Last spring, after finding out about our upcoming summer PCS, I began what has become an all-to0-familiar routine: jumping on the computer to research how to transfer my teaching license to a new state. I was already a teacher when I met and married my Air Force spouse, and was under the impression that teaching was one of those wonderful “portable careers.” One that would allow me to move easily from state to state because, of course, everyone needs good educators.
Now, after nearly twenty years, I have learned that while great teachers are needed everywhere, getting to teach in each new place isn’t without obstacles. Don’t get me wrong, not all states are difficult to navigate. But the fact that each state comes with its own set of rules, testing regulations, and expectations can drive a spouse over the edge when it comes to that famous word “reciprocity”!
I quickly realized that transferring my current licenses and endorsements to my new state was going to be cumbersome and expensive. In fact, I was so overwhelmed by the process, I decided not to teach in the public school system. Instead, I looked into the private system that would accept my current certifications. While this was an okay solution to my problem, something in me wasn’t quite satisfied. I’ve always worked in public education and, given the huge teacher shortage in my new location, I was frustrated that I couldn’t utilize my talents and experience in a system that needed them. After many conversations with my husband, I began a journey to try to change the system that was deterring not only me, but many other military spouse teachers.
I had no idea where to start. I mean, I’m just a teacher. I’m not a politician and I had no connections in this new state. I literally knew no other teachers in my new location. So, I began talking to any spouse I could. I got active in our base spouses’ group, asked questions of teachers at my children’s schools, talked to neighbors, and even had my husband talk to people he worked with to connect with other military spouse teachers locally. I felt that if I could find a handful of teachers in the same situation, maybe we could work on this project together.
My hunt led me to many teacher-spouses with different, but equally frustrating stories. Theirs were moving and emotional and needed to be heard. I knew that if our stories were heard by the right decision makers, we might have a real shot at influencing some change. So that was the next step…who were the influencers in my state? All my networking paid off when I was introduced to the Director of Military Affairs, who works for the state (here’s where you can find yours). He is often on our base connecting with military members and their families. My husband and I shared my frustrations, and he was interested in hearing more. Then, he connected with key decision makers within the state and helped arrange a meeting to discuss the issue of military spouse teacher certification.
Now the hard work began…
Now I was getting somewhere. I had the real stories of teachers, as well as an “internal advocate” who worked for the state and was just as passionate about military spouse teachers being heard as I was. I researched all the facets of the certification processes outlined by the State Department of Education so we could understand exactly which areas of the process were causing the greatest challenges. I worked with each teacher to understand exactly what background (educational and work experience) they had, and where their hang ups were in the certification process. Finally, we requested a meeting with key decision/policy makers from the state through the Director of Military Affairs. It included a representative from the Governor’s office, a State School Board Member, and Department of Education Licensing officials. A local public school principal shared his frustrations with finding/hiring qualified teachers, a representative from the Defense State Liaison Office (whose job is to educate state policymakers about issues service members and their families face), and five teachers (including me) shared our greatest challenges with the process.
Did our efforts pay off?
Each teacher shared their story. There was no finger pointing, and this wasn’t a gripe session. It was real people sharing real stories about their military lives, and how their family was impacted by processes that were controllable and changeable. These stories made the greatest impact! We didn’t need to be politicians or “bigwigs,” after all. Many of the state officials were shocked to hear the difficulties. They didn’t realize that the state’s requirements were in any way cumbersome. They also admitted that they hadn’t even considered the negative impact that the certification process posed for military spouses and our sometimes unique situations. Overall, it was a very positive meeting that sparked an ongoing dialogue. While we are not at our goal yet, positive changes have already been discussed and the process is in motion.
I am so very proud of how we military spouses came together and are effecting change ourselves. It’s important to note that each state is very different. How I went about it in my state might not be the same in others. Is being your own advocate easy? Nope. But just knowing we might be making things a little bit better in our state for other military spouse teachers that come behind us makes it all worth it!
Posted by Kim Lopez, Educator and Military Spouse