DOD program turns troops into teachers

  • Published
  • By Wayne Crenshaw
  • 78 Air Base Wing Public Affairs
After 27 years in the Air Force, it might seem like a difficult adjustment to go from leading Airmen to leading eighth graders, but for Chris Shumway, the same principles apply.

"It's really a lot like dealing with Airmen," Mr. Shumway said in describing his job teaching math at Feagin Mill Middle School. "It's like dealing with anyone. You just treat them with respect and expect them to treat each other with respect. Once you lay that foundation, things go pretty smoothly."

After retiring in 2006 from his job in the 5th Combat Communications Squadron here, he set his sights on becoming a teacher. He had earned a bachelor's degree during his time in the Air Force, although he had no education classes. The Georgia Teacher Alternative Preparation Program, however, allows people with a college degree to get into teaching and earn a teaching certificate while they teach.

Through the Georgia Troops to Teachers program, Mr. Shumway was able to get financial assistance to get his teaching certificate during his first year at Feagin Mill. He is now in his second year of teaching and is fully certified. He is a mentor for the Troops to Teachers program, advising other military members on moving into a career in education.

"He's a great example of what our program is all about," said Bill Kirkland, program manager for Georgia Troops to Teachers.

Mr. Kirkland gives a seminar on base once per month on the Troops to Teachers program, usually drawing four or five people, but his most recent program on Nov. 14 drew 10. One of those was Tech Sgt. Yvette Blanton. With 20 years in the Air Force, she plans to enter teaching after she retires in March. She plans to teach in Bleckley County, where she resides and has four children in school. Her enjoyment in coaching recreation soccer is part of the reason she wants to work with children.

"I just love kids," she said. "I know they have their moments, but if you can make a difference in one of their lives, it's a rewarding job. I'm not in it for the money."

She plans to get her feet wet by doing some substitute teaching while she completes her bachelor's degree. Mr. Shumway substituted before entering teaching full-time, and highly recommends it to anyone considering a teaching career, which he admits is not for everyone.

"That will really let you know whether it is for you or not," he said. "If you can survive as a substitute then you really have it made."

Mr. Shumway said he was nervous on his first day as a teacher, but he said he wasn't afraid for the same reason he wasn't afraid when he deployed to Operation Iraqi Freedom to help build an air base: preparation.

"I think the preparation we did ahead of time makes it not scary," he said. "When you are trained and prepared you feel confident."

He felt even more confident going into his second year of teaching, not only because of the teaching certification classes he took during his first year.

"Just having that year of experience is like night and day this year," he said.

Tim Helms, assistant superintendent of human resources for the Houston County school system, said he has worked with a number of veterans who have become teachers. The experience has been so positive, he said, that veterans who apply for teaching jobs in Houston County have a leg up on other applicants.

"They are very successful," he said. "They bring those qualities - the ideas and concepts - that the military is all about. The ones I have been associated with have made great transitions."

Troops to Teachers is a national program, which is important because it requires a three-year commitment to teach, Mr. Kirkland said. That means anyone who enters the program in Georgia but then relocates to another state can finish the commitment in any other state.

The program offers up to $5,000 for tuition assistance in certification training, plus up to $10,000 in bonus money for teaching in a "high needs" school, which is defined by the poverty level. There is a $10,000 limit in the total payout for both tuition and bonus money.

The tuition assistance is the focus of the Troops to Teachers program, Mr. Kirkland said. Finding a job is strictly up to the participant. Six school systems in Georgia, mostly in the metro Atlanta area, have a little or no poverty so the Troops to Teachers program does not provide assistance for anyone planning to teach in those schools. No school system is Middle Georgia is restricted for the program, and most Middle Georgia schools would make the participant eligible for the bonus money.

Anyone who wants to learn more about the program can visit the Georgia Troops to Teachers Web site at The Web site also has a schedule for the seminars that Mr. Kirkland gives at Robins. Anyone with six years in the military or 10 years as a reservist is eligible for the program. Generally a bachelor's degree is also required, but there are exceptions for those who want to teach vocational careers, such as mechanics, who have years of experience in those careers.