In our latest meet the teacher interview, Naomi Mills, Assistant Head of Year at Robert Bloomfield Academy in Shefford, shares how her own experiences of growing up as a military child have helped her support service pupils in school today. She also explains the benefits of setting up a forces club for military children.
Tell us about yourself and how you came to be a teacher.
In 2007 I began my teaching journey in Arizona. My father was in the United States Air Force for 22 years and his last post was in Arizona which is where I finished high school and attended university. After eight years in the desert, I decided I wanted to see the world, so I moved to Abu Dhabi where I taught 7th and 8th grade Maths for two years. During that time, I met my husband and we moved to the UK. I am now the Assistant Head of Year 5 at Robert Bloomfield Academy (RBA) Shefford and I’ve been here for five years.
How many military children are there in your school?
We currently have over 50 military students whose parents/guardians work at RAF Chicksands.
How does your school support forces’ families?
We have a forces club called “The 49 Club” which gives military children the chance to get together. We also created a video that was shared with the whole school in April – the Month of the Military Child where we highlighted some of the amazing things that a military child can experience, and some of the downfalls.
Having an outlet for military pupils is incredibly important. I don’t think people naturally associate any negatives with military children. However, we go through quite a bit emotionally and are expected to handle ourselves in an adult manner.
Do you think your military connection helps you when interacting with the service pupils?
I think my experiences help me to empathise with the students. I grew up not really feeling connected to anyone or anything other than my parents because they were the constant in my life. I learned how to quickly adapt to new situations, but I never allowed myself to be fully immersed. I found growing up, I kept people at a distance. I grew up having some incredible experiences, but then felt awkward sharing them with others because they had no idea of that lifestyle. How do you explain seeing different parts of the world to someone who has never left their hometown? A lot of times I felt like people saw me as different or odd. I always felt like the permanent foreign exchange student. I felt very alone during my middle school and high school years, even when surrounded by friends.
What initiatives or projects have worked particularly well?
The 49 Club is a really special project for us but I also really want the community to recognise our military children as well, so I have plans to do some charity work as a group. I would like to include a display or garden at our school that honours military family members that the whole school can be a part of.
What’s the one thing you think is most important for schools to do for forces children?
I think the most important thing I can do for my military pupils is acknowledge them. Sometimes, they just need to vent and have someone understand what they are going through. That’s what I want to provide, a safe place to chat and a place to seek advice from someone who lived that life.
Why do you think it’s important to offer targeted support for military children in school?
I feel it is incredibly important to provide support to military children because they are a group that can be easily overlooked. Not many people will have the life experiences that a military child does and it can take a toll on some students. Offering them a place to go to talk or emote is a relief for many of them.
In your experience, what are the biggest challenges faced by military children in school? Have these challenges changed during your time as a teacher?
One of the biggest challenges I faced was adapting to the different curriculums when moving schools. I moved from a school in Belgium to a school in Arizona in the U.S.A. I suddenly found myself incredibly behind and needed to attend summer school to catch up. As a kid, I felt a bit like a failure. There was just this assumption that I could pick up from wherever in the curriculum and handle it all, on top of leaving family, friends, and moving to a place a had no idea about.
What advice would you offer to other teachers and schools working with military children?
The best advice I could give is just to find out about your students. Most of them are coming from incredible places and have seen incredible things. Many of these students won’t talk about the places they just moved from because they have found that when they do, most people can’t relate to their situation. Making your military students feel unique and special will have a positive impact on their transition.