By Kari Hawkins (The Redstone Rocket)July 18, 2012
Back in 1983, it may have seemed that Diane Formica ended the ability to pursue a teaching career when she married her beloved Soldier.
But today, despite some 14 moves, and the absences and long hours of military service that took her husband -- Lt. Gen. Richard Formica, commander of the Space and Missile Command/Army Forces Strategic Command -- away from her and their four children, Diane Formica is very much the successful teacher she had always dreamed of being.
Yes, it may have taken her longer to gain teaching experience after graduating from the University of Kentucky. Yes, frequent moves haven't allowed her to establish herself professionally within one school system or even within one state teachers association. Yes, she has had to contend with the frustrations of different state teaching requirements, and with searching for teaching jobs in communities where she and her abilities were unknown. And yes, while being a military spouse with a civilian career has been a challenge, being an officer's wife with a career has often raised questions about her priorities.
"A lot of people think, especially when your husband is in command, that you should not work outside the home," Formica said. "But, first, it was always nice to have my own thing, to have a job that I felt really passionate about. And, second, I was always able to find my niche in the command and in the community where I could make a difference.
"I think I was a good example for young wives that they could still be active and involved without having to do everything. Especially in this day and age when families need dual incomes, I've been a role model that says 'It's OK to work. You can still do what you need to do as a military wife and mother, and you can work. It's not a negative.' Wherever Richard served, I found my niche and I focused my abilities to provide support in my own way."
To Formica, following her own professional calling while also being an officer's wife and a mother has been well worth it.
"I always wanted to work. I always had a passion to teach and to work with children," she said. "And Richard has always been supportive of that."
Granted, the teaching profession is one of the easiest to work around the demands of home, children and, even, the military. In the first years of their marriage and their young family, Formica worked part time, serving in such roles as the director of children's ministries at a Methodist church near Fort Hood, Texas; directing a Kindercare child care facility near Fort Leavenworth, Kan.; and working for Child Development Services in two locations in Germany.
And everywhere she worked, her children were able to come right along with her.
"The kids just went to work with me," she said. "As our children got older, they went to public school and I went into the classroom as a teacher. They would even help me in the classroom by grading papers and putting up bulletin boards."
She has taught in both public and private schools in Fairfax County, Va., Oklahoma and Georgia. In Huntsville, she has worked the past year as a part-time teacher in support of the kindergarten, first-grade and second-grade classes at Country Day School. She will take on a full-time position as a first-grade teacher with the school in August.
"It can be difficult getting hired by public school systems because each state has different requirements for teaching certification," Formica said.
"In some states, they will give you a two-year provisional license and require you to do a few things to get a teaching certificate. But Alabama does not allow that. This state has some really strict requirements to get a teaching certificate."
It has also been challenging to be a teacher new to a community who is applying in school systems that are facing tight budgets. The field can be quite competitive and teachers unfamiliar to a school system's leadership can be at a disadvantage.
"You have to be determined to sell yourself when you go to a new state or a new community," she said. "Now, a lot of applications are done online. So, I would do the online application. But then I would hand carry my resume to schools so that principals can see me and talk to me. You really have to be proactive. The plus side is that you can teach anywhere, and you take your experience with you anywhere you go."
Regardless of the difficulties, Formica has enjoyed the various teaching experiences that come with a mobile military lifestyle.
"It's interesting to see the way things are done in different school systems and in different states. It's interesting to see the different teaching philosophies," she said. "But everywhere
I've gone all the teachers have had the same focus and it's been the children."
During the Formica's family years, teaching hours made it easier for Formica to be a military wife and mom. Her work hours mirrored her children's school hours, making her available to her children every day after the school bell rang, and during school holidays and the summer months. Those breaks also made it easier to fulfill her duties as the wife of an officer.
"I always did what I could to support Richard and his Soldiers and their families," she said. "As a working Army spouse I was and continue to be sensitive to all spouses within our units. We would -- and still do with our SMDC coffee group -- rotate times of activities and events, such as having a lunch event one month and an evening event the next month, so that it gives all of the spouses an opportunity to be a part of unit activities and events."
In the early years of marriage and family life, Formica was very active in family readiness groups. Over the years, that focus has shifted to Army Community Service and today, at Redstone Arsenal, the focus is Survivor Outreach Services, where Formica serves alongside her husband to provide leadership support to the spouses and families of fallen servicemembers.
While Formica, who was raised as a military child, has always been immersed in the Army life, her teaching career also gave her a chance to be part of the civilian communities wherever the family lived.
"I always felt that teaching in the schools in a community allowed me to meet some of the most wonderful people in the community and I loved being with children," she said. "When Richard deployed, I really needed my job to help me get through the separation. It gave me another support group. I had my military family, my church family and my school family.
"And I always wanted to be able to survive on my own if, heaven forbid, something had happened to Richard. I always wanted to be current in the work force. And now, with all of our children grown and gone, teaching is what I can do with my time and my energy. It keeps me young."
A teaching career also worked well with the Army's schedule for family moves, which usually occur in the summer. That schedule allowed her to fulfill her commitments as a teacher since it enabled her to leave teaching positions at the end of the school year. Only once -- during their move to Redstone Arsenal -- did Formica have to leave her teaching job in the middle of the school year.
"I take my role as a teacher very seriously. It's a commitment to the child in the classroom. I don't want to walk away from the kids," she said.
Her teaching jobs, she said, have also made her "more organized, more current and more fun to be around. When you love what you are doing and you feel a passion for it, that affects your whole life. Richard recognized that and he was always so supportive and wonderful. He has spent a lot of time in the classroom with me as a volunteer reader and by attending our patriotic events like Veterans Day programs. The kids are always mesmerized by the uniform and by his stories about being a Soldier."
This past school year, Formica's husband attended Country Day School's international festival. It was fun, Formica said, to see their roles reversed.
"He was introduced as 'This is Mrs. Formica's husband' instead of me being introduced as the general's wife," she said, smiling.
Formica is looking forward to being a full-time first-grade teacher in the classroom this next year. She has been spending time recently going through her teacher supplies and getting ready to decorate her classroom with lots of learning aids and bright, cheery things for her class of 14 first-graders.
"I've always liked early childhood education because those are the years that are crucial to children liking school," Formica said. "School was very hard for me when I was that age. I want to make the classroom a very positive learning experience for my students. I want my students to know it's OK to make mistakes and that you learn from mistakes. Kids are very honest at that age and learning is exciting. I like to include a lot of hands-on things in my classroom so they can learn by doing. It's neat to watch the children grow and change from their first day of school to the very end of the year."
Over the years, Formica has developed her own style of teaching that includes daily structure, flexibility in learning styles, acceptance, love and care of each child, respect for both the teacher and the student, and parent involvement and support.
Formica will continue to teach at Country Day School, where she enjoys the teaching philosophy and atmosphere, until the next move in her husband's Army career.
"When people learn I am a general's wife, they will ask me 'Why do you work?' I don't do it for the money. I teach because it's a passion. It's something I love to do," she said.
"I'll teach wherever we end up. Whether it's retirement or another place in the military, I will find a way to teach."