SANTA ROSA BEACH — Teaching and policing both deal with disruptive behaviors and safety issues, but in very different ways.

Karla O'Dell has seen troubled students from both perspectives.

The school resource deputy at Emerald Coast Middle School started out in 2005 as a high school physical education teacher in Central Florida.

She loved teaching, but O'Dell said she always had a "what if" feeling about law enforcement. To find out what policing would be like, O'Dell decided to join the police force in 2012. After a few ride-alongs, she said she was positive about switching careers.

"I actually taught during the day and went to night classes to go to the (police) academy," O'Dell said.

After finishing up at the academy, O'Dell worked as a deputy with the Osceola County Sheriff's Office. She remained in Central Florida until 2018, when she moved to Walton County.

In November, O'Dell learned that a spot was open as a SRD at Emerald Coast Middle School. Deputy Bryan Leavins, O'Dell's partner, said he immediately thought of O'Dell when the job became available and encouraged her to take it.

"I was so excited when I thought about it because I thought that would be awesome to have somebody in the school that has a teaching background along with law enforcement," Leavins said.

O'Dell said that having taught high school students, she had her doubts.

"I said, 'It's the middle school, though. That's a little bit different breed of kids than I'm used to,' " she said.

Despite her initial concern, O'Dell decided to make the switch and become a SRD.

"I couldn't ask for a better partner to work with, and the admin here is pretty jam up to work with, too," O'Dell said.

She said she often draws on her experiences as a teacher, despite people's assumptions that the two don't mix.

"You're still dealing with kids a lot of the times in law enforcement," O'Dell said. "You can't help but rely on stuff you know and have dealt with before."

But O'Dell said her teaching background should not be mistaken as a weakness.

"I feel that I probably am more strict with the kids because I've always held them to a higher standard," she said.

As a teacher, O'Dell was trying to produce positive members of society. As a SRD, she said that goal remains the same.

Keeping the students safe as a teacher and as an SRD comes down to building relationships.

"If you don't make that connection with the kids, whether you're a teacher or you're in law enforcement at a school, they're always going to have doubt," she said. "They're always going to fight you."