An Educator of Fighter Pilots and Elementary Schoolers

On Veterans Day and throughout the month of November, AFSA will proudly spotlight a few of the men and women who generously served our country in the military and our children in America’s public schools. Please join us in celebrating our colleagues who have bravely protected our great nation through their military service!

“I’m an adventurer,” says Doreen Seaman, assistant principal at P.S. 57 on Staten Island, New York. She brings plenty of enthusiasm to that job and to every other aspect of her life. Her three greatest sources of fun are the New York Mets, travel and shoes.

But Doreen is an educator who didn’t like school. She says, “Even though I did well, I was bored and didn’t want to go to college. I didn’t like that way of learning.”

As a very young woman, she joined the Air Force after a stint in business; her most memorable job was at Salomon Brothers, where she was a successful sales assistant. She says, “They were wonderful to me and pushed me forward, but without a degree there was just so much I could do.”

Because she loved to fly and travel, and she was taking flying lessons to earn a pilot’s license, she volunteered for the Air Force without much conflict. Her father George was a little taken aback, but her mother Joan, also an adventurer at heart, was enthusiastic.

“I always wanted to be in the Air Force, though to tell you the truth, I wanted to be in the Navy even more,” she laughs. The Navy was well known for offering the greatest travel opportunities. “What stopped me is I knew I’d be known as Seaman Seaman. Believe me Airman Seaman was bad enough.”

Doreen took the plunge and was soon posted to Columbus Air Force Base in Mississippi, where she eventually became a noncommissioned officer in the Physiological Training Unit. As the only woman, she had to work twice as hard to prove herself. She served as a platform instructor, teaching aircrew members how to, among other things, execute a parachute landing without breaking an ankle or leg. To land safely, parts of the body must hit the ground properly.

The physiological training component involved teaching pilots about the effects of altitude on their brains. Doreen says, “We’d spin them to teach them how to deal with a plane that is going out of control.”

Looking for a change, she put in for a transfer to Wiesbaden, Germany, although she really missed the unit in Mississippi. “The people I worked with in Mississippi were like my brothers,” she says.

As a traveler and a history buff, she enjoyed being able to hop on a train and learn more about the rest of Europe. “But I did only about a third of the work I did in Mississippi, and I was bored.”

She married another airman who had begun studying through what is now the University of Maryland Global Campus Europe, and she decided to take classes as well. The notion of sitting in a classroom still didn’t appeal. After leaving the Air Force, she moved with her husband to College Park, Maryland, to finish her degree, earning a Dean’s Scholarship and a Maryland Senatorial Scholarship, and eventually graduating summa cum laude.

By her mid-30s Doreen was back on Staten Island, this time with a baby girl. She had only ever taught adults and resisted her father’s urging to become a schoolteacher. Besides, that would mean figuring out what to do with her daughter Michelle. Maybe that level of challenge had its own appeal. They went off to Wagner College together, and Michelle played on classroom floors till her mother earned a master’s degree, graduating magna cum laude.

Doreen started out as a part-time English Language Arts teacher at P.S. 8 on Staten Island. When she became a classroom teacher at P.S. 59 and heard her second graders complaining that they hated math, she seized that challenge, too, and became a math content specialist. Her favorite job as a teacher was as a math coach at the United Federation of Teachers’ Teacher Center, where she met an inspiring mentor, Naomi Isaac-Simpson, who offered “deep, intriguing conversation and had very high expectations for us.”

“I loved foundational math and I loved training teachers in math,” she said.

Today, school leadership allows her to affect change, but does not offer the same instructional opportunities. “But now I have more influence. I like watching a teacher’s progress in their craft, and I like being sought out for advice, and being asked to make suggestions for improvement.”

Another advantage is getting to know all the children in the building. “Especially as an AP,” she says, “who supervises lunch, supervises arrival and dismissal, handles discipline, you know the majority of students and have watched them grow and develop through the years. We can have such an impact on their approach to education, to socialization, to communication and to each other.”

That is a bond she is going to miss when she retires in February. She says the students’ “hugs, their desire to talk to me, their jokes, their little gifts—drawings, bracelets—always filled me with such joy and love.”

While she is still young, she wants to travel more, possibly even become a tour guide. Her season tickets to the Mets won’t go to waste. And she aims at learning much more about photography, which has been her hobby. (Speaking of aims, if really pressed, she will confess to having an expert marksman ribbon from the Air Force.)

Doreen seeks hands-on photography classes that are compatible with “my learning style, which is visual, tactile and kinetic.” What she believes she’ll bring to the endeavor is a work ethic and perfectionism, which the military “strengthened and embedded in my being.”

Befitting someone who has spent years in flight, Doreen intends to travel as far north as possible and photograph the Northern Lights. “I saw them while in Arctic survival school,” she says, “but we didn’t have cell phones in the early ’80s, so they’re only photographed in my memory.”