seeing the world enriches Columbia Falls educator

by HILARY MATHESON
Daily Inter Lake | March 3, 2014 6:00 AM

Alyson Dorr of Columbia Falls has broadened her horizons through travel.

“I was looking for the experience,” Dorr said. “I kind of had a little travel bug — wanderlust — I wanted to see the world,” Dorr said. “It gave me a lot of confidence to be that farm girl from Montana traveling by myself across the world.”

Japan, China, Tibet, Czech Republic, Italy and London are some of the destinations for this engaging 34-year-old globetrotter who resides in Columbia Falls with her husband Casey and daughters Elaina, 6 and Evelynne, 4.

Elaina already has a head start on traveling with her mom.

When Dorr hiked six miles across the Chinese Wall she was pregnant with Elaina. At 7 months old, Elaina took her first steps in the Czech Republic.

Dorr’s travels have shaped her as a person and as an educator at Columbia Falls High School where she teaches language arts. 

In 2005, Dorr was selected as a Japan Fulbright Memorial Fund Teacher Program participant and traveled to Japan as one of 208 U.S. teacher delegates. The program was fully funded by the Japanese government.

“Japan was, for me, such an interesting culture,” Dorr said. “The people in Japan were just so kind and genuine and polite. One example is when I was riding the subway in Tokyo and gave an elderly woman my seat. When we stopped she pulled a package out of her bag and gave me a box of candies. This is a thankful culture.”

Having grown up on a farm, Dorr wanted to visit a rural farming community and traveled with a group of American teachers to Yanagawa. The group was greeted with a parade.

Students were asking for autographs and the group was bestowed with gifts as if they were celebrities she said. 

“Those kids thought I was an American diva,” Dorr said with a laugh.

She forged lifelong friendships during the trip to Yanagawa.

Her trip to Tokyo was an education in tolerance and peace. In Tokyo, Dorr discovered the depth of forgiveness from a civilian survivor of the bombing on Hiroshima. Dorr said the survivor had watched his wife die and his children die later on from cancer, yet took responsibility for his country’s actions during World War II although he had no direct role.

“We asked don’t you hate us [Americans]? He said ‘no, it was our fault.’ We have to learn to forgive,” Dorr said.

In 2007, Dorr was accepted as a National Consortium for Teaching About Asia participant. The study tour took her and about 20 others around China and Tibet. This trip was full of adventure as well as good food and culture.

At the time, China was preparing for the Beijing Olympics and building the iconic Beijing National Stadium known as the “Bird’s Nest.”

Against the wishes of her Chinese hosts, a seven-months pregnant Dorr sought to go rafting after spotting a small raft shop in Llhasa, Tibet. 

The adventurous Dorr had previous experience working five summers at Glacier Raft Company.

“We’re not talking Class 5 rapids here, it wasn’t a big deal,” Dorr said. “The greatest risk was decapitation from the prayer flags hanging over rapids.”

Dorr will never forget the pastoral scenery — and the quizzical stares — from people who used the river not for recreation, but for daily tasks such as washing clothes, bathing or leading yaks to drink. When she returned from rafting, her Chinese group leader “Frank” was out of sorts.

“At the end of the day there was Frank saying ‘American teacher with baby must not die!’ He about had a panic attack,” Dorr said.

Her block of traveling continued through to 2008 when she took a trip with her husband and daughter Elaina to the Czech Republic to teach English with a ministry group from Easthaven Baptist Church in Kalispell.

“I would like to go back,” Dorr said.

Dorr’s journey in education began after she graduated from Corban University in Salem, Ore., in 2001.

Her first year teaching was a baptism by fire at an urban school in Oregon.

With 45 students in one class Dorr quickly honed classroom management skills. And she had to. This was a school where a teacher had been stabbed.

“I wasn’t afraid for my life necessarily. I’m a pretty tough individual and felt I was pretty resilient,” Dorr said.

Although Dorr said overall, she enjoyed teaching and living in Oregon she wasn’t able to achieve as great of an impact on students as she desired.  

“Students were just in survival mode,” Dorr said.

She learned a lot that year and practiced her “teacher voice,” (a stern voice when teachers want students to shape up), but home was calling.

“I gained an appreciation for teachers who make it their passion to teach in inner city schools,” Dorr said.

The 1997 Columbia Falls High School graduate returned to the Flathead Valley and began teaching at the high school in 2002.

“My family, of course, is here and I love the Flathead Valley. I love being outdoors. Glacier Park is in my backyard,” Dorr said.

She became a speech and debate coach from 2002-2010. As a former college soccer player, she coached soccer in Whitefish for six years. Currently, she coaches her daughter’s kindergarten soccer team.

Education is never done for Dorr, who received National Board Certification in 2013.

“I think part of my personality is striving for excellence. I expect that from my students,” Dorr said.

In addition to teaching, Dorr and her husband maintain a vacation rental on their property in the east valley near the Swan Range.

“It makes a good summer gig for teachers,” Dorr said.

When she has spare time, Dorr enjoys hiking, camping, kayaking, painting, scrapbooking, photography, entertaining and playing with her daughters.

Reporter Hilary Matheson may be reached at 758-4431 or by email at hmatheson@dailyinterlake.com.