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Be a teacher by fall

By Amanda Miller - agmiller@militarytimes.com

It happens every summer: School districts race to recruit new teachers for tough-to-fill positions, hoping to start the school year with a full faculty roster.

As the 2008-09 term draws nearer, principals will turn to subject-matter experts who haven't arrived at teaching by the usual route. It's the perfect opportunity for transitioning service members — if you're getting out now — to go directly from the military to a career in the classroom.

Troops to Teachers calls it the "seasonal nature of hiring." This federal program, run jointly by the Defense and Education departments, points out that most of its teachers are hired in late summer because that's when districts look beyond their usual sources for new teachers.

That's especially true in hard-to-staff rural and inner-city schools, and for hard-to-fill jobs in math, science, special education and high school teaching.

One provision of the federal No Child Left Behind Act enacted in 2002 could give you an added edge: The law says "highly qualified" teachers, particularly at the high school level, should hold degrees in the subjects they teach — rather than in education itself.

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Begin your teaching job hunt by figuring out which state you want to teach in and evaluating which subjects you'd qualify for, Troops to Teachers recommends. (That bachelor's degree in psychology could be more valuable than you think.)

Next, look up the state's certification requirements and alternative certification programs and enroll if you can, said Rob Weil, deputy director of educational issues for the American Federation of Teachers, a 1.4 million-member teachers' union.

Most states give aspiring teachers more than one route to certification, Weil said.

"It's really important to get ahead of the curve because when you do interview with the school district, they're going to ask questions about where you are in the pipeline," Weil said. "They're going to assume that if you're really interested in teaching, you'll have done this homework."

Apply as early as possible to every district where you're willing to work. Personnel offices can offer advice on the best way to get your résumé to the appropriate principal. Troops to Teachers suggests checking the districts' Web sites frequently during the summer for new postings.

The truth about certification

No Child Left Behind says a "highly qualified" teacher either is certified or holds a bachelor's or better in the appropriate subject area and is actively pursuing certification.

Your likelihood of being hired without being certified depends on the school and on the principal doing the hiring, said Larry Speta, a Marine Corps retiree, former F-18 maintenance chief and middle school math teacher at Southside Community School in Tucson, Ariz.

Because it's a charter school, Speta's school is exempt from the federal law's certification provision. Charter schools are publicly funded schools that are freed from certain of what their founders — often teachers and parents — consider legal restrictions.

Those rules are eased in exchange for greater accountability in areas set forth under the schools' charters. Southside's administrators still want teachers to be certified, Speta said, but the school isn't at risk of losing federal funds if they're not.

Not being certified didn't stop Dave Parsons from teaching middle school science in New Jersey. A retired Air Force lieutenant colonel and C-130 pilot, Parsons now teaches at Winslow Township Middle School in Atco, N.J. It's his second teaching job in as many years.

Parsons' military education had a lot to do with the subjects he initially qualified to teach. A bachelor's in psychology earned him the basic qualifications to teach high school psychology and middle school science. He qualified to teach middle school and high school social studies thanks to further studies at Naval Postgraduate School, Marine Corps Command and Staff College and the School of Advanced Warfighting.

He started teaching first and got certified later under New Jersey's Alternate Route Certification.

Naudia Lee, a retired Army staff sergeant, taught for the past year under a probationary certificate while pursuing her Texas teacher certification through ACT San Antonio, an alternative certification program for "highly qualified" individuals.

She received her certification in June after completing the program that included a month of coursework, subject- and teacher-specific exams and the year of teaching that counted as an internship. Now, the former pharmacy tech and instructor teaches elementary special education at Shekinah Radiance Academy in San Antonio.

Real-world experience

There's no question that experience from your military career will make a difference in the classroom, said Eric Combs, assistant principal of Sidney High School in Sidney, Ohio, because there's more to being a teacher than just teaching.

"You have to understand what a teacher's job is nowadays," Combs said. "Now because of everything we've taken on in public education, you really have to be multi-tasking all the time." Teachers often are called on do the work of guidance counselors, security officers and nutritionists, Combs said.

"Most people in the military know how to work in an austere environment and a hostile environment and to be project-oriented and to get the task done," Combs said. "A very young person hasn't had that experience put upon them."

Combs retired from the Air Force in 2000 and began teaching drill and ceremony, military history, survival and teamwork to Air Force Junior ROTC students at Fairborn High School near Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, about a year later. He earned his master's in education and teaching certification concurrently from the University of Dayton and graduated in 2005.

He was named Ohio Teacher of the Year in 2006.

"I think the people from the military that have the skills in math, science, social studies and athletics can do wonders with our kids because they've been out in the real world," said William Howey, a 32-year Marine Corps veteran and retired high school history and government teacher.

Howey writes about his civilian teaching career in his new book, "Hard Knocks and Straight Talk: From the Jungles of Vietnam to the American Classroom." He encourages more people like Speta, Parsons, Lee and Combs to consider teaching as their second career.

"They can give these kids so much," Howey said.

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