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Troops looking to lead and mentor move to teaching

by Nick Stubbs
Thunderbolt staff writer

Periodic meetings are held on base to present military members with information about becoming teachers after leaving the service.

Photo by Nick Stubbs

Skilled communicators capable of understanding and leading people, intelligence, vigilance and a sense of responsibility and duty are qualities any good military recruiter looks for when interviewing "prospects."

As it turns out, the same qualities are desirable for public teaching jobs, which has Florida education officials doing a little recruiting of their own at MacDill.

Florida always needs good teachers and ex-military men and women are prime candidates, said Coyt Hargus, a counselor with the 6th Air Mobility Wing Education and Training Flight. The state Troops to Teachers program is successfully moving skilled leaders from military jobs into teaching jobs when they retire or leave the force.

"They (military members) have the education and the state is looking for people with experience in leadership, and NCOs and commissioned officers who want to extend their mentorship after retirement are a natural," said Mr. Hargus. "There really isn't a lot of difference in leading an 18 year old Airman and a 17 year old student."

Mr. Hargus said there has been a lot of interest in the program among Airmen and the other branches at MacDill. A briefing held last month to brief teaching prospects drew a surprise standing-room-only crowd. Another held Nov. 30 that had just eight people signed up, ended up with 22 people showing up.

Each military member has his reasons for exploring teaching but for most it seems to be a desire to continue a career of leadership and mentoring, said Mr. Hargus. One Airman, who wanted to be a teacher in a northern state years ago but found the field full there, joined the Air Force to build experience and gain leadership skills she now wants to put to work as a teacher, he said.

"In a case like that there is a good chance she can step out of a uniform and into the classroom," Mr. Hargus said. Anyone interested in making the jump can contact the Education Flight at 828-3115.

Ron Burton, the Troops to Teachers program manager for the Florida Department of Education, said MacDill is a good feeder for the schools.

"We get a lot of interest," said Mr. Burton, who was at MacDill last month to hold a briefing on the program.

For the first time at MacDill, Mr. Burton also outlined the new Spouses to Teachers program, which began in September and is geared to attract military spouses into teaching.

Ex military himself, Mr. Burton said the Troops to Teachers program was a U.S. Department of Defense initiative started several years ago to help place military members who became part of force thinning during heavy rounds of Base Realignment and Closure programs. But when BRAC began to slow closures and DoD proposed ending Troops to Teachers, education officials picked up the ball and took over the program, which had proven an effective way of recruiting quality teachers.

"They (education officials) realized after some research that the teachers they were getting (out of the military) were superior on the average, and they didn't want to lose that," said Mr. Burton.

In those studies, officials found that some 90 percent of ex military people entering teaching still were on the job five years after starting, compared to 60 percent for new, younger teachers entering the field out of college, said Mr. Burton. Former military teachers also exhibited better leadership skills and were more seasoned in dealing with people and problems, he said.

"Being older they (former military) were more likely to know it (teaching) is the profession for them and their life and real-world experience was a big plus," said Mr. Burton. "Most who were NCOs or officers had been through training in aspects of financial counseling, problem resolving and they also had experience in very diverse populations in the military, which is a lot like school."

It adds up to the kind of experience needed to make good teachers, he added.

Mr. Burton said Florida ranks number three in the nation behind Texas and Virginia in converting troops to teachers. Most are between 35 and 40 years old and when rated after a year on the job, came out ahead of teachers from other backgrounds.




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