Joe Skillman '13 on the art of balancing work, school, family and faith

inWords Archive


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Joe Skillman masters the art of balance

By Greg Scheiderer

Many new graduates breathe a sigh of relief on com­mencement day. Please forgive Joe Skillman if his was deeper and more audible than most May 11, when he received his Master in Teaching degree and teacher certi­fication after completing the Secondary Teacher Alternate Route (STAR) program at Saint Martin’s University.

Consider what Skillman has been up to over the last two-and-a-half years: He welcomed two sons into the world, held a teaching job, split a youth-ministry gig, sold a house, moved in with his in-laws, bought a house, and moved again — all while maintaining a 4.0 grade-point average in the academically rigorous STAR program.

“I don’t feel like reading this summer,” Skillman laughed, recalling the coursework as he bounced seven-month-old son, Ben, on his knee while we talked on the deck of his Federal Way home the week before commencement.

Skillman has long had his mind on teaching, but took a bit of a detour. He earned a bachelor’s degree in biology with a minor in chemistry at Western Washington University, and was enrolled in the teaching program there. He was one course and some student teaching away from finishing when he burned out.

“I want to be passionate about what I’m doing, and I wasn’t passionate about the education courses I was taking at that point in time,” Skillman recalled. “I was just done.”

He spent a year on the road with NET Ministries, leading retreats for Catholic middle- and high-school students, and worked another year at NET’s headquarters in Minnesota.

“I found a lot of fulfillment serving with NET,” Skillman said. “I had a lot of fun doing that and growing in my faith.”

He later taught for a year at St. Charles Borromeo School in St. Anthony, Minnesota, and while there got engaged to his wife, Anna, also a Northwest native. They soon moved back to Washington and found work at St. Patrick Catholic Church and School in Tacoma, where Joe teaches middle school science and they share the parish’s youth ministry position.

The catch was that Joe had a conditional teaching certifi­cate that would last for only two years. He had to figure out a fast way to get permanent certification while still teaching at St. Patrick’s.

The STAR program turned out to be a perfect fit. Ann Gentle, Ph.D., director of the program, helped Skillman tailor it for his situation. The Archdiocese of Seattle covered part of the cost.

Skillman started classes in June of 2011 and raced through the program, finishing his written comprehensive exams in March and orals in April.

Skillman said the program has made him a more reflective teacher.

“I want my students to have an understanding of science, because that’s one of my passions, but I also just want them to have a desire to learn,” he said. “I didn’t really realize I had that until going through Saint Martin’s. I’ve moved from being a scientist to being a science teacher.”

Courses about how the brain works appealed to him as a new dad, too.

“That made it even more interesting, to see how I can apply some of what I’m learning to parenting, and how I can ap­ply it to helping my kids learn,” Skillman said.

“I’m glad I chose Saint Martin’s and feel like it prepared me well,” he said, “but it is not for the faint of heart. It’s a lot of work in a short amount of time.”

Skillman is looking forward to something he hasn’t enjoyed in years: a little time off with his family. His most strenuous plan for the summer is taking two-and-a-half year-old son, Gus, to the zoo.