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Bernadette Hanley: Veteran, Mother, Teacher

May 12, 2017 | TeacherReady

Bernadette Hanley and her two sons
Bernadette Hanley and her two sons

After 20 years in the United States Army, Bernadette Hanley retired as a Lieutenant Colonel. She was living in Italy with her two sons, suddenly finding more time on her hands. She focused her newfound free time on her family, specifically her sons. It wasn’t long before she was volunteering at their elementary school.

“I subbed at the elementary school in Vicenza and spent a lot of time as a volunteer, but I still didn’t think about being a teacher because I thought that it would be way too difficult to go back to school for a degree in Education.”

When her husband was re-stationed to Germany, she began substituting at a local middle school. That’s when something clicked. She related better to the middle school students than the elementary school students she had been working with in Italy.

From Mom to Teacher

The day that Bernadette discovered her teaching career, she was subbing in a 7th grade class, teaching a lesson about genocide.

I had recently read a book on genocide and after a few hours of refresher reading, I felt prepared. Well, the class was extremely engaged in the subject and the discussion was excellent.”

Brimming with the energy of the experience, she went home and assured her husband that if she could find a way to teach, she would. “Why can’t you?” he asked. The dominoes fell.

Bernadette worked with the Troops to Teachers program to help her find an online program that would allow her to become certified, while living overseas. She was hesitant about the commitment, but she rolled up her sleeves and dug into the coursework.  It turns out that she was meant for the job.

In her two decades with the military, Bernadette focused on leadership, counseling, and training. She used these skills to help her communicate clearly with students, parents, and colleagues with candor and positivity.

Having A Mentor Helps

One of the most influential experiences of the program for Bernadette was work with a mentor teacher in her school in Germany.

“My teacher mentor, Mr. Nick Corelis, taught me more in 9 weeks than any of the lessons!”

He taught her to meet the students at the door every morning and ask what each of them did over the weekend. She developed an intuition about her students’ emotions. She knew when they were stressed before a big test. “Just breathe”, she would tell them. Her mentor taught her to give students time for creativity in a lesson unit as they prepared for the unit test.

A passion for teaching like Bernadette’s is contagious. Now, her husband is thinking of becoming a teacher when he retires from the military.