WASHINGTON — Being a school teacher is tough work, but it’s a job three retired Soldiers, including a helicopter pilot and two infantrymen, say they love.
With the help of “Troops to Teachers,” a program managed by the Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support, or DANTES, three Soldiers began new post-Army careers as public school teachers.
“The program gives Soldiers an opportunity to use their leadership, knowledge, and experience to have a positive effect on students,” said now-retired Chief Warrant Officer 5 Carlton Jenkins, who after serving as a helicopter pilot in the Army found a new career as a history teacher.
FROM SKIES TO THE CLASSROOM
Jenkins, age 62, served as a helicopter pilot while in the Army.
After the Army, and since 2013, he’s taught sixth-grade American history at Lake Ridge Middle School in Woodbridge, Virginia. It was the Troops to Teachers program that helped him make the transition from uniformed pilot to grade school history teacher.
“Troops to Teachers … gave me the opportunity to use the leadership skills, knowledge, and experience I learned and developed in the Army to help me have a positive effect on today’s students,” Jenkins said. “For those seeking a second career in education as a teacher, the Troops to Teachers program will help get you there.”
Jenkins looks like he could be anybody’s grandfather. While soft-spoken, he also has an air of confident authority. His humble demeanor also lets his students know they can approach him should they need to talk to him about anything.
During classes, Jenkins said he hopes he is engaging all 20 of his students. And when he asks the class a question, his eyes dart around the room to see how many students think they know the answer, and to also identify the first student who has raised his or her hand.
In Jenkin’s class, most do raise their hands, proving that they that they are eager to be involved. Often, his students are so impassioned to answer that many are tempted to yell out the answers to his questions even before he calls on them.
Fellow teachers and students know that he was once an Army helicopter pilot. This, he said, has earned him credibility with students that new teachers seldom have.
Jenkins said his success as a teacher depends first on him setting a framework of rules and expectations.
“A teacher must establish his or her expectations with rules,” Jenkins said. “I have only three rules: respect one another, follow the Golden Rule and only one person speaks at a time in class.”
To hammer home those rules, Jenkins has them posted in the front of his classroom in big, bold letters, where he said they serve as a constant daily reminder to his students.
AN AVIATION INSTRUCTOR
In 1974, Jenkins joined the Army with the intent to serve two years, return home, and use the GI Bill to attend college. Those two years turned into a 36-year Army career, however. During that time, he served as an Army OH-58 Kiowa Warrior helicopter pilot and aviation instructor.
As a pilot, Jenkins conducted armed reconnaissance and defensive air combat missions in support of combat operations. He found he was also passionate about teaching others to fly.
“I was able to fly helicopters and follow my passion for teaching — helping other pilots to achieve their dreams and aspirations,” he said.
Jenkins taught others to fly the Kiowa Warrior during a three-year stint as an instructor pilot at Fort Rucker, Alabama. There, he conducted flight instruction in helicopters as well as in classrooms. He developed lesson plans and provided instruction in aerodynamics, aeromedical, navigation, safety, environmental and aviation operations.
In between flying and teaching, and during his off-duty hours, Jenkins was able to earn a bachelor of science degree from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University at Daytona Beach, Florida.
As Jenkins prepared to retire from the Army, he made plans to pursue the one passion that had driven him for 36 years: teaching.
After retirement in 2011, at 52, Jenkins completed a master’s of science in education at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. That year, he also became a member of the Troops to Teachers program at ODU.
In 2013, Jenkins completed a master of science in education, and earned a license to teach middle school math and social studies in the state of Virginia. Since then, Jenkins has been at Lake Ridge Middle School, where he teaches sixth-grade American history. He said being back in a teaching environment is seems familiar to him.
“I found at Lake Ridge Middle School the camaraderie and teamwork that I had in the Army,” Jenkins said. “I found a sense of accomplishment and mission in preparing students for the future and in helping them become successful. Like my career in the Army, I found a way to continue to serve. That is why I became a teacher.”
