Spouse Calls: Lesson from a teacher of teachers
"I was called to be a teacher the same time I was called to be a pastor’s wife," said Jan Richardson. An Air Force chaplain’s wife, she has followed her calling as well as her husband’s, but 33 years and 13 or 14 military moves did not offer the continuity required for a steady teaching career.
Instead, they provided the raw material for Richardson to become a teacher of teachers, speaker and author. Her book, "The Next Step in Guided Reading" (Scholastic, 2009), in its second printing, has topped Amazon’s bestsellers among books on reading skills.
Like many military wives, she has traveled the globe with her husband. She also travels to schools across the U.S. as a private reading consultant, and as a speaker for reading and education conventions.
When we spoke, she was preparing to address an audience of several hundred teachers in New York.
"I do those big speeches. It’s not exactly the thing I enjoy the most," she told me. "Most of my work is spent … hugging children and rubbing elbows with teachers."
"Yesterday I was in Tennessee, and I spent two days at the school working with classroom teachers," Richardson said. She explained that she works with students — modeling her instructional concepts — then discusses her methods in roundtable sessions with teachers.
"I never planned for this to happen," she said of her success as an author and consultant. "The Lord just showed me step by step."
"My career was never my top concern," Richardson said. "What was most important is that my family’s needs were met." She and her husband have three grown sons and five grandchildren.
"I think it’s important that women recognize that their career doesn’t define them," she said.
"We have a lifetime to work, but we only have a short time to be with our children. I don’t see that as a sacrifice that I put aside my career aspirations to spend time with my family."
If not ambitious, Jan has been industrious. Between teaching jobs, being a wife and mom, she earned a master’s degree, then a doctorate, in reading. She said different seasons were right for different pursuits.
"From a faith background, I always knew that if I was supposed to work, God would show me the job I was supposed to have.
"There were years when I worked part time. There were years I worked in tutoring at home," she said, to be with her children. "I started my PhD two other times, and in both instances it wasn’t the right time."
Apparently, the third time was the charm. Armed with her doctorate, she transitioned from reading specialist to consultant, eventually to speaker and author.
"Because we moved every two or three years … I’ve actually taught every single grade, K to twelve and college and graduate school," she said.
"I never would have done that if I had tried to plan my own career and stayed in the same place."
Jan said this multiplicity of jobs built her résumé and enriched the content of her book.
"I wish I could have written it 20 years ago, but I couldn’t have written it 20 years ago. I didn’t have the experience and the knowledge."
One lesson of this teacher’s life is that moving can broaden careers for military spouses.
"I talk to women who are so afraid of moving to that next assignment because it’s going to ruin everything," Jan said. "But they go and find career opportunities that never would have happened if they hadn’t moved."
Terri Barnes is a military wife and mother of three. She lives and writes in Germany. Contact her at email@example.com and see the Spouse Calls blog at http://blogs.stripes.com/blogs/spousecalls.