As a kid, James Koontz was a selfdescribed military brat. When he graduated from Virginia Tech, he joined the Army because that seemed like a logical next step.
“I really wasn’t sure what I wanted to do,” he said.
He became an intelligence analyst, doing code-breaking, which he admits had a certain cachet. And later he was in business development, helping contractors connect with the military. He was a vice president of his company at one point; he was good at his job.
“But I didn’t feel like what I was doing mattered,” he said. “I felt like I was just pushing paper around. I started to feel like I was trapped.”
James and his wife, Ginger, began strategizing an exit plan. Their two girls were in school at this point, and Ginger, who had been at home with them, was wanting to go back to work. So the two switched roles: Ginger began a technology career, and James left his job to manage the household. It wasn’t always easy, he said. He took on the cooking, for example, and his way of preparing food meant that “we all got fat pretty fast.” But he figured out a ritual, and he rather quickly learned some things about himself.
He often was the only male at volunteer programs at the girls’ elementary school, so he introduced a national program there to encourage more dads to get involved. He helped out at Vacation Bible School at BPC, and he coordinated games at Rainbow.
“It was the happiest and most fulfilled I’d ever been,” he said. “Within a year I knew what I wanted to be was a teacher.”
James, who already had a master’s of business degree, attended Marymount University’s accelerated, 1-year master’s of elementary education program. He was student teaching during the day and attending classes at night. At the end of that year he had an offer to teach fourth grade at West Springfield Elementary School. That was eight years ago, and he’s been teaching fourth grade there ever since.
“It’s very rewarding,” he said. “As one of the very few male teachers in the building, I feel like I have even more of an influence.”
Boys, in particular, some struggling with problems at home, tend to come talk with James and seek counsel. He is always thinking about ways to jazz up instruction for his students. He was at the IMPACT rummage sale at church this summer, for example, and he ran across a dozen never-been-used kits for model rockets. So he scooped those up, bought a dozen more on Amazon, and launched a classroom-wide rocket-building project at the start of this school year.
He has introduced a few “standing tables,” which he bought himself at Ikea. These adjustable tables have white dry-erase tops, and they allow fidgety kids a place to get their work done and still burn off a little energy on their feet. He has cushions on the floor, where kids can read or sprawl out and write.
He runs a popular robotics class after school, for 4th-6th graders. And he has not one regret about his change in course. James says that when he was sorting out his professional life as a young adult, he was like a lot of his peers: “You’re getting out of college and you’re thinking about prestige. You’re thinking about money. And teaching is not a very glamorous profession. But then as I got older, what I thought about work changed.” And today? “I’m more tired. I’m poorer. And I’m happier.”