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thedrifter
12-26-05, 10:00 AM
From battle to books
New study shows that soldiers who become teachers display excellent skills
12:00 AM PST on Monday, December 26, 2005
By LINDA LOU / The Press-Enterprise

They strategize maneuvers and devise backup plans. They fight to protect their country. They know how to inspire and lead their comrades-in-arms.

But troop members to classroom teachers? You bet.

A national survey conducted by Old Dominion University in Virginia for the federal Troops to Teachers program says former military personnel who now teach are big hits with their principals. The program helps military employees who have served at least six years become teachers.

The good ratings make sense, said Bob Bartron, a California Troops to Teacher manager who oversees parts of southern California. Skills ingrained in the military -- self-discipline, dedication and leadership -- translate well into schools, he said. Training, planning and teaching are embedded in the military, Bartron said.

Charles James, who is in his seventh year of teaching sixth-grade science and math at Cope Middle School in Redlands, wore two hats during his 22 years with the U.S. Army. He supervised personnel records, but was also a band director who led weekly physical trainings.

"You're always teaching the soldiers under you," James, 55, said. "My whole military career has always been about teaching, teaching and teaching."

Troops to Teachers started in 1994 to help military employees find another career after the end of the Cold War -- which reduced the military force by about one-third, Bartron said, a retired U.S. Navy commander.

The program has since become part of the U.S. Department of Education and focuses on recruiting former military personnel to teach math, science or special education, which are national shortage areas, Bartron said. It helps with job searches and counseling and provides up to $10,000 to qualified military personnel.

There are no shortcuts to earning required teaching credentials or bachelor's degrees. About 90 teachers have been hired in the Inland area who were in Troops to Teachers, Bartron said.

Some may have since retired or left the area, he said. Nationwide, the number exceeds 7,500, according to the Old Dominion report.

Students first

Military background or not, educators must have the heart of a teacher to excel in the classroom, said Greg Cooke, principal of James Day Middle School in Temecula.

The desire to make a difference and the ability to connect with students are not negotiable, said Cooke, who served six years in the Navy's nuclear program.

"Teaching is a calling," he said. "Either you have the knack communicating with kids or you don't. If they cannot connect with kids and cannot relate to them, you can't be a teacher."

But military people who aspire to become teachers and have the built-in background would make "awesome" fits, Cooke said.

Pilots, for example, can apply their experiences to concepts in textbooks, when explaining Bernoulli's principle, or how objects rise, he said.

Robert Huish, a sixth-grade math and language arts teacher at Day, said after moving to Temecula in 1995 and being stationed at Camp Pendleton, started substitute teaching in 1997 during his time off to test the waters. He got hooked.

"I thought, these guys are really learning something," Huish, 47, said. "It gave me a warm, fuzzy feeling."

He retired from the Marines in July 1999 after 22 years of service and started teaching a month later.

After 20 years of service in the military, veterans are eligible for retirement, but most need to find a second career, Bartron said.

Parent Brian Aanestad said he's glad that his son has a teacher who has life experience and can share real stories that help students learn. Huish displays his medals and photos from his days in the Marines above his desk.

"He's got a lot of character and history sitting in his backpack of life," Aanestad said.

Leading roles

Garry Cameron, 39, a history teacher at West Valley High School in Hemet said seven years in the Navy taught him how to lead others. He served during Desert Storm.

"When you're trying to motivate troops when they are 18 or 19 years old who are in the middle of the Indian Ocean to drop off Marines in Kuwait, you have to really motivate them," Cameron said.

He said he would push his troops to think about the immediate picture of accomplishing a mission and the larger purpose of serving the country.

At school, he reminds students why they are in class -- to earn credits for graduation and get diplomas, Cameron said.

Santos Campos, principal of Norte Vista High School in Riverside, said the three teachers with military experience on staff at his school know how to get their jobs done.

He has noticed that they keep their students attentive during lectures and nip discipline issues.

Campos spent four years in the Marines after high school. The three Norte Vista teachers consistently run their classes with discipline, which is a way of life in the Marines, he said.

Collaboration

Collaborating with superiors and those under them in the military makes it easy to work with principals, parents and fellow teachers, Huish said.

Some parents and their children are impressed with him.

Libby Moriarity said her daughter says Huish always keeps the class on task and focused on what they have to do.

She said Huish would be able to connect with students whose parents are in the military. Her husband is in the Navy and has been deployed in the past.

"(Huish) actually knows what that means if my kids are having a hard time," she said.

Temecula has higher numbers of parents who serve in the military because of its proximity to Camp Pendleton, Cooke said. Susan Bieber, whose son is in Huish's class, said he almost got a failing grade on his first writing assignment.

Since then, her son, who doesn't like to write, is paying more attention to writing, she said.

"(Huish) got him excited about writing," Bieber said. "Somehow, he sparked him."

Bieber likes how Huish keeps his Web site updated so parents know what's happening in class and can check on their children's grades.

She also admires what he represents.

"I like the fact that he is a positive role model," Bieber said. "Neither professions are selfish ones. They're both about giving back. Both of them affect a lot of other people, and it's not for their personal glory."Reach Linda Lou at (951) 893-2109 or llou@pe.com

Ellie