Dr. Mamie Pack recently hosted a webinar for military spouses, “Hectic Mobile Lifestyle as a Military Spouse? Tips for Advancing your Education and Your Career.” You can view the on-demand version of this webinar here. In the webinar, Dr. Pack offered up an overview of how competency-based education fits the lifestyle of the busy military spouse, a link to learn about WGU’s $400,000 in military spouse scholarships, and Ten Tips for Adult Learners to get them off on the right footing, wherever they are learning. She is sharing those ten tips here in this article. We encourage any military spouses reading this to view the webinar and learn more about the scholarship opportunities we have for you!
The reason I was excited to host this webinar was because as a military spouse myself, I know how hard it is to make time for yourself, and it’s especially hard to make time for your education and your career. Family and service come first, and we often back-burner our dreams and aspirations. As you view the webinar linked above, you’ll see that it doesn’t have to be “either or”, it can be a “both and” situation. You really can support your family and your active-duty spouse while advancing your education and your career. Below I’m offering practical advice to help you with striking the right balance in that.
Regardless of whether you are learning with WGU – a designated military friendly institution – or some other university, here are ten tips to help you start your education strong and stay strong. You can do this!
People decide to attend colleges or universities for some deeply personal reasons. Maybe you saw someone in your community you admire, and you want to make a difference like they do. Maybe you always dreamed of being a teacher and want to prepare now so when your spouse retires from active duty, you’ll be ready to hit the workforce. Maybe you want to be a good example to your children and demonstrate the value of education. (Doing your homework with your kids while they do theirs speaks volumes on the power of committing to education!) Regardless of your reason, you need to know your why and you need to write it down. Place your why somewhere near your computer where you can read it, over and over. On your good days it will elevate you. On the harder days it will keep you keep focused on your goals.
I’m a Navy wife with three degrees, four kids, five moves and four deployments. I’m all about family meetings and sitting down together to talk through why we are doing what we are doing, so we are aligned. It’s vital you talk about how going to school may change some family dynamics or customary habits. Speak openly about expectations and be clear about when you will need your time while assuring your family you are not abandoning their needs. One strategy that worked for my family was simply creating a big red sign I put on my door anytime I was deep into study time or prepping for a test. My kids were little, but they knew red meant mommy was busy working on her school for a couple of hours.
When I enrolled in my graduate degree program, I had little kids climbing all over me, all day long. We had just moved to a new location, and I didn’t have family or friends and wasn’t comfortable bringing a stranger into my home for day care. So, I made Creative Boxes for my kids. Each child, regardless of how young, had their own box with age-appropriate toys, learning games, and art supplies.
When I had to do my homework, I would bring my box to the table and have them get their boxes and engage with what was in their box. You can have them help decorate their names on their boxes! I even gave them pretend homework so they could do theirs with me, which helped build understanding of the importance of what I was doing.
There are people in your life who want to see you succeed, but they need to know how to help you. It’s amazing how much people want to help once they understand your “Why” for going to school. It may mean working out a deal with a family member where you don’t make dinner two nights a week – they do. Or you may take your neighbors kids one evening and have them take yours one evening. I did a lot of my studying at night after I put the kids to bed, so I had to explain to friends that certain evenings I just couldn’t chat or hang out because school had to be my priority. They all understood, and they all helped. You can also request check-ins for coaching. When I had a big project or report I would ask family or friends to call in advance of the due date and make me accountable for how I was progressing on the project.
Speaking of friends and family, understand that when you are a student at WGU, those friends and family members are not your only support systems. WGU offers support to each student at every step of their learning journey through something we call the Community of Care. You can read all about it in this three-part series here in the Learning Community. We’ll be there for you with academic support and tutoring, financial aid counseling, mental health counseling, individual support from your faculty and the ongoing support of your mentor who stays with you from start to finish. There’s support at every turn.
As a military spouse, it’s easy to feel like we need to be everywhere doing everything for everybody, and never showing that we’re tired, scared, or uncertain, especially during deployments. When you are an adult learner, you are going to have a lot of proud achievements and you’re also going to face some changes, challenges, and obstacles. I remember having my school assignments and schedule all lined up beautifully in my project
planner and then found out on a Wednesday my spouse had a ship out on that Friday. My schedule blew up and I had to just have grace with myself and say, “I’ll get there. Flexibility is key.” Be your own best friend when life gets complicated. At WGU, if your life needs your full, undivided attention one week you can do that, and study the next week…from anywhere you can access the Internet.
Okay, let’s get real. I can almost promise you that you will not pass one of your assignments or assessments on the first try…and you know what? It’s going to be okay! Failure is not fatal. You just get back up and try again until you get it. That’s a great thing about competency-based education – you can zip through the parts you know and already understand and spend more time on the subjects or topics that are harder for you. You can retake assessments after studying what you missed and get a big victory on your second attempt. So, give yourself some grace. Accredited university work is challenging, and you don’t have all the answers, yet. Just keep at it, and success will come. Here’s an inspirational story from one of our alumni talking about what she learned after her first failed assessment.
One of the most important things I hope you will take from this article and linked webinar is this: advocate for yourself. Ask for help as you go for your dreams. As an example, I had one course in my graduate work that was just incredibly hard for me. I’d cry as I attempted each new assignment. I reached out to my faculty member and let her know why I was going back to school, assure her I was committed, but made very clear I needed help. And help came. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. Whether you are connecting for help with another classmate, someone in academic support, or your faculty expert, asking for help is a great way to build your network and your knowledge.
It is possible to be present for our families – attending parent/teacher conferences, being at the football games – and also taking a class, preparing for a test or writing a paper. When you go after that degree so you can advance your education and get a better a career for you and your family, you are setting a wonderful example of how you want to make a positive impact on your community. We can get stuck in this fixed mindset that to serve our family well as military spouses, that is all we can focus on, and it’s just not true. With solid time management, and a university that provides you some flexibility in when and where to learn, you will see it’s not “either/or” for family or school. It’s possible to give your time and talent to both. It worked for me, one win at a time, and it can work for you!
When you finish writing that paper and turn in that assignment – celebrate! Don’t wait until all the results are in. When you do get the results, celebrate then too! It might be posting your big wins on a wall in your home office, or treating yourself to your favorite meal or snack, or taking an extra 15 minutes on your walk or workout. Whatever you decide to do, just be sure to celebrate each achievement and win along your learning journey!
If you liked this article, check out Dr. Pack’s advice column: Ten Tips for New Teachers in Uncertain Times
Dr. Mamie L. Pack is an Instructor in the Teachers College at Western Governors University. Dr. Pack has spent more than 20 years in education, amplifying diverse voices. From writing grants to teach African American literature in high schools to creating diversity, equity and inclusion safe spaces for youth, Mamie’s professional interests include cultural studies, educational equity, and mentoring. With a Ph.D. in Education in Mentoring and a MEd in Divergent Learning, she has served as a clinical supervisor and as a mentor for teachers entering education and also provides ongoing support for military spouses. Additionally, she serves as a consultant for teachers supporting diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts in her community. Mamie is passionate about breaking barriers in education. Mamie’s other roles include military spouse, mother, and a former classroom teacher.