Service Before Self: How Military Service Shapes Their Teaching
November 10, 2021
Military veterans Katherine Lawson and Kimberly Adams are bringing their acts of service to a new landscape – the classroom. The experiences learned through their military careers have provided a unique vantage point for both women, which they use daily in their instruction and interaction with students.
“Classroom management is one of my strong suits,” Ms. Adams laughed. She has been a teacher for five years and currently serves as a third-grade teacher at Sango Elementary School in Clarksville. “Kids thrive off of structure, and discipline is not about yelling. In the military, I learned organization, discipline, and structure. I’ve brought those things into my classroom.”
She has a combined 13 years of experience in the national guard and active duty. After hearing stories from her father, a helicopter mechanic in Vietnam, Kimberly Adams always loved helicopters. She began to explore career paths where she could fly and started with medivac helicopters. “I always love doing things that are acts of service and helping others,” she explained.
While she has set high expectations for her students, Ms. Adams watches them achieve every day. “One of the words on the wall in my classroom is integrity. It’s one of the first things we talk about at the beginning of the year,” she explained. She is quick to add that modeling integrity is most important. “As long as you hold the kids to that standard, you have to be the example.”
This is how Ms. Lawson first caught the attention of Ms. Adams in the hallway. “Ms. Lawson is always showing what right looks like; she models integrity for the students.” Ms. Adams observed how Ms. Lawson, a full-time substitute teacher, and military veteran, interacted with students and staff. She made such a positive impact that Ms. Adams reached out to the school administration to recognize her colleague’s efforts.
“She is just fantastic,” Ms. Adams said. “She always goes above and beyond. The kids get so excited to see her.” She has witnessed Ms. Lawson do everything from creating a prize and incentive cart for students, stepping up to support teachers, and willingly serving in whatever capacity the school may need from classroom to cafeteria.
Katherine Lawson credits her work ethic to her 26-year military career and her mother. Both taught her the importance of serving others. Ms. Lawson grew up as a military child, while her mother worked as an emergency room nurse.
“You never knew who she would bring home for dinner,” she joked. When her mother encountered a Marine or Sailor who needed extra support, they were invited to the table. “In a military community, everybody’s family. You never know what someone else is going through.” That sense of caring for others is now an internal motivator for Ms. Lawson as she practices kindness each day at school.
“I greet everybody with a smile and good morning,” she said. Her reward is to see the love and recognition from the students. “The way they look at you, the respect. You never know what they’re going through, and you can be a bright spot for them.”
When asked what she loved most about her military career, she replied, “Taking care of America’s sons and daughters.” Once she retired, Ms. Lawson knew she wanted to continue serving and turned to education after her brother, a school principal, encouraged her to use her natural talents.
“I would encourage all veterans to pursue this path (in education),” she continued. “It gives you something to do, out of the house, and it’s rewarding. The smiles, the thank yous, it’s rewarding.”