by Kim Lopez, Guest Contributor
As a new military spouse, I naively thought that being a teacher was going to be the perfect portable career. Boy, was I wrong! After 17 years of military spousehood and 20 years in teaching, I have reinvented myself as an educator in more ways than I can count.
The Struggle Is Real
While it might surprise you, as military spouse teachers, we face countless obstacles in our career because we are moving all the time. When we move, we have to prove ourselves again and again. From taking expensive and time consuming national tests (often ones we’ve taken before), being required to take more coursework (usually on our own dime), and often settling for lower paying jobs we are overqualified for just to get our foot in the door in a new school district.
This impacts our ability to take on leadership roles and pursue promotions as we would if we were staying in one location.
To top it all off, we are often unable to accrue or be fully vested in any retirement system due to frequent moves.
But what I find most frustrating is having to re-certify to teach in EACH new state we PCS to.
While some places have been relatively easy to transfer to, others have been a true nightmare! With our moves happening every two or so years, it can take six months to a year to be re-certified in a new state. Hardly enough time to make the effort worthwhile.
When a military spouse isn’t able to find work or have a consistent career, there can be a lot of stress and tension in our marriage and family life. Many of us teachers are finding ourselves very unhappy and that is causing our active duty spouse to reconsider their service in the military.
What’s a teacher to do? That was the fear I faced last spring. What am I finding? That this conversation is just getting started and that WE (yes, us military spouses) can make a huge impact to change what we don’t like about the process!
What Are We Doing To Reduce The Roadblocks For Ourselves?
One big piece is getting national decision-makers to understand that there is even a problem facing teachers. Myself, as well as others, are working toward educating these folks and surprisingly, they are listening. They want to do the right thing! Here are some of the national conversations taking place:
- In August, Ivanka Trump invited approximately sixteen military spouses to the White House to participate in a listening session focused on understanding the issues of military spouse employment. At that meeting, military spouses were able to voice concerns about many of the issues I’ve mentioned above that often take place for many professions, not just teaching. Ivanka Trump and Kellyanne Conway were very concerned about these issues and are continuing to look into ways to find solutions.
- Our voice was heard with the Chairman of the Federal Trade Commission. She was particularly interested in how lack of license portability was creating unfair employment barriers, especially for military spouses. She’s looking into ways to use her influence to make some changes.
- We shared our issues with the Military Family Readiness Council panel in March (these are the policymakers in the military who can impact decisions made by the Secretary of Defense). They have made licensure portability one of their top focus areas for 2018!
- We created a National Network for Military Spouse Teaching Professionals. This Facebook group serves as a way to connect us all for support with jobs, certifications, questions, sharing ideas etc. and make military life a little bit easier.
While this national attention is certainly a huge help in getting the message heard (a little pressure never hurts), what is most critical is what states are requiring since they create the rules for our licenses.
If states don’t know there are issues keeping teachers from working in their schools, they have no reason to fix the problem.
What am I getting at?
I am finding (from personal experience) that the most powerful force for change is to have military spouse teachers advocating IN the state they have PCSed to and are frustrated with!
We must make that states aware of the major issues impeding licensing and what problems it poses for their state or they won’t make changes.
Let me give you an example: In my current state of Utah (which I must say had a daunting 12-step licensure process for those of us with current teaching licenses) this was the route we took:
- We realized that the state had a major shortage of qualified teachers. Opening the door to more military spouses who might apply for jobs if certification was more reasonable just made sense.
- We shared our issues/concerns with a local senator. It helps to pick the one who represents the area your base is located in. He was able to write a bill that streamlined the licensing process for military spouses in many professions, not just teaching. A win-win situation!
- We organized a meeting with state school board members, the governor’s office, certification specialists from the Department of Education, local principals who wanted to hire military spouses, and some military spouse teachers impacted by the situation. This listening session opened the eyes of many decision-makers and helped prompt some out of state license changes!
Where Do We Go From Here?
While none of this is easy, it is slowly working state by state. State leaders want to keep their military bases open and part of this means making the military families happy. By sharing our personal stories and being honest about impacts lack of license portability is causing, we can actually change the processes and make the greatest impacts.
Want to learn more about the National Network for Military Spouse Teaching Professionals? Listen to our conversation with Kim by clicking here.
Kim Lopez has been an educator and professional developer for twenty years. She has a Master’s degree in education and was an elementary teacher, ESL specialist, and Literacy Coach. Kim has also worked for a non-profit reading foundation. As an Air Force military spouse of 17 years, Kim recently helped launch the Military-Spouse Network for Teaching Professionals which supports military spouse educators. Kim is passionate about supporting military spouses as they find mobile careers and transfer their current professional licenses to new states. She is currently working to help streamline difficult out of state licensure processes for military spouse teachers across the country.