From Service Member to Educator: A Guide for Military Veterans Who Want to Become Teachers
Something that has probably bugged you a lot since you’ve gotten out of the service is the blanket assumption that all former military members are the same. Every day you run into someone who jumps to conclusions when they find out you served; about your politics, your perspectives, your motivations. You may feel that all the thanks people offer up don’t even begin to cover some of the sacrifices you and your buddies made… or if the job you had never put you in harm’s way, you might feel like those “thank yous” should be saved for someone else.
The military is a massive American institution, with almost 1.5 million active duty soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines on the rolls at any given time. It’s uniquely American in its diversity, with racial and ethnic minorities forming about 43 percent of the force, drawn from all 50 states and even foreign countries, and from every socioeconomic and educational background. There are jobs in the military ranging from combat infantry to accountant, so it’s a little silly for people to assume once you get out that you are all some picture-postcard, idealized version of the same person.
But one thing that can be said about you without reservation, and in common with every other veteran since the Vietnam era, is that you are a volunteer. Whatever your motivations for joining up, you made the decision to serve. You joined up, sacrificed your individual freedoms and risked the unknown in defense of the good of your country and society.
That call to service is something you can’t shake off. And it may be one reason that so many veterans gravitate toward teaching as a profession even before the ink on their DD-214 is dry.
“Is it accidental that so many ex-paratroopers from E company became teachers? Perhaps for some men a period of violence and destruction at one time attracts them to look for something creative as a balance in another part of life.”
~ PFC Edward Tