From military to teaching Some schools look to the armed forces to replenish talent pool

September 21, 1997|By ROBERT H. MacDONALD AND M. LEE MANNING

With more than 30 percent of the nation's elementary and secondary school teachers reaching retirement age over the next eight years, some colleges and universities are turning to what may be considered an unlikely source of new teachers - the military.

Throughout the nation, educators and school administrators are beginning to recognize that men and women leaving the military through retirement or downsizing represent a significant pool of potential teaching talent.

They bring many qualifications:

* They usually have at least a baccalaureate degree, often a master's.

* Many have teaching skills acquired in the armed service.

* They are relatively young, with another 15 years or so for a second career.

* They have proven ability and willingness to see a job through to completion.

* They have a wealth of life experience to share.

In 1989, Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va., established one of the nation's first alternative teacher certification programs for military personnel. The Military Career Transition Program is designed to assist officers and enlisted personnel to become teachers.

The program is based on the assumption that these men and women have experiences consistent with a career in education. Many have technology training, substance abuse prevention training, multicultural sensitivity training, leadership and management training and so on.

Every branch of the military has specialized training programs that teach fundamental educational skills such as decision making, teamwork, management by objective and performance evaluation.

The men and women now leaving active military service have a significantly higher education level than their counterparts at the end of World War II and the Korean conflict. Many have been in training for the classroom, indirectly at least, for 20 years.

Graduates of the program at Old Dominion are working in Baltimore, Chicago, Norfolk, Minneapolis, Phoenix and Seattle, helping inner-city children and school systems by accepting difficult teaching assignments where vacancies are hard to fill.

They are teaching in all grade levels. They are teaching special education classes. They teach foreign languages - even Latin. They often volunteer for extra duties such as remedial reading, coaching and curriculum committees.

One of these new teachers, Michael Frederick, found his calling as a special education math teacher at Harbor City School Academic and Skills Training Center in West Baltimore. In this alternative school, atop a grocery store on Saratoga Street, Frederick works with high school students who have been expelled from conventional schools.

In his classroom, the following quotation stretches across the wall: "Time and effort spent in the present become money and comfort in the future." The saying is meant to serve as a positive reinforcement for students, but it describes Frederick's own career path.

Early indications suggest that both public schools and students benefit significantly from the maturity, experience and expertise that former military personnel bring to public education. About 600 Old Dominion University graduates who are former military personnel have secured teaching positions in urban, suburban and rural communities.

Effective certification programs for this pool of teaching talent will require careful planning that includes efforts to ensure a strong public school and university partnership, a capable and committed faculty, high-quality field experiences, timely counseling, program evaluation and placement services.

Graduates of the program at Old Dominion are receiving an enthusiastic welcome from school systems throughout the country.

Robert MacDonald is a professor of educational leadership and counseling and director of the Military Career Transition Program at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va.

M. Lee Manning is and associate professor of curriculum and instruction at Old Dominion's Darden College of Education.

Pub Date: 9/21/97

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