Help Wanted

Turning soldiers into teachers.

By Barbara Axelson

Proud to Serve Again: That’s the motto of Troops to Teachers, a program sponsored by the departments of education and defense that places former military people in public schools across the country.

Program director John Gantz believes the career transition from soldier to teacher is a natural. In high-need schools, role models are sought more than ever. “Two thirds of our people are noncommissioned officers—Navy chiefs, Army sergeants—who may have earned their bachelor’s degrees in the service and who understand the value of education. Some have grown up in difficult circumstances and have a desire to go back to where they understand the environment and can utilize their experience,” says Gantz. He notes that some of the most beloved teachers are former drill instructors teaching at the elementary level.

Eligible military personnel are those with bachelor’s degrees who are on the verge of retirement or who have at least six years of active duty and remain on reserve status. Some 9,000 have signed on in the last 11 years. About 48 percent of the new teachers go into high schools and 25 percent into middle schools.  Steve Campbell, the group’s director for Wisconsin and Minnesota, says the candidate pool is rich: “Many bring expertise in needed subject areas such as math, science, languages, and technical education. The mix includes engineers, former fliers, and people who’ve worked on nuclear submarines.”

According to Campbell, after five years, 75 percent to 80 percent of the veterans stay on at the job, versus about 60 percent of new college graduates. Their strengths include a strong work ethic, the desire to come early and stay late, and a willingness to take on extra duties. Campbell says it’s really a calling, because often the teachers start at the bottom of the pay scale. “In my biased opinion, it’s very, very special individuals,” says Principal Joaquin Hernandez of Miami Lakes Middle School in Florida, himself a Vietnam veteran. “They bring to the classroom the same honor and dedication with which they served this country.” For more information on the program, go to www.proudtoserveagain.com.

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