As a former Soldier, Jenkins said he feels he brings to the school environment, maturity, experience, motivation, and his love of teaching as well as his positive influence on students as a role model. Students and fellow educators agree.
“He cares about our country and about helping students,” one student said.
“He is a great history teacher because he was involved in history when he was in the Army,” said another.
Fellow sixth-grade instructor, Belinda Osborne, said she can see the value Jenkins has brought to the school house from his time in the Army.
“Training Soldiers is a lot like educating students,” Osborne said. “Carl Jenkins has been able to use his experience in breaking down skills that Soldiers need to master and doing the same thing with sixth graders. Carl is dedicated to making each lesson engaging and meaningful. His students are successful and they truly enjoy being in his class each and every day.”
Jenkins’ boss, Lake Ridge Middle School assistant school principal Ashleigh Burnette, is also impressed with what Jenkins brings to the classroom and their school, both as an instructor, and as a former Soldier.
“I value the fact that Army veterans bring their vast life experiences that they have learned from their military careers, such as various deployments, serving overseas, and staff work,” Burnette said. “Veterans are organized and they know how to deal with people. They understand the chain of command. Veterans have a positive first impression by the way they carry themselves professionally and with confidence. They know what it is like to be part of a team.”
Jenkins said he thinks other veterans would enjoy teaching as he has.
“My recommendation to anyone that is thinking about becoming a teacher is to do it,” Jenkins said. “There are many ways to serve. You will not find a more rewarding job as you teach the children who will be the future of our country.”
RETIRED TANKER ROLLS INTO CLASSROOM
After serving 22 years in the Army, it was time for Lt. Col. Jimmy Kimbrough, 45, to find a new career.
“I wanted that same fulfillment of helping others that my service in the Army provided,” Kimbrough said. “In the Army, I realized it’s not about me, it’s about others. I wanted a way to still help other people.”
Kimbrough said he found that fulfillment in teaching.
A U.S. Military Academy graduate, Kimbrough had his first experience teaching while serving in the Army. From 2004 to 2007, for instance, he served as an instructor at the Armored Captains Career Course at Fort Knox, Kentucky. At the end of his career, he served as a professor of Military Science at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia and Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Virginia.
It was at William and Mary that he first encountered the Troops to Teachers program, and learned that he might be able to use it to continue teaching after he left the Army.
Today, thanks to Troops to Teachers, Kimbrough teaches high school social studies at Bridgeport Academy in Hampton, Virginia. There, he said, he brings to the classroom some of the same qualities and talents he developed while in the Army, including leadership, planning, dedication to duty, and counseling skills.
On a typical school day, Kimbrough arrives early in the morning to prepare both himself and his lesson plans. During his homeroom session, he spends time talking with students about their lives, activities after school, and their performance in school.
“I try to use that time to help students on a personal level, much like a counseling session in the Army,” Kimbrough said. “When working with my students, I have found my skills counseling Soldiers to translate very well.”
Once the academic day begins, Kimbrough said, he continues engaging students both academically and personally.
“Most of my hour-long classes are busy from start to stop,” he said. “But I try to maximize my interaction with the students during their hour with me and make sure to keep them active and engaged in learning. My biggest fear is that they will become bored.”
Kimbrough said a good teacher needs patience, caring, passion for learning, and willingness to get students to understand the material. He said a teacher should adjust their styles to the needs of their students.
Among students, he said, he was surprised to learn that not all are motivated by good grades.
“Students respond to positive comments, public praise, and a pat on the back,” as well, he said. “When I tell them that I am proud of them, that motivates them to try and do better.”
Among his peers, Kimbrough said, he has found that the closeness of the faculty at his school rivals the camaraderie and esprit-de-corps of the units he served in during his best times in the Army.
Teaching reminds him of some of the best parts of the Army, he added.
“What drives me to teach is that I want to see others be successful,” Kimbrough said. “I have had plenty of people invest their time and effort in me. I want to pass that forward. Throughout my Army career, I learned that personal success was secondary to unit success and seeing students become successful.
