EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska, April 20, 2017 —
National Guard airmen and soldiers have unique connections to their communities -- connections that stretch beyond the gates of their bases.
One such connection is that between a teacher and a student, or in this case, between an airman and her students.
When in uniform, Air Force Staff Sgt. Megan Schreder performs the duties of a services craftsman for the 168th Force Support Squadron, part of the Alaska Air National Guard’s 168th Wing here. When Schreder is out of her camouflage uniform, she dons the uniform of a fifth-grade teacher.
This is Schreder's second year of teaching, her first year as a fifth-grade teacher. "They make moves within the district, and I knew I was being transferred," she said. "Then I found out I was teaching fifth [grade], and I was very excited, and I love this school. The staff and administration are amazing. It makes me love teaching more."
Students Have Military Families
Schreder teaches at Arctic Light Elementary School, inside the gates of Fort Wainwright, Alaska, which is collocated with the city of Fairbanks. All of Schreder's students have a mom or dad, and sometimes both parents, who currently serve in the armed forces.
"With my kids, I definitely talk to them a lot about the fact that I'm in the Guard," Schreder said.
When some of her students find out she serves in the Air National Guard, Schreder said, they ask if she flies the airplanes. She said she is quick to respond "no," and tells them that there are different jobs in the Air Force. But she acknowledges that her connection to the military helps the kids connect with her, especially at this school.
"Having that connection -- that I'm in the military and their parents are in the military -- really helps them warm up to me," Schreder said.
Schreder is homeroom teacher to 26 students, and with the exception of physical education or music, provides all of the lessons for her fifth-graders. She said she believes her service with the Air National Guard helps to foster a better understanding with community and school members, particularly those who do not have any direct ties to the military.
"We are a more traditional school. They're in here the entire day. … I have them from the moment they're at school until I let them go at the end of the day," Schreder said. That might help to explain how she walks about 10,000 steps a day; she almost never stops moving as she's teaching.
"Scientists have identified about 2 million types, species, of living things on Earth," is heard coming from Schreder's computer as it begins to play a life science lesson. Schreder follows along and quizzes the schoolchildren during the lesson. "Wasn't that one of our test questions?" she asks.
Schreder said her teaching position and her military service benefit each other.
"I told my commander this past weekend that things I learn here at drill, I use in my classroom, and things I use in my classroom, I use here at drill," she said.
"I've definitely seen Megan mature since she first enlisted," said Air Force Master Sgt. Claudia Cen, 168th FSF services noncommissioned officer in charge. "She was a very naïve teenager when she got here, and now she's an amazing teacher and role model for our new airmen."
During regularly scheduled drills, Schreder supervises two services journeymen. Along with other members of her flight, she and her airmen help unit members prepare for their fitness tests, work lodging issues, and train. "Megan has impeccable military bearing," Cen said. "She has so much patience with our airmen."
Applying Classroom Techniques With Airmen
The teacher side of Schreder is well known by her peers and subordinates. "Especially when we run PT tests, people are like, ‘I can see the teacher side of you coming out,’" she said. "When we're reading the verbal instructions for fitness assessments, and people are talking, I tend to walk near them as I'm reading, as a sign like, ‘She's probably waiting for me to be quiet,’ and that actually still works for adults, which is kind of funny."
Back in her classroom at Arctic Light, Schreder gets the students ready for the question section of their science block of instruction, but as kids tend to do, they're all talking. "If you're talking when I'm talking, you are not helping yourself, you are not helping others," she tells them.
The fifth-graders respond quickly, and Schreder starts the lesson, asking one of the students to start reading, "Go ahead Matthew," she says. "How many types of living things have scientists identified?"
Always looking for opportunities and challenges, Schreder recently applied and interviewed for a commissioning opportunity within the wing, and was selected as force support flight officer.
"I have complete confidence in Megan's leadership skills,” said Air Force Lt. Col. Kelly Mellard, 168th Force Support Flight commander. “She has the respect of her peers and airmen, and has already proven herself as a leader in the services flight. We are excited to see her take this next step in her professional growth, knowing that she will make an excellent officer."