A New Tour Of Duty

October 01, 1990 5 min read

The initial focus, organizers of the effort say, is on some 640 junior officers compelled to leave the Army last month in the first phase of military-wide cuts. Eventually, the state intends to branch out and target Navy and Air Force personnel stationed at 32 bases throughout Florida, says Jim Pirius, director of the Army Transition Project for the state education department. Those branches of the service are “going to be affected [by cuts] down the line, too,’' he says.

On a smaller scale, state education officials in California, working in concert with the Army and the Navy, hope to land a $100,000 grant from the U.S. Education Department to recruit and prepare officers to teach in the state’s public schools.

In part, these actions are being taken in anticipation of what the Pentagon calls a “drawdown.’' With communism on the wane in Eastern Europe and a lessening of tensions between Washington and Moscow, the United States is shrinking its armed forces. Although the administration and Congress have not settled on firm figures, and recent problems in the Middle East could change things, Secretary of Defense Richard Cheney has recommended a reduction of 441,000 military positions by 1995.

“Here is a problem for the military that could be a solution for the education world,’' says Christopher Cross, an assistant secretary in the U.S. Education Department, which is acting as a “broker’’ for projects like the Florida venture. States proposing such efforts may seek Education Department money earmarked for midcareer-teacher programs.

Alabama, Indiana, New York, Ohio, and Texas are discussing projects similar to Florida’s, according to Gordon Ambach, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, which is helping to connect interested states with the Defense Department. “This is an issue of how the nation uses its resources,’' Ambach says. “How does the nation best invest those resources where we most need them?’'

Teacher-recruitment officials say they expect to find a large pool of talent within the ranks of the military to draw from--particularly in more technical subjects. Terence Garner, assistant superintendent for personnel for the Dade County, Fla., schools, says he expects most of the officers available to be best suited to teach mathematics and science. But the most pressing need in Dade County, Garner says, is for special-education teachers. “There could be a psychology major in there who would only need a few more courses’’ to teach special education, he notes.

The reduction in military forces may also help schools meet a growing need for minority teachers. Nearly 30 percent of armed forces personnel and 12 percent of the officer corps are minority, according to the Defense Department.

Officials in Florida are hoping to recruit 50 to 100 Army officers the first year of the joint project to fill some of the state’s 1,000 to 1,600 teacher openings. “All of these folks will have college degrees, so they’ll be prime candidates for teaching,’' Pirius says.

“Many of them,’' Garner says, “have even been doing some teaching in the service.’' For example, Navy personnel serve in schools as math, science, and English tutors as part of the Personal Excellence Partnership Program, begun in 1982.

Veterans have “an awful lot of experience to bring to a classroom,’' says Bruce Robinson, the Northern California director of the Personal Excellence program. “It’s a perfect match.’'

Teacher recruitment is but one component of the Army Transition Project in Florida. According to Cheryl Ross, a program analyst for the Army Career and Alumni Program Task Force, the project will also direct departing officers and civilian employees of the service to the transportation, hospitality, law-enforcement, and health-care industries in the state.

The program will be implemented through new job-assistance centers to be located at 57 Army installations worldwide. Pilot projects will begin operating this month at eight sites, with the majority of sites opening next April. The centers will market career opportunities in Florida through pamphlets and a toll-free number directing callers to the appropriate source.

Once the recruits are hired for teaching assignments in Florida districts, they are required to take pedagogical instruction at alternativecertification centers. If qualified in a subject, they can teach as long as two years with provisional certification.

Pedagogical instruction is also a facet of the California program. The project there, to be tested in the San Francisco Bay area, will require candidates to take 30 units of teacherpreparation course work during an 18-month period, leading to a master’s degree and state certification. “This should not be looked at as a fast track into the teaching profession,’' says Laura Wagner, an official at the California Department of Education.

The California program, according to a written proposal, was designed specifically for those leaving the military. It notes that previous attempts to employ military retirees as teachers “have only had limited success, in part because they have failed to address the particular needs of the midcareer military personnel.’' Taking those drawbacks into consideration, the California plan includes financial support for the prospective teachers--a $2,500 stipend and another $7,500 for those who work as graduate assistants. The state has also built in professional- and personal-support systems to assist in the transition.

McDowell acknowledges that teaching “will be different from being in the service.’' But he says that he’s looking forward to his new job and to staying in one place and spending more time with his family. The former captain is convinced that programs like the Army Transition Project will entice many retiring officers into teaching. He also believes these former officers have a lot to contribute to the schools.

“They’ll do well, if they’re given half a chance,’' he says. “And that’s something this program will do--give them a chance.’'

-Karen Diegmueller, Education Week

A version of this article appeared in the October 01, 1990 edition of Teacher as A New Tour Of Duty