Around this time last year, I was standing in front of a room full of 5-year-olds wearing a cotton kimono, displaying yen on a desk and demonstrating the proper use of chopsticks. It was part of my “Children Around the World” unit I taught my kindergarten students.
Yes, in my other pre-SpouseBuzz life, I was a teacher.
When the military spouse community talks about portable careers that work with our transient lifestyles, teaching usually ends up on that list. It makes sense. After all, it’s pretty much guaranteed that every duty station you could possibly PCS to will have schools, and schools need teachers. Simple career choice, right?
Not necessarily. As Raleigh pointed out on the Military.com Spouse Employment channel, “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.”
In my case, it was a little bit of both. Teaching was extremely rewarding, but licensing was a nightmare. I earned my degree in Florida a few months before moving to Japan, where job openings at the DoDEA schools were few and far between. When we moved to Virginia, I had to apply for state licensure. A year and about $500 later, I was certified to teach in the state of Virginia. Then it took me about 9 months to get a job. By that point, my husband was up for orders.
Substitute teaching is a great way to get a foot in the door and make professional connections, and I considered that while I applied for jobs, but the pay wasn’t enough to justify child care for both of my kids. So I continued to be a stay-at-home mom, figuring it would happen when it happened, and in the meantime I would enjoy the time I had with my kids while they were still young.
I was also concerned that my military spouse status would be considered a negative that canceled out all the positive bullets on my resume. When I was finally offered a job as a kindergarten teacher, I gladly accepted. It wasn’t until a few days later when I went back in to collect paperwork that the school director realized I was a military spouse, something I had purposely avoided sharing in the interview.
“How long have you lived here?” she asked as I watched her face fill with panic and possibly regret.
“Two years.” Out of all the questions she asked me, that was the big one I really didn’t want to answer. I watched her eyes bug out as her mental math told her she had just hired someone in a position she’d probably have to fill again in a year.
I’d like to consider myself a hard worker, but in that moment, I vowed to work even harder to prove I was worthy of taking a job that could have gone to another person in the pool of applicants who would stay longer than I would.
How did I do this? By showing my employers the skill sets I picked up during my years as a military spouse. Independence, adaptability and flexibility. All are traits good teachers need. But I went one step further. I showed them something beyond skill sets. I showed them life experiences.
Because of my experiences as a military spouse, I was able to help my students with the process of making new friends. I knew how to handle a student whose father had just left for a yearlong deployment and another student whose Show and Tell treasure was a bear her father sent her from Iraq before he was killed. I shared advice to other teachers who loved their military students but didn’t have any of their own experiences to draw from. And my favorite, I dressed up in a kimono and gave my students an authentic cultural lesson based on what I learned at my favorite duty station.
So do I think teaching is a smart career choice for MilSpouses? Absolutely. We have so much to offer both our employers and students. But, like most aspects of military life, pursuing this professional path isn’t as easy as it sounds. I'm thankful for my years as a teacher, but I sure do wish I had done my homework and been more proactive.
Interested in teaching? Check out Raleigh’s tips for turning teaching into a viable career instead of a complicated mess, as well as this article about licensure.
Are you a teacher? Do you think it’s a smart career choice for MilSpouses?