Eyes forward. Heels together. Feet turned out forming an angle of 30 degrees. Shoulders level and square facing towards the front. Eyes forward. Arms straight and elbows aligned with hips. Backs of your hands facing outward and thumbs in line with the seam of your trousers. Eyes forward. Keep your head up with your neck touching the back of your collar. Block out everyone and everything around you. Eyes forward. Stare straight ahead and look at the wall across the room and focus on an imaginary “dot.”
As anyone who has ever served in the United States Military knows, what I described above is the act of “standing at attention.” I was active duty military for four years and I have stared at literally thousands of those imaginary “dots” throughout my enlistment. I would stand at attention in Iraq, stare at an imaginary dot and pretend to listen. Different thoughts would fly through my head: my first Yankee game with my dad, waiting on the top of the stairs with my sisters to come down and open presents on Christmas morning, my moms Apple Crisp, my nephew, niece, Wawa, or the time my friends and I got kicked out of a Beach Boys concert. While my thoughts were reflective at times of my past, most of the time, as I stood at attention, eyes forward staring at my imaginary dot, I thought about one thing: becoming a teacher one day.
The following poem, to be read first top to bottom and then bottom to top, is not about me — it’s about what the military taught me and how thankful I’ve become for how they’ve prepared me to be a teacher. I am not ashamed to admit that like those imaginary dots, I didn’t see it at first, but I do now and I couldn’t be more appreciative of those who I served alongside with.
As I approach my final week as a member of the inactive reserve, and my third year of teaching fifth grade, I find myself reflecting back on what my job was like in the service to what it’s like now in education. I have found that while the daily responsibilities of the jobs differ drastically, the principles, beliefs and attitudes are curiously similar. So please, military and teachers alike, take a moment and read this poem, first top to bottom then bottom to top and have a Happy Veterans Day… remember eyes forward.
I am an American teacher.
I am changing the world
I can make a difference
I empower those around me
I am a warrior when I need to be
I am surrounded by selflessness
I have friends, not colleagues
I complain at times but
I am always looking over my shoulder
“Government keeps me alert”
And fear-not public perception
For the youth of this country
I drink coffee from a canister
Pounding, yet focused on my job
Now setting my own goals
Not because they tell me to.
I am pushing myself to the limits
I refuse to read the papers for
This mission is worthy
Are far more important than
My Wall Street drinking buddies will say
My attitude is my armor
I am fighting for results everyday
I’m enduring the tedious tasks
I am sacrificing a part of me
For I’m embracing the naysayers
I am changing the world…
I am an American soldier.
JD Wilson grew up at the Jersey Shore. He was active duty military for four years, serving in the United States Airforce. He now currently lives in Point Pleasant Beach, NJ and teaches fifth grade at Ramtown Elementary School.