As a military spouse, I am constantly making changes and maintaining a certain degree of flexibility. It’s impossible to stay at a job for longer than 3 years and my career intentions fluctuate with the ebb and flow of the tides. However, as I reflect back on the past decade, there is a common theme in my pursuits: helping others achieve something great. Whether it be helping a 6-year old learn to read or getting a client to the finish line of a marathon. I know that my natural skill is teaching. I am good at it and have become even better over the years.
I have dabbled in many different areas of education. In college, I started off as an intern for the Bureau of Land Management working at a science center teaching environmental science to elementary students in Alaska’s natural habitat. I quickly moved into a paid position. I somehow convinced my academic advisor, Rusty Myers (an avid runner who recently passed away), to grant me a senior project that involved designing and implementing a shark curriculum for 6th graders even though I had no knowledge of curriculum design or any classroom teaching experience. However, the classroom teacher was extremely helpful in this whole process. I have continued to use an updated version of the curriculum and it is one of my favorite subjects to teach.
Next I was off to actually learn more about sharks in the Bahamas and upon my return to Alaska I dipped into the social-emotional issues of teenagers. The following year I packed up a car load of belongings and headed down to San Diego. I immediately signed up to volunteer as a docent at the Birch Aquarium at Scripps and found joy in sharing my knowledge of the tidepool creatures found in the touch tank. I did need to get paid so I searched the area for an opportunity that would fit me like a glove. I drove out to Fiesta Island and walked right into a facility with a sign that read “SEACAMP.” I remember walking back to the shark touch tank with the owner and telling him I had recently worked with sharks in the Bahamas in hopes of getting his attention. Not sure if it was that or my natural ability to navigate through an interview, but he hired me and the next thing I know I was teaching marine biology to middle school students. Not only was I teaching marine biology, but I was snorkeling, seine netting, boogie boarding, making visits to the aquarium and Sea World and setting up massive bonfires to roast marshmallows and tell spooky stories (okay, I really wasn’t good at telling spooky stories).
My love for the ocean somehow translated to seeking out the Coast Guard. Not sure what happened there, but it was quite the adventure with many ups and downs (and rolling from side to side because that tends to happen a lot on a ship in the Bering Sea). I learned a lot about what not to do as a leader and had to put together pieces I collected along the way in order to determine the qualities of a great leader. I’m still collecting those pieces to fill in the puzzle, but I have a much better idea of what it is supposed to look like.
There was a time during my Coast Guard training when someone said to me that I acted more like an elementary school teacher than a platoon leader (I took it as an insult back then, but a few years later I finally agreed). As soon as my military obligation ended I stepped foot into a Kindergarten classroom for the first time. It was immediately scary and overwhelming (and there was lots of snot and drooling), but I managed to get hooked up with the most remarkable mentor teacher ever… and her name was also Heidi. And wouldn’t it be my lucky year that as soon as I finished student teaching in her classroom she decided to retire and hand over the keys. The first year in the classroom was rough, but the support from my colleagues was unprecedented and I made it through unscathed and ready for more.
Eventually, I gave birth to child number 2 and decided to wing it at home for a bit while supporting my former colleagues as their go-to substitute. I couldn’t just stay home and take care of 2 children, though. I had to stay busy so I worked on my Master’s Degree in Science Education. Since my husband was still in the military, it was only a matter of time before we moved to Florida. That is where my confidence in my teaching abilities was put to the test. I miserably taught a rough 4th grade class for a few months. The discipline issues were too much and the scripted curriculum only added to the struggle. There was no freedom outside of teaching to the test. I backed down and returned my focus to finishing my Master’s degree even though I felt less confident about whether or not I would ever use it. I still spent time in the classroom at my daughter’s elementary school and continued to search for the right path.
Well, the path took me down a road less traveled. It sure was bumpy and I often felt unsure about which turns to take. All it took was my Master’s degree in Science Education written on my resume. They really didn’t ask many questions. I should’ve been asking the questions. I also should have had a degree in Special Education. Let’s just say that teaching science (with limited resources) to middle and high school students who can not function in the public school system due to behavioral, social and emotional reasons was the most challenging job I ever took on. On top of that, I never had any breaks during the day (we had to eat in the lunch room with all of the students) and I had to design my own curriculum for six different classes. I often reflect back on that time because I don’t know where I had the energy to work full-time in the classroom, spend extra time working at home, train for the Goofy Challenge and raise 3 kids (with my husband deployed). This time I was actually saved by a military move.
We arrived in Colorado and I said “that’s it, I’m done with this teaching stuff.” I gave away most of my teaching supplies and resources and turned my attention to health and fitness. In one weekend, my soon-to-be new boss interviewed a few dozen candidates. I got the job. Not only did I get the job, but I got paid what I was worth. Not only did I get paid what I was worth, but it was part-time and I basically had the flexibility to choose my hours so we never paid for daycare. At the fitness center, I did everything except teach the classes, but I watched, listened and participated. With less time to spend working, I spent more time on my family and myself. I trained hard and achieved many athletic feats during our time in Colorado. It was the perfect balance of work, family and self. I even received my run coach certification and started my own coaching business. Then it was time to move and I left the state kicking and screaming.
Then we entered Virginia and for some reason I took a look at teaching employment opportunities. One job description spoke to me right away and I said “the heck with it, I will just apply to this one and see what happens.” The job was mine. The past two years have been a mix of joy and terror. Yet, I saw something I hadn’t seen before: my potential. I became confident in my teaching and was able to navigate successfully through the terror and absorb the joyful moments. However, maintaining the balance was a struggle. It worked well for the first year and then I began to lose sight of my own needs. My running motivation hit a wall and I found myself trapped on the treadmill. I became tired and my health started to deteriorate. At one point, I had a cold that lasted for two months. The worst was when I lost partial hearing in my right ear and that compensated with a constant static noise. I doubt I will ever see (or hear) any improvement. My confidence in leadership waned once again and I began to feel like I was on a staircase with no railing. On days I went home to complain, my husband repeated his mantra: “you just need to work for yourself.”
As the end of the school year approached I made my decision to move on. I turned my attention back to fitness and decided I would put my personal trainer certification to good use. I also decided to bring back my coaching business and I am currently working on putting all of the pieces back together. As people ask me if I am going to teach somewhere else, I reply “Yes, I am going to teach, but it will be a different kind of teaching.” I suppose I was always meant to guide others. Even though the military moves have caused me to go back and forth in my endeavors, I am fortunate to have so many unique experiences.
Now it’s time for the next challenge! It’s new and scary, but that’s pretty much all I’ve ever known. On Sunday, for the first time in a very long time, I finally let my alarm go off at 6:00 AM so I could hop in the car and drive to the beach. I ran outside. It was tough and hot, sticky and buggy, but it was also exhilarating. I ran past the swamp, up the tiny hills, over the roots, through the mud and greeted all of my fellow runners who were doing the same thing I was.