FORT LEWIS, Wash. - If there's one thing most troops have in common with teachers, it's the desire to serve others. It's also the same quality that makes them a desirable asset to schools.

Troops To Teachers is a U.S. Department of Education and Department of Defense program that helps military personnel begin a career as teachers in public schools where their skills, knowledge and experience are most needed.

Robert Jones, Army retiree and Troops To Teachers program supervisor, is helping service members realize their dreams of teaching in a classroom.

Jones became involved with TTT when it began in 1994. He started out teaching at a high school for 11 years, then became an assistant principal. When his predecessor for his present job offered him the position, he couldn't turn it down.

"I kind of missed my connection with military folks," he said. "When you retire, that tends to happen."

Now Jones spends his time in military classrooms educating prospective teachers on how to make the transition from being in the military to being in a classroom. It's an opportunity that Jones hopes more troops will take advantage of.

"My basic job is to eliminate barriers - things that are causing you not to get your certificate or not to get into the school you want," Jones said. "I'm here to help you."

Jones said there are many reasons troops might want to consider entering the education field, post-military. In addition to excellent job security, summers and holidays off, decent pay and extended job opportunities, Jones said teaching is among the most honorable jobs out there.

"Teachers make a difference," Jones said. "It's an important job. ... It's a very fulfilling job."

School districts looking to hire will almost always choose a Soldier over another potential candidate. The reason, Jones said, is that troops often possess skills and discipline that the average person without military experience lacks.

"It's not all about discipline, but one thing we troops to teachers do is we figure out a structure pretty quickly, and we demand the standards," Jones said. "We're also usually among the first to get our classroom organized and are good at motivating students."

With TTT, troops receive $5,000 to help pay for their teaching certificates. Those who go on to teach in "high needs" school districts receive additional $5,000 bonuses.

Another incentive is that it's separate from other benefits a Soldier receives.

"Troops To Teachers has zero effect on your Post 9/11, your Montgomery GI Bill or any kind of benefits you're entitled to in that way," Jones said. "If you want to get your teaching certificate through your GI Bill, then sign up for (TTT); you can take that extra $5,000 and go make a down payment on a new (SUV)."

With retirement just around the corner, I Corps G-3 plans officer, Lt. Col. Michael Huffman, is considering the program.

"I'm looking at a myriad of options, and I'm in the investigative phase right now," Huffman said.

As a father of five, ages ranging from three to 17, Huffman said the work schedule is one aspect of teaching he finds appealing.

"The ability to interact with kids, to kind of shape their lives ... that, and it seems like a pretty decent schedule after working five to seven days a week for 20 years," he said.

Sergeant First Class Andrew Axelson, a recently activated reservist, is looking into a possible career change.

"Teaching is something I'm definitely interested in, so once I have my degree, it's something I can transition to," said the combat engineer with U.S. Army Garrison Command. "It's nice to know that there will be someone there through the transition process."

Jones recommends planning ahead and getting that bachelor's degree under your belt as soon as possible.

"It's a process, so you do need to plan early," he said. "If I could catch people who knew they wanted to teach, I'd say start out three years before you retire."

TTT briefings are held on the second Wednesday of every month at Stone Education Center.

For more information, including eligibility requirements, go to proudtoserveagain.com/.

Laura M. Levering is a reporter with Fort Lewis' Northwest Guardian.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16