Efforts to combat teacher turnover rates in high-poverty and high-needs schools could tap into a growing pool of military veterans entering the classroom. But veterans who are interested in becoming teachers need more encouragement, and states with large military and veteran populations are offering increased support through programs like Troops to Teachers.
Shane Larkin, a high school history and world studies teacher at Early College Academy of Columbus in Ohio, was named Muscogee County schools’ 2017 Teacher of the Year earlier this month. But before becoming a teacher, Larkin served in the U.S. Army for 10 years.
His service during a peacekeeping mission in Bosnia offered him a new perspective and outlook on education. Larkin’s first teaching position was during his deployment to Kosovo, where he taught English to Serbian students.
“I loved almost everything about being an infantry squad leader,” he told the Ledger-Enquirer, “but I felt completely comfortable and inspired while teaching those students for several hours a week.”
“It was truly rewarding for me to be part of making a safe zone for those kids who were not safe to even go into neighboring towns,” he added. “It was at that point I realized the true meaning and power of education.”
For veterans like Larkin, there are several programs in colleges and through the government that seek to enourage veterans to enter the field and ease the transition from military life to the classroom.
The program Troops to Teachers, a U.S. Department of Defense initiative, supports former and retired military personnel with at least 10 years of experience as they transition into new careers as K-12 school teachers and administrators. Teach for America also has a military recruitment initiative called “You Served America, Now Teach for America.”
Since being established in 1993, Troops to Teachers has turned out 20,000 teachers through both traditional and alternative routes to certification.
Despite the variety of alternative certification and education programs targeted to veterans, Larkin told the Ledger-Enquirer that veterans need more motivation. Some veterans don’t think they have the confidence to teach, he said, "[even though] most of them already possess the skills needed to be successful in the classroom.”
Last week, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced that a $400,000 federal grant would go toward developing a Troops to Teachers center at the College of William and Mary School of Education, according to the Associated Press.
McAuliffe said in a statement that the program will help address Virginia’s teacher shortage. Virginia has one of the largest veteran and military populations, according to the Associated Press. Virginia’s department of education has identified 10 critical shortage areas, including in special education, career and technical education, and math and science. McAuliffe previously reached out to retired teachers in Virginia last year, asking them to consider teaching in Petersburg city schools, a high-poverty district with a high staff-turnover rate.
The College of William and Mary will also establish a pilot program offering veterans three levels of support as they make the transition into teaching careers. Veterans will be introduced to the teaching profession through job-shadowing opportunities and individualized plans for meeting licensure requirements. They will then be placed in the classroom with an experienced teacher-coach. The veterans-turned-teachers will continue to have accessible resources and professional growth opportunities through the program as well.
The federal Troops to Teachers program also partnered with the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, in 2015 to steer military veterans into jobs in Clark County schools, which was facing deep shortages of thousands of teachers.
Of course, this isn’t a new idea. In 1992, Education Week spoke with veterans-turned-teachers and other advocates, some explaining that noncommissioned officers who advanced to higher positions may serve as role models for disadvantaged students.
“I work much harder as a teacher than at times I did as a soldier,” Larkin told the Ledger-Enquirer.
“The purpose of education is to empower students with knowledge and to create as many opportunities as possible for their future success,” he added. “That’s our role as a community, and it’s my mandate as a teacher.”
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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.