I’m a middle school teacher. I have a lot of things displayed in my classroom, but this is among my favorites:

the emojis of teaching

Anyone who deals with children on a daily basis will be able to relate and most likely agree with this poster.

The kids have fun with it too! After a particularly herculean effort of trying to keep sixth graders focused on the task at hand during the last period on a Friday, one rather perceptive girl said to me, “Mrs. Paulo, you must be feeling like the last emoji right now.”

Bless her heart; this immediately switched me to the first three emojis.

I liken my path to teaching with these emojis as well. Each stage had its moments and emotions, its highs and lows. But it is what I love doing.

Being a teacher is neither rare nor remarkable. But the way I became a teacher was a little bit unconventional and due to the unusual career trajectory that many military spouses experience. Any time a student asks me when I decided to become a teacher, I tell them the truth: “I didn’t pick teaching, it picked me.”

The military is necessarily a young industry. With service members falling in the 18-45 age range and half of these under the age of 25, it’s not surprising that the ranks are full of young families. As a kid growing up on military installations, it was great. There was always a gang of kids to play with, and all my friends lived within walking or biking distance.

And like many pre-teens, I did A LOT of babysitting. This is probably why, as I mentioned in an earlier post, I never dreamed about becoming a mom. In fact, I do distinctly remember thinking — as many teenagers probably do at one time or another — children are terrible. Why do so many people have them?

When it came time to pick my major in college, education or teaching was not even on my radar.

I remember a conversation I had with my mother while trying to decide:

Me: “I think I want to major in English, I love reading, I love writing, and I loved all my English classes in high school.”
Mom: “What are you going to do with an English degree? All you can do is teach; you don’t want to do that do you?”
Me: “Ew, no, okay, I’ll think of something else. “

I ended up majoring in Business and Marketing, which I thoroughly enjoyed, but my love of words and literature persisted. Any time I had room in my course schedule, I took an English or literature class.

After graduation, I went to work for a young startup in a fascinating new industry that was growing quickly and seemed to have a bright future. I was soon to discover just how bright their future was after I had to decline an offer to take part in their IPO at a much-discounted employee rate. An offer given only to employees deemed worthy by management. Acceptance, however, came with a commitment to stay with the company for a period of time, something I had planned on doing before becoming a military spouse. But alas, I was soon to marry the love of my life, and we would PCS a month after our wedding.

Today, telecommuting and working remotely is not a problem. But thirty years ago that was not an option, so becoming one of Microsoft’s many millionaires was not in the cards for me.

Our next assignment was a six-month rotation, and potential employers were not interested in investing time and money in someone who would be moving within the year. As I was about to give up on working at all, someone suggested I work as a substitute teacher for DoDDS. So I did.

I did not love it. I left that experience being certain that steering clear of a teaching career had been a wise move.



At our next duty station, I landed in the banking industry. It went well. So well, that I was in the midst of the selection process to be a branch manager when baby #1 made his existence known. I declined the position knowing I would likely choose to stay home with him.

Fast forward to all children having arrived, being school-aged, and me having dabbled in this and that at our various duty stations including:

  • starting a small business with a brand new laser printer and some writing skills
  • working as an assistant for a couple of medical sales reps
  • trading office management for free childcare so I could volunteer at the kids’ school

Indeed, it was during one such volunteer session in the school library when the spark of my teaching career ignited.

In a bushwhack maneuver that I did not see coming, the librarian asked me to evaluate a new reading program she wanted to introduce to the middle elementary grades. I took it home, looked it over, and told her it looked great. She said, “Awesome, will you teach it? We’ll pay for all your training and materials and give you volunteer hours.”

After recovering from my initial shock, the opportunity to read, discuss, and share my love of literature with kids was too intriguing to pass up. I accepted it. And I loved it.

This was twenty years ago. Even though I enjoyed the experience, I wasn’t planning on taking it beyond a volunteer capacity. I wanted to get back into the business world. I declared that I would teach on a volunteer basis until my youngest child graduated, and then I would move on.

That was ten years ago. After the last child graduated eighth grade, they hired me to continue, and I said I would (but only part-time!) until that child graduated from high school, then time to make a change. I made a change all right; when that kid graduated high school, they convinced me to teach full time.

That was seven years and one alternative certification ago.

Looks like I’m a teacher.

During our college-major discussion, Mom also mentioned that teachers work really hard and most are underpaid, and she’s right about that. But, had I not become a military spouse with several career changes and accidentally stumbled into the classroom, I might not have ever figured out the one thing Mom got wrong about teaching: I do want to do that.

My husband and I used to do the math every once in a while to check on what might have been. We stopped doing that when it hit seven figures. I still have that IPO packet from Microsoft. Maybe one of my grandchildren can sell it to a collector for a million bucks someday. 

 

While I could have been a tech millionaire, a business guru, a bank manager, or a plethora of other things, I became a teacher. And it’s all thanks to the military, PCSing, motherhood, and volunteering.

In a convoluted way that can only happen to a military spouse, I found the career that I never knew I wanted and that I still enjoy today.

winking emoji