Veterans Day: From the Marines to Middle School

During the week in which Veteran's Day is celebrated, I will spend time visiting Jacksonville National Cemetery, placing American flags around the 526-acre grounds and attending the local parade. This act is in recognition of the countless veterans who have given their lives in service to our country and a reminder to me of my commitment to being a servant leader.

I retired after 30 years of service to my country, but this commitment is far from over. When my alarm clock goes off at 5:00 a.m. each weekday, I wake up and prepare to serve my country in a different capacity -- from the classroom. A year after retiring from the Marine Corps, a job that took me to 25 states and 6 countries, I began teaching 7th grade science at EB Frink Middle School in La Grange, NC.

Reflecting on my formative years -- and growing up amid desegregation -- I realized the lack of educational equity which sparked my passion for education and the opportunities it creates. Halfway through my MBA coursework, I determined that a master's degree in education best aligned with my passion. While I reflected on my past experiences as a student, it was my experiences as a parent that really motivated me to become an educator. As a parent, I was often confused and frustrated with the lack of educational resources my daughter received and knew more could be done to open the lines of communication about her academic progress. I couldn't spend my retirement sitting at home knowing future generations of students weren't receiving the education they deserved.

My students come from rural and diverse economic and ethnic backgrounds, but that doesn't make them any less capable of achieving in the classroom. My students are often enthralled by hands-on lessons and the innovativeness that exists in the science curriculum; like the time they created "a tornado in a bottle" and learned about tornados that were spotted near La Grange in recent years.

But, I also know that science lessons will come and go throughout the school year. As I strive to incorporate my student's lives and community into the world of science, I also know there is more to this work than lessons and test scores. I share stories and pictures of my experiences in the Marines with my students, and a few military-related keepsakes are sprinkled on my desk in hope of sparking curiosity and conversation with my students. Like many inquisitive 12 and 13-year-olds they have questions about military service and often share misconceptions about military life.

This Veterans Day, as I honor the fallen who have sacrificed for our country, I also hope to have honest conversations with my students about Veterans Day and their obligation as young leaders to serve, whether in their home, their schools, or their community. I want my students to recognize that a life dedicated to caring about and helping others is a life worth choosing.

And you too can help open a student's eyes to the possibilities and opportunities in life. Organizations like Teach For America and Troops to Teachers are enlisting the skills, experiences and inherent leadership of veterans and military spouses to have an impact on kids across the country. Just as in the service, I am not alone in my work and have the support of an entire team at Teach For America -- Eastern North Carolina that work with me to build my professional skills so that I can give my all to my students.

Whether you decide to enter the profession through alternative or traditional pathways, consider continuing your commitment to our country by helping to shape the lives of our future leaders, servicemen and women, and change-makers. They need you, and together, we can ensure our students are prepared for the pathway of success.