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A Streamlined Journey to Teaching: Troops to Teachers

by Heidi Lynn Russell, Contributing Editor

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You may wonder what flying monkeys, a girl with ruby slippers and a wicked green witch have to do with veterans finding their way into schools as teachers.

Turns out … a lot, if you ask former Army CPT Heather M. Morgan.

 

Morgan has been a high school English teacher and drama coach since August 2014 at Shelby County High School in Shelbyville, Ky. This spring, she directed a production of “The Wizard of Oz.”

 

And, not unlike Dorothy, she had to rely on a “wizard” to pave her journey to the classroom – a program called Troops to Teachers (TTT).

 

“When you transition out of the military, it’s just like going to see ‘The Great Oz.’ You feel like, ‘I have to go to this other person in the sky who I don’t know and find out the professional standards. And they have to tell me that I have the requisite heart and courage and brains to do this job?’ It feels discordant,” Morgan says.

 

During her Army career, Morgan’s job titles ranged from chemical officer, to personnel management, to executive officer, to S2 intelligence officer – a far cry from diagramming sentences, reading literature and helping teenagers rehearse for a musical.  But Troops to Teachers gave her tools to make the leap.

 

“If you’re expecting them to get you a job, you’ll be disappointed. But expect to see them streamline the process – taking what you know how to do and making it into a solid credential,” Morgan says.

 

More People Can Sign Up

Interest in Troops to Teachers has quadrupled during the past two years, says Wayne Eccles, Kentucky’s program coordinator. The National Defense Authorization Act of 2013 allowed anyone who served in the military at any time throughout history to join the program. Before then, people needed to serve a minimum of six years.

 

“And they don’t have to have a bachelor’s degree to start. The only requirement is serving honorably or that they have served honorably,” Eccles says, adding that he’s even had veterans of World War II and the Korean War register.

 

Every state is different when it comes to teacher certification. So the Troops to Teachers program has established a network of State TTT Offices that provide you with counseling and assistance regarding certification requirements, routes to state certification and employment leads. To drill down into your state’s requirements, find your state on this document:

http://troopstoteachers.net/Portals/1/National%20Home%20Page/stateoffices.pdf

 

Then visit their corresponding website for details. Also, rely heavily on your state’s counselor, because he or she will walk you through difficult hurdles, Morgan says.

 

“I didn’t miss deadlines. I knew what was expected of me. I was communicating with Wayne Eccles in 2010, as I was wrapping up my master’s degree. I even did student teaching on my lunch break, on my own time. I called Wayne to know what to expect,” she says.

 

Moran advises those interested in joining the program to research requirements for your state, long before you exit the military. “Know what tests you’ll have to take, how long your certificate to teach will last. Then you can project the best time with the economy to get out and transition into teaching. I already knew four years ahead of time,” she says. “I didn’t languish for weeks.”

 

Stipends for Certification Costs

Pending availability of funds, financial assistance may be provided to eligible veterans as stipends up to $5,000 to help pay for teacher certification costs or as bonuses of $10,000 to teach in schools serving a high percentage of students from low-income families. If you accept the stipend or the bonus, you must agree to teach for three years in schools that serve students from that demographic.

 

The only catch: If you’re laid off, you’ll lose your eligibility, even if you intended on staying on board to teach.

 

It’s the only downside to Troops to Teachers, says Eccles, adding that many districts nationwide have faced government funding cuts and have reduced their teaching staffs as a result.

 

That happened to former Navy LCDR Christopher Harp, who exited in 2013 after 10 years and eight months of service. He had an MBA and became a business teacher in Lexington, Ky. Harp taught for one year before the Fayette County School District laid him off. “They let go many teachers that were not tenured,” he says.

 

Harp isn’t giving up, though. He’s pursuing a second master’s degree at Spalding University in athletic training and is scheduled to graduate in 2016. He’d like a job as a school athletic trainer.

 

“It was no fault of Troops to Teachers. It was an unfortunate happenstance of the county I was teaching in. As far as Troops to Teachers went, that process was awesome,” he says.

 

Morgan recommends Troops to Teachers to anyone “who has decided to be a lifelong learner.”

 

“I am astounded daily by how much of what I learned in the Army carries over,” she says. “In the Army, it was a life-and-death, high-stakes experience. I ask my students all the time as they read, ‘What’s the tragedy? The comedy? How do you identify with human drama? Those stories happened to me in the Army for real.’ The skills I’m trying to teach them are skills that I saw work in real life. That’s a real blessing and fuels a lot of veterans to go into teaching.”

 

Heidi Lynn Russell writes about employment and business issues.

 

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