Teaching always pops up as a portable career for military spouses. But when military spouse teachers themselves talk about whether teaching is a viable career, two different narratives emerge.
Teaching is either a fantastic career that is rewarding and easy to do while married into the military. Or it’s a complicated mess of licensing and long-term subbing.
Potential teachers, take heart! We’ve talked to long-time teachers and military spouses and culled their most successful suggestions for making teaching work for you. With these four tips, navigating military life as an employed teacher has never been easier.
To pursue a teaching career as a military spouse, a take-charge attitude will go a long way. Amanda is an Air Force wife who has been teaching special education since 1993 and has enjoyed a long-term career in education with moves (and certifications) in five states.
“I always research the districts and schools prior to arriving,” she tells us. “I apply for the jobs online and make phone calls to schools that have programs I am qualified in and/or would like to teach.”
Amanda makes sure to introduce herself as a military spouse moving to the area. “They tend to feel more secure that I really am moving if the military is bringing me,” she said.
She also actively pursues all openings for which she is qualified. “I have had a job placement prior to arriving in a state in five out of six moves. It took me 10 days after moving to Georgia to find a job in that state.”
That fact alone would make spouses in every career field take note. It is Amanda’s very active, strategic approach that is key to her success. Before you move, take time to research the schools in your new area and get in touch with them.
“When I moved from place to place, I went up there early and actually went to the schools around where I was going to live, resume in hand,” explains Rosemarie.
Rosemarie is a long-time teacher and military wife. She married her now-retired Marine the day after he finished The Basic School and has spent 22 years teaching elementary school and seven more years in ESL.
She agrees that being proactive is critical to nailing down a teaching position in the face of PCS moves and other military life constraints. “I talked my way into meeting with the principals. You can’t wait for them to come to you, you have to go to them.”
Get Your Foot In The Door
It’s that approach that made teaching a viable and fulfilling career for Rosemarie, and it’ll work for you, too. If you’ve made the move without a single nibble from a potential employer, don’t be disheartened. Be determined: It’s time for you to shake things up and get your foot in the door.
The best way to do that is to find a way to get face time in the schools where you’d hope to teach. If schools in your area are looking for substitute teachers, jump at the opportunity.
“While subbing may not be ideal, you still get time to practice your skills in the classroom and you quickly get to figure out which schools and districts you want to teach in,” says Jen, another military wife. “When you do get an interview, you can sell the diversity of your experience across grades and curriculum as a bonus for the employer and I have found it also helps make you a better teacher.”
It also show shows the initiative and career dedication that will speak out to principals when they’re looking for a new hire. But don’t stop there: Add volunteering and tutoring to your schedule.
You may not think that this is an ideal way to strut your teaching stuff. But strategic volunteering and subbing are great opportunities for you to get on-the-ground experience in a school where the administration can take note.
Make yourself so actively involved in your academic community that they are forced to notice you.
Be careful not to settle in this transitional rut. “Subbing is great as a steppingstone,” says Rosemarie. “But I wouldn’t stay there. I’d keep pushing and get that resume out there.”
And be relentless: If the early bird gets the worm, the bird who’s actively putting herself out there is the one who’s going to get the job.
Plan for Certification
This is where choirs of teachers sing their song of woe. Certification can be a pain. If you are going to be a teacher, it is part and parcel of the job experience. Don’t let it get you down. Instead, plan for it.
“It isn’t easy, but it CAN be done,” says Amanda. “I have gotten certification in Vermont/New Hampshire (reciprocity was nice), Georgia (completed state testing), Kansas (completed NTEs), Texas (had to do their state testing), and now Washington (and yet more testing)! So paying for the state to evaluate my qualifications and then pay for the testing does get expensive, but I have received certification every time and I have taught in every state I moved to.”
This is where a little planning goes a long, long way. Instead of just considering state testing every time you move, actively pursue all opportunities your school district offers to help you achieve national certification: You are a military spouse. You are going to move again.
Adding national certification to your to-do list might be time consuming, but it pays off even before you move. “National certification gets you better pay,” Rosemarie notes. “And once you have that, it makes licensing in any state even easier.”
Rosemarie and her husband now live outside of Camp Lejeune, N.C.. “This county is very helpful for teachers getting [national certification] -- they’ll pay for everything once you get it, and they even have workshops and courses where you can get together with other teachers going through the same thing. They talk you through your calendar and help you reach that goal.”
Taking advantage of that assistance is an important thing for every military teacher to think about, both for compensation now and ease of moving later. But even if you don’t go for the national certification, navigating the state-by-state certifications is doable. “Basically, it’s expensive to apply for a certification and a pain in the butt to retest every time we move, but the kids and the years in the classroom make it all worthwhile,” Amanda concludes.
Keep Up With the Joneses
If working on your national certification or keeping your state certification active isn’t enough to keep you busy, there’s still one more thing you need to factor into your life as a teaching military spouse: networking.
We can’t stress enough how important networking is regardless of profession, but for military wives in every capacity, it’s especially key. You know you’re going to move again, so it pays to keep in touch with everyone -- regularly.
Through all their moves, Rosemarie kept up actively with her teaching friends at former bases. You never know where you’re going to end up next, so it helps to make sure that wherever you are, someone is on the ground who knows who you are and can sing your praises.
“I have friends still teaching in Virginia,” Rosemarie says. “I know I’m not going back there since Gary has retired, but if we were to go back, I’d definitely have them start doing ground work. Just like when we were in Virginia and we were coming back here (to North Carolina), I contacted all the people I knew here. You have to keep networking.”
To have people on the ground looking out for you before you move means staying in touch. Thanks to the great advancements in technology, that’s never been easier. Digital networking can help you keep in touch with all the teacher friends you’ve met in your travels. Eventually, when your roads cross again and there’s a job opening at a friend’s school or you have an opening at your school, you’ll be glad you took the time to stay connected.
So don’t let the certification scares fool you: Teaching is as viable a career for a military spouse as anything else is. With some careful planning, a little strategy and the right attitude, you can pursue a career as a teacher while also balancing your job as a military spouse and count on employment and fulfillment in the years to come.