We need more Veterans in Education

Many initiatives exist to attract quality professionals into the teaching profession, but the current climate, ranging from political attacks on educators, the cutting of benefits, low pay, and policies handcuffing a school’s ability to discipline children, has made the profession less than appealing. However, recruiting military veterans could prove to have a positive impact in several areas, particularly diversity.

“In many ways, teaching embodies the ideals of the Armed Forces but even more so because we are performing our strategic and tactical missions every single day we enter a classroom without fail, and that is to teach the children who are the future of our nation.”

Col. Fred Johnson, Thomas Jefferson Middle School

Whether it’s urban, rural, west coast, east coast, or middle America, teachers are overwhelming white and female, yet the population in our public schools, which is growing, is trending more and more minority. 

Currently, less than 47 percent of public school children in America are white, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. There are 27.1 million non-white students in our public schools, with hispanics making up the largest portion – 13.9 million.

Many will enter the classroom with leadership skills, the ability to adapt, strong communication skills, self discipline, the willingness to show initiative, could be strong in behavioral management, and most will bring a global perspective that many non-veterans don’t possess. 

In contrast, mintorites account for 20 percent of the 3.2 million teachers in the United States. This can be addressed in part by recruiting those who already serve, to serve in a new capacity, the classroom. According to the Department of Defense and Department of Education Report to Congress in 2012, veterans pursuing a teaching career are 83 percent male, 43 percent minority, and 70 percent report planning to remain in the profession until retirement. If the final statistic holds true, recruiting veterans could also help retention issues.

What are the general characteristics of veterans that could help them become quality teachers? Many will enter the classroom with leadership skills, the ability to adapt, strong communication skills, self discipline, the willingness to show initiative, could be strong in behavioral management, and most will bring a global perspective that many non-veterans don’t possess. 

In Kentucky, there are two prerequisites for a veteran to receive a teaching certificate – a bachelor’s degree and six years of military service. 

Many Louisville educators know and may be aware of Colonel Fred Johnson, who teaches at Thomas Jefferson Middle School. He recently wrote a piece which appeared in the Louisville Eccentric Observer.

“Most everyone who is in the military that long (six years) has achieved rank and experience where they have been required to teach, manage and lead groups of people, specifically young enlisted personnel.”

However, Johnson acknowledged, even after 29 years in the military, teaching was no cake walk.

“First, many of us arrive at 6:30 to prepare the classroom for instruction,” he wrote. “Then, after teaching 7:30-2:30, we have to prepare for the next day, which can take several hours … I’m easily putting in 10 to 12 hours a day. Plus, Sundays are almost exclusively dedicated to preparing lesson plans and grading. It’s really a six-day work week.”

No one is saying veterans are a no-brainer for the teaching profession. It requires a unique skill set that few possess, and the challenges are overwhelming for many. And recruiting veterans isn’t an easy sell to all. After all, after years of service, including potentially experiencing combat, walking into a classroom when many in society appear against teachers, may not seem appealing. However, Johnson pointed out in his article, “The similarities between teaching and the military are uncanny in ways that I never expected.”

“In many ways, teaching embodies the ideals of the Armed Forces but even more so because we are performing our strategic and tactical missions every single day we enter a classroom without fail, and that is to teach the children who are the future of our nation,” Johnson wrote.

So let’s try a serious approach. Many programs that recruit veterans, such as Teach for America, don’t provide adequate training. One doesn’t become a good teacher with a few weeks of training, or a few classes. Instead, let’s pay for veterans’ education degrees and provide them support from an experienced mentor-teacher from one to three years. 

Understandably, we will need to address many other negative aspects of teaching to attract veterans, or any other qualified individual,