Thanks to Meg, fellow teacher and military spouse, for writing this very honest look at what it means to be an educator and live the military lifestyle. I’ve found myself in the same position– technically having a “portable” career that isn’t actually portable– and I’m so glad to have her on Jo, My Gosh! to talk about the real obstacles that professional milspouses encounter.
“Oh, you’re a teacher! That must move really well with you!”
I get that a lot. Like a lot. After the big push by the DOD and the military spouse career powers that be, everyone seems to think that being a teacher is an easily transferrable job, allowing me to immediately work in whatever state we find ourselves in.
And then I laugh. But not in the funny-because-that’s-correct way. Nope. In the in the ultra-cynical-how-wrong-you-are way.
Here’s why people think that teaching (or nursing or law or any other profession that requires state certification) is compatible with a spouse in the military (or state department or any other job that requires frequent moves): teachers are everywhere! And you just need a degree in teaching to do that, right?
Again, my cynical laughter bubbles to the top.
This is the real deal: every single state has their own rules and regulations for licensure. Every. Single. State. And with each move I need to comply with those regulations in order to be licensed. In Virginia, that meant that I had to drop $500+ to take three new teaching tests and pay all the fees for a new license, plus have my records sent from Massachusetts to be vetted. In California, which supposedly has reciprocity with Massachusetts and has a fast-track for military spouses, I spent the better part of a year corresponding or waiting on hold with them. Why? So that I could get them to understand that I have a teaching degree, and have taken comparable tests in Massachusetts already. Tests that literally assessed me on the exact same things as the CA tests. Even the descriptions were the almost the same. Also, more money was spent to submit my forms multiple times and then fees were paid for the actual licenses.
How do you your teaching license?
Great! Now you have a teaching license in your new state, you think.
False. You have a ticking time bomb waiting to explode all over your carefully crafted semblance of a career.
Most teaching licenses expire after three to five years. In order to renew, you must meet state specific professional development requirements or forfeit your license. In California, if you are licensed without the English as a Second Language (ESL) endorsement, you must get that taken care of. Which means more courses and more fees. You also need to enroll in a teacher induction program at your school of employment, or at a college if your school doesn’t have such a program. In Virginia, you must accrue 180 professional development points over five years. Ninety of those points may come from additional college classes, writing a book related to your career, or teaching a college course. The rest come from seminars, conferences, and in-school professional development.
Let’s remember that teachers are working 40-60 hours per week with a salary that usually hovers between $30,000 and $40,000 per year and are not paid over time. Yup, that salary is based solely on the hours the kiddos are in the building, or about 40 hours per week. As a teacher over the last two years, I worked about 15 extra hours each and every week without pay. I came in over the summer without pay. But I still had to pay for childcare.
For milspouse teachers, the budget is even tighter. Most of our guys (and gals) in uniform are not paid super handsomely. It’s not like a Marine and his teacher wife are rolling up in his-and-her’s BMWs. It’s more like a sweet Toyota Camry and a Ford 150, both used.
So, where am I going with this? I’m going here: If I, a teacher, already work 40+ hours per week and have a limited budget, when should I go to said professional development seminars and how shall I pay for them? Do other teachers share this concern? Of course. But other teachers aren’t trying to maintain licenses in multiple state. Right now, I have two licenses per state in three states. Thank goodness my Massachusetts license doesn’t expire until five years from when I first use it. And I have never used it! (Teachers: get certified in MA ASAP! And then never teach there!)
Okay, so just let them lapse, you say. I would love to. After all, I can only live or teach in one state at a time, right? Here’s where the fun part is. If I let California or Virginia lapse, I will need to fulfill all of the above requirements, plus CPR/First Aid and Child Abuse Prevention before I can get my license reissued. Or they might deny my request completely.
So, let’s for fun imagine that my Virginia license is lapsed. My spouse finds out in April that we will be moving back to VA from CA in June. Great! I have about two months, plus the summer to complete my licensure requirements. Is it doable? In a perfect world, yes. But let’s also picture the level of crazy that is a cross-country PCS: papers go missing, life is in complete disarray for months before the move, and for quite awhile afterwards. Oh, and you’re teaching up until the last moment that you possibly can before the movers arrive. Do you have time to find, pay for, and attend any professional development courses? Also, April to July is a prime time for schools to hire staff for the upcoming school year, but they won’t even look at you if you don’t have a license from the state. So you can’t apply. And, by the time you do rack up enough recertification points and complete the rest of the requirements, you will wait several weeks to several months for your license to be reissued based on the backlog in the system.
