Contract Teachers, DoD

The U.S. Department of State Office of Overseas Schools oversees the contract hiring of teachers for teaching the dependent students of American children overseas.  The Department of Defense, a separate U.S. Government agency, operates a school system for the benefit of dependents of U.S. military personnel stationed overseas. Recruitment of teachers for schools at military bases overseas is handled by the Department of Defense, Office of Dependents’ Schools.*

They, in turn, operate the DoDEA, or Department of Defense Education Activity, which was established shortly after the end of World War II.

The problems they faced in logistics undoubtedly were made even more difficult back in the 60’s and 70’s, too – before the days of the internet and cell phone, when it took six weeks for a letter to reach its destination, and then another month and a half back.

The teachers no doubt faced an even greater sense of isolation, and given that their job were to teach these military kids overseas – ones who were always rotating in and out so much you barely got to know their name before the next one would come marching in; where the kids you started with in school were rarely the ones you finished with at the end of the year.

How to teach in a system like that?  One where the children were constantly changing faces and you were constantly changing places just the same as they were?  How to ensure a lesson taught at this school wasn’t the same one that they learned last year – or last week – by a different teacher there?  Unlike the civilian schools, this school system had to be strictly scheduled – everything kept on schedule, not just across a district or board – but throughout the entire military system!

And what to do with a child who came in – tardy or behind in some subject because he had been going to school with some civilian crowd – and now he’s out of sync with the ‘system’?  As a teacher – especially a military one overseas – I’m sure your choices were limited.  You saw but could not speak.  Or spoke but was not heard – or even more likely, just told “shut up or you’ll lose your job.”

I’m certain that kind of thing happened – and who to report to?  The MP’s?  The American ‘authorities’ on base?  What if they were the ones who were guilty; they were covering up?  What then?

And what about the military’s mission?  What then?

Can you be too afraid to speak up on the part of some small child – recognizing the sacrifice you make, he makes – by protecting the “member’s mission”?  Can you simply bite your lip and move on . . . ignoring those bruises as you turn your back on him; not reporting what’s going on . . . because you’ve seen so much of it and no matter what you’ve told . . .

You march in unison with the rest of the teachers there, doing the best you can.  Struggling on.

Sure, there are those ten-percenters; those ones who either do a great job, throwing their passion into it – or else the ones who are just over there for the sense of adventure, or for the strange few, the chance to engage in their passions . . . their rages . . . their desires which would never go over in some of the civilian schools I’ve been in.

How they managed it – teaching us at all – is bewildering.  I managed to change schools over four times one year – a lot more in the years before and following – and somehow the Army always seemed to have a new school ready for me.  No matter when I arrived – I would fit in with the rest of the strangers and the course – just like taking a step in class.  A few times I arrived I would be a few pages ahead or behind, but never very much.

The only place I got screwed up was in math.  And that I can blame on the civilian schools.  They were behind the DoD system when I got to North Carolina, and that really mucked me up from then on out.  Coming back I found myself in the same old “behind” school again – and the problem just got confounded.  No matter where I went after that I was behind in math.  I had gotten stuck in fractions – fraction conversions to decimals had been missed, skipped completely – and none of the teachers had time for me, time to figure out what it was this boy needed, why he got D’s and F’s – when he got straight A’s in so many of his other classes . . .

But I’ve always held a sense of grudging admiration for my overseas teachers.  They had an uphill battle all the time, no doubt!  Minimal resources, the mainland far away – having to rely upon themselves, arrange everything themselves – and maintain this strict kind of schedule, not just across the land but the entire ‘system’ of military dependent teaching . . .

and I’m sure sometimes they watched us – feeling rather sad.  I’m sure sometimes they were told to “shut up” – and that they had no choice.  Just take it, swallow it down  . . . and continue on.  Sacrificing the child for the greater good.

I hope they know I don’t blame them.  Because I know, like they know: it wouldn’t have made any difference.

No difference at all.

The military system.  Well planned, quite mad sometimes . . . and so were the times sometimes.