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
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
“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
“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.