I no longer have enough fingers — or toes — to count the number of times our children have changed schools. They’ve been to six different schools just in the Department of Defense Dependents Schools during various assignments in Europe and the Pacific.

Like other mobile families, we’ve discovered that every school system has highs and lows. We do all we can to make the most of the highs, overcome the lows and learn from both extremes.

Our son’s geography teacher, Susan Morris, was named this year’s Teacher of the Year for the Department of Defense Education Activity, representing DODDS teachers worldwide. As high points go, this has potential.

Susan teaches seventh- and eighth-graders at Böblingen Elementary and Middle School at USAG Stuttgart. In her classroom after school one day, I asked her how she would advise parents to maximize their children’s DODDS experiences.

"As military people, we know we kind of have to roll with the punches," said Susan. Her husband served in the military, and she has lived and taught around the world, including Germany, Guam and Malta.

"We have to endure some strategic or logistic needs that people in the States don’t have, but there are also other benefits of being in a DODDS school that aren’t in the U.S.

"They may not offer football or other extracurricular activities that are common in American schools," she said. "But history is in our back yard."

"Two years ago, a boy (in my class) found out that the place where he was going to have his bar mitzvah was one of the first Jewish synagogues hit on Kristallnacht," Susan said. "He didn’t know that until he was doing his history day project."

Acknowledging that all schools have limitations, she urged parents to look for cultural opportunities in everyday activities, as well as school field trips.

"We have a whole different world of resources here," she said. Susan, whose son is in grade school, encourages parents to travel with their children.

"That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to drive nine hours to Berlin or fly all over the place … but there is something to going to your own village bakery. There is something to getting to know your neighbors or going to a fest, just being a part of your culture.

"Why not enjoy the world while you can?" she asked. "It makes us better citizens."

Susan said students who have traveled have an awareness of their surroundings and willingness to venture out.

"That’s part of what our schools foster, our communities foster. We want strong, independent people who are willing to be risk-takers, to be entrepreneurs, anything they want to be."

Military life, she said, is "like being in a club without an initiation, because we’ve already been through the initiation period of PCSing. We’ve all done it, and I think we bond together closer.

"The essence of being a DODDS teacher is that you have to be able to support your kids," she said. "Our kids are in very stressful environment, whether they know it as a norm or not."

When a parent is deployed or returns home wounded, she said, "There’s a whole psychological trauma that goes along with that. We’re trained to be a part of that — to support those families."

Terri Barnes is a military wife and mother of three. She lives and writes in Germany. Write to her at and see the Spouse Calls blog at:

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