Ex-military sought as teachers

By Johnny Jackson

A national study says ex-military personnel make some of the best teachers.

Some teachers in the Southern Crescent agree.

”Most definitely," said Liz Bryant , a 2004 recipient as Mt. Zion High School teacher of the Year.

Bill Kirkland, program manager for the Georgia Troops to Teachers Program, said school districts are snapping up these former military personnel.

”Last year in Georgia, we had over 100 troops come out of service to go out and teach in Georgia,“ he said.

”They have already proven themselves to have a certain amount of talent. Folks who come out of the military have a strong work ethic; they're more mature. Most have already raised children. These guys are committed to wanting to give back to the community. They bring the experience of knowing that no matter what the situation they come with a positive attitude.“

A study at Old Dominion University in Virginia surveyed just under 900 principals about graduates of the federal Troops to Teachers program, which provides grants to military personnel who return to college to go into teaching.

The study asked principals to compare Troops to Teachers graduates with other teachers with the same level of teaching experience.

Sixty-seven percent said they were ”better prepared to teach,“ than their peers; 72 percent said ex-military teachers dealt better with parents.

While the study provides a small sampling, ex-military members have experience with learning discipline.

Bryant is one to know personally.

She is a 20-year veteran of the military, who prides high morale. She retired a personnel management specialist, ranked Sergeant First Class Promotable.

"Morale and dedication remains a part of who I am," she said. "Dedication, structure, and flexibility are all of those qualities in military that work in the classroom. Every child can learn within their range of ability. If expectations are set and boundaries are formed, children will perform well. I believe that if you set high expectations, children will meet them. They all can learn within their ability level, if you meet them where they are and raise them up."

Bryant joined the military after a year in college at Alabama State University. She said she saw a need to do something about troubled youth when she decided several years ago to invest her efforts into the Troops to Teachers Program.

Nationally, the Troops to Teachers Program has provided funding and counseling to ex-military personnel in their pursuits to teach since 1994. Kirkland said at least 95 percent of ex-military who enter the program have four-year degrees. Those that go on to teach meet the standards of other teachers. And in Clayton and Henry counties, he said, there are 41 ex-military teachers who have gone through the Troops to Teachers Program.

The program is provided with $15 million towards financial assistance and maintaining the network of Troops to Teachers state offices. It lends financial assistance to eligible ex-military personnel who agree to teach for three years in a school located in a "high-need" district. That assistance comes in the form of stipends up to $5,000, which helps reimburse costs associated with becoming certified to teach. Recipients of these stipends. The assistance also comes in the form of bonuses of up to $10,000 to those who agree to teach for three years in a school that serves a high percentage of students from low-income families.

”The purpose was two-fold to assist to find high-quality teacher who wanted to teach in high-needs schools and wanted to teach high-needs subjects,“ Kirkland said. ”The second was to assist veterans who wanted to teach in public schools of America once they got out of service.“

The "No Child Left Behind Act of 2001," signed into law by President Bush on Jan. 8, 2002, effectively continues the Troops to Teachers Program for an additional five years. The law also modified the program's focus by placing emphasis on the need to make quality teachers available for high-need schools and high-need school districts throughout America.

”One of the reasons many of our folks want to teach in high-needs schools is because that's where they came from,“ Kirkland said.

He said the average age of ex-military teachers through the program was 41; the average rank for non-commissioned officers was between a Sergeant First Class and a Master Sergeant Officer's or Majors and Lieutenant Colonel.

”Studies have shown that almost 75 percent of ex-military teach middle grades or at the high school level,“ he said, reciting studies done by Defense Activity for Non-traditional Education Support (DANTES). ”About 63 percent are teaching in high-needs subject areas. Fifty to 60 percent of those teach in high needs-schools. About 80 percent of the participants are males, and over 33 percent are minorities.“

He said the program's retention rate of those still teaching after four years was over 75 percent.

”Teaching is not an easy job; it's almost like a religious calling for them to get out there and do what they do," Kirkland said.

”The difficult part in the transition from the military is that the military is very structured," Bryant said. "The biggest adjustment for me was going to an environment that's not as structured. I genuinely care about the whole student. (And) I love what I do.“