By Nathan Pfau, Army Flier Staff WriterJanuary 31, 2014
(Editor's note: This is part of a continuing series looking at different jobs and the people who get them done at Fort Rucker. Readers who have ideas for jobs or people to be highlighted in the series can send an email to jhughes at armyflier.com for the staff to consider.)
FORT RUCKER, Ala. (January 31, 2014) -- Children pour into the classroom as the bell rings and prepare to take on the day, but one teacher has prepared her entire life to do what she loves most -- teach.
Lisa Halpin is a third grade teacher at Fort Rucker Elementary School, and although she's been teaching for 13 years, her story as an educator didn't start until later in life.
Her day starts at 5 a.m., even though her class doesn't begin until 7:30. She said she likes to use the extra time to get ready for what's ahead.
"I get up at 5 a.m. because I like to have that time in the morning to rev up and settle myself," said Halpin. "I usually watch the news, have two or three cups of coffee, and do some household things to get them out of the way and center myself for the day."
The morning is her favorite part of the day because she said it's when the children in her class are fresh and excited to learn.
"They're just so enthusiastic in the morning," said the teacher. "They sort of wear down as the day goes on. In the morning, all the potential is still out there and I just feel like I can take it on."
On a normal day, Halpin arrives at the school a little before 7 a.m. to prepare her classroom, and once the children arrive, learning starts immediately with analogies and morning warm-ups on the SmartBoard.
This is when the children are the most involved and are genuinely the most excited about learning, she said. They participate in morning math problems, help each other solve equations and, most importantly, learn to stand on their own.
That last part is something Halpin said is one of her most important lessons.
Each teacher in the school posts a quote above the entrance to their classrooms that they feel is inspirational and fundamental to their teachings, and the quote that hangs above Halpin's door reads, "Dream big and dare to fail."
"Fail seems like such a harsh word, but I think of it as a positive word and I want these kids to think of it that way, too," she said. "If you don't fail, then you haven't tried. If you don't try, then you're never going to succeed."
To Halpin, failure is a type of success and is an opportunity for the students to learn something. She said she wants to change the perception that failure is a bad thing, and she wants the children to celebrate failure because, to her, failure is growth.
Although academics are important, it's life lessons that she hopes she can get across to the children along with their everyday studies, and a large part of that is having the students stand on their own to have the opportunity to fail.
"In the morning, the children work on their math warm-ups, and I tell them that during that first 10-15 minutes, it's desert-island time," said the teacher. "I tell them, 'You are by yourself and you've got to solve this. You have to save yourself.'
"Of course I help them eventually, but I want them to try first," she continued. "Their instinct is to ask for help, and I do want to help them, but sometimes the best help is to let them help themselves."
Halpin, a self-proclaimed Army brat, said she feels she got a lot of her teaching philosophy because the way her life panned out early on. She had her first child when she was 16 years old -- her daughter, Amy -- but she believes it was the best thing for her.
"That's something that changes your life," said Halpin. "Although I would not recommend having children at that young of an age, it was a good thing for me.
"I have always been very quiet and introverted, and having a daughter at 16 gave me some attention, even though it was negative attention. It was a good strengthener for me," she continued. "It made me believe in myself, trust in myself and learn to not care what people thought about me because I know who I am."
That's something Halpin said she tries to teach her students -- to not worry about what others think of them. It's a philosophy that she also imparted later in life when she made the decision to go to school and become an educator.
Halpin started her career much later in life than most people. She was 34 years old when she decided to go to college, and 38 years old when she got her degree and started teaching.
She found it difficult at first because she said going back to school later in life was daunting, especially seeing all of her younger classmates. Halpin often compared herself to others and worried about what they thought of her, but again realized that the only opinion that mattered was her own.
"At the time, when I was in college, I was thinking, 'Oh my gosh, I'm going to be so old when I graduate. What am I going to do?'" she remembered. "But then I thought to myself, 'I'm going to be 38 one way or the other, I might as well be 38 with a degree.'"
With that philosophy in mind, she has successfully entered her 13th year of teaching and she said she couldn't be happier.
"I look back over my life and I'm so thankful that everything played out the way that it did -- so purposefully," said Halpin. "Although I didn't realize what was happening and where it was going at the time, now I'm very happy and very fulfilled -- personally and professionally. Life is good."