“Early in my Army career, I got enjoyment from seeing others improve and succeed,” he continued. “As I looked to retire from the Army, I looked for a job that would allow me to continue that enjoyment. Becoming a teacher seemed to be a natural fit. I wanted to continue to help others grow, develop, and become successful.”
Kimbrough advises others interested in teaching to take advantage of the TTT program. He said before they call, however, they need to be sure they are committed to teaching, perhaps as committed as they were when they made the decision to go into the Army.
“Teaching is a calling,” Kimbrough said. “Don’t just become a teacher to get a paycheck after the service. The students deserve a strongly committed teacher and not just someone passing along information for standardized tests.”
INFANTRYMAN SETS SIGHTS ON EDUCATION
Retired Lt. Col. Gerritt Peck had always wanted to teach, but that’s not what he started out doing.
Peck began his military career in 1980 as a private in the infantry with the 101st Airborne Division. It was while serving as a non-commissioned officer and as a drill sergeant that Peck discovered he enjoyed teaching, training, mentoring and coaching young Soldiers to reach high standards and become better professionals.
During his career, he also volunteered with the Boy Scouts of America, which reinforced his interest in teaching and working with youth.
Peck attended college a few years later, enrolling in ROTC with plans to become an officer. At college, he majored in social sciences and education. He planned to one day retire and become a teacher.
In 2009 Peck retired from the Army and was recruited by a defense contractor. The focus on sales volume rather than service beyond himself proved to be a bad fit, he said. He found the work unfulfilling. Later, the company downsized their workforce, and they laid him off. That turn of events proved an opportunity for Peck.
“It was the best thing that could have happened,” Peck said. “My wife encouraged me to follow my long-term goal of teaching, reminding me of how happy I had been as a Soldier, so happy serving, and that I would likely be happy again teaching.”
Peck contacted the Troops to Teachers office in the Washington, D.C. area and got information on the various licensure programs in Virginia. Later, the TTT program helped him find work as a teacher.
Now Peck is in his third year of teaching ancient world history and economics at Park View High School in Sterling, Virginia. In addition to the teaching, he sponsors a number of clubs and coaches offensive, defensive line for the freshmen football team.
“After serving for more than 28 years in the Army, I found a second career in education,” Peck said. “Now I’m again serving something greater than myself and working with people dedicated to our students and our community.”
While working as a defense contractor might have paid the bills for a while, serving as a teacher, like serving as a Soldier, provides both a paycheck and personal fulfillment, Peck said.
“Every day I get to make a difference,” Peck said. “Every day I teach, train, mentor and coach amazing young people. I also work with an amazing group of professionals dedicated toward making our community better by helping our students reach their potential. Although I am the only TTT participant, more than 10 percent of the faculty at our school are veterans. It is truly a ‘joint environment,’ with Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines. I look forward to coming to work every day and have found teaching the perfect second career to military service for me”.
TEACHING OPPORTUNITIES FOR SERVICE MEMBERS
The Troops to Teachers program helps service members transition successfully into teaching jobs, said Kim Day, the program director at DANTES.
“Teacher employment opportunities from now until 2024 are expected to grow faster than average, with a projection of 100,000 or more new job openings,” Day said. “TTT is helping alleviate the … shortage of teachers. Service members transitioning from the military to the civilian workforce may want to consider teaching as a second career.
“Many transitioning service members find the skills they honed in the military including leadership, initiative, discipline, teamwork, integrity and the ability to thrive in an ever-changing environment, naturally transfer to success in the classroom,” she continued. “Teaching is an option for every veteran looking for a rewarding career after the military.”
Day said that TTT has helped more than 21,000 military veterans successfully transition to a teaching career. More than 70 percent of TTT participants plan to remain in the teaching profession as long as possible or until retirement, she said.
Since 1994, 38,000 U.S. Army members have benefited from TTT services that range from counseling to employment facilitation and financial assistance.
The TTT program website is located at www.proudtoserveagain.com. Service members and veterans can apply at any time, and Day said there is no commitment or cost to participate in the program.