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Originally published December 6, 2009 at 12:14 AM | Page modified December 6, 2009 at 12:16 AM

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'Troops to Teachers' program turns veterans into teachers

Troops to Teachers is a federal program that, over 15 years, has helped about 12,000 former service members transition into second careers in the classroom. A bipartisan group in Congress is hoping to expand the program to allow more veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan to sign up, while also increasing the number of places in which they could find employment.

The New York Times

WASHINGTON — In her last job in the Air Force, Tammie Langley gave prospective pilots and navigators an introduction to aeronautics. Four years later, she is in a different classroom, teaching sixth-graders in North Carolina everything from reading to math.

Langley said the transition from teaching 22-year-olds to teaching 11- or 12-year-olds had been fairly seamless. "Either way, you still have to kind of wipe their noses a bit and kick them in the behind every now and then," said Langley, in her second year at Kannapolis Intermediate School, about 25 miles north of Charlotte.

Langley, 36, became a schoolteacher in large part because of Troops to Teachers, a federal program that, over 15 years, has helped about 12,000 former service members transition into second careers in the classroom.

A bipartisan group in Congress is hoping to expand the program to allow more veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan to sign up, while increasing the number of places in which they could find employment.

The program's supporters and participants say military service provides the discipline and life experiences that translate well to teaching.

"My very first sergeant said, 'Practice doesn't make perfect,' " said Moises Perez, 50, a social-studies teacher in Clayton County, Ga., who spent nearly 24 years in the Army, including service in Afghanistan. "He said, 'Perfect practice makes perfect.' That's what I want to teach the kids."

The service members are also a more diverse group than the general teaching population. Men have accounted for about 80 percent of the program's participants, while about 35 percent have been members of minorities. The program, run by the Defense Department but financed by the Education Department, also encourages participants to teach math, science and special education, areas in which school districts can have the toughest time filling teaching slots.

William McAleer, who runs Troops to Teachers, said teaching math and science was a natural progression for the many veterans who worked highly technical jobs in the service. "They've lived this stuff," he said. "They bring real-life experience to these subjects."

Legislation introduced in the House and Senate in October would allow candidates with four years of service or three months of continuous active duty since the Sept. 11 attacks to participate. As it stands, six years of active duty are needed to sign up.

The proposed legislation would also allow participants to teach in a larger number of schools. Now, veterans who sign up with Troops to Teachers receive a stipend of up to $5,000 to help them obtain a teaching certificate, in exchange for a three-year commitment at high-need schools. Candidates who go to schools with higher poverty rates receive a maximum of $10,000.

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