So there goes at least the fall, if I am motivated and have literally no other responsibilities. But add in a child or two, and that cuts the time available to dedicate to recertification at least in half. Essentially, you have lost an entire school year to either getting certified in a new state OR getting your lapsed certification reissued.
Finally, you have your license and can begin job hunting. But as soon as schools see the jumps and gaps in your resume, they want answers to account for the time off. While they cannot legally ask about your military spouse status, it will probably come up because it IS the explanation. They might do the math, and calculate that you have, at best, two school years left in the state. And while two years is great, a district might want to hire for the long-term, like five years.
But, I thought that there was some sort of reciprocity for teachers. And there sure is! But how much reciprocity and the stipulations to qualify for reciprocity are left up to each individual state. So, it’s essentially just lip service to quiet us professional ladies (and gents). For most states, to get reciprocity you must have taught as a fully licensed teacher in a classroom for at least three years in the state you are coming from.
Looking back on our timeline from PCS notification to employability, it looks like I will only have two years, at best, to teach under contract in Virginia. What does that mean for me next? It means that if we get reassigned to North Carolina, I will probably not qualify for reciprocity because I haven’t taught for three years in Virginia. And the licensure games will begin anew! Hooray!
National Board Certification
Well, what about National Board Certification? That would be lovely, but in order to even qualify to begin the process, you must have completed three full years of teaching. Then, the process takes one to five years and costs about $1,900. And it does not replace state certification, but merely demonstrates that you have gone to the next level in professionalism and may bump you up the ladder in terms of securing leadership positions. Essentially: it’s a shiny, expensive gold star that looks amazing, but doesn’t help you get a job UNLESS you already have a valid license in the state you are seeking employment.
Essentially, teachers and many other licensed professionals are caught in a merry-go-round of testing, fees, and getting certified in each and every new state.
One option is to jump off the ride and teach in private schools. I tried this, and hated it. It is not, and will probably never be, for me. I got paid significantly less than what I made teaching in public school and was required to attend countless hours of “voluntary” activities to boost school morale. As someone who understands mandatory fun as part of her husband’s career, I want no part of that in mine. Additionally, jobs at schools that pay well and provided good benefits are ultra-competitive. Many schools, at the PK-12 level, will only interview candidates with a Master’s degree or higher with over a decade of proven teaching using XYZ method.
Some people jump off the carousel and leave the park, moving into a completely different career field that is more telework friendly or become stay-at-home parents.
My choice? I’m riding this ride until it breaks! I invested thousands of dollars and countless into my degrees. I am proud of my M.Ed and the fact that three separate state consider me qualified to teach there. I am proud of the varied path my career has taken me on, even if they are not all that marketable in the real world of every day teaching.
But I’m worried. I’m growing disenchanted with the endless hours and dollars I must invest into a career that is choppy at best, and is headed to a Code Blue at worst. I am tired of jumping through these hoops, getting settled and then leaving with nothing but letters of recommendation to show for my efforts. I’m afraid that there are many more teachers like me out there, military spouses and civilians alike, who are tired of the fight. Who are leaving the classroom. Who are talented, and committed, and love teaching. Who make a real difference in kids lives.
What we need is real change, not reciprocity only if you can juggle and dance over flames. Not National Board Certification that means nothing without a state license behind it. We need a way for teachers who move often to transition those licenses with them. And we need it yesterday. Because there is a teaching shortage hitting our country, and I know a few good MilSpouse teachers who might want to step up to the bat, if only it was simpler for us to accomplish.
Meg Flanagan is a special and elementary education teacher who holds an M.Ed in special education and a BS in elementary education. In addition to classroom experience, she has also worked in private tutoring and home schools. Meg is passionate about education advocacy for all children, but especially for children with special needs and children of military and state department personnel. You can find Meg online at MilKids Education Consulting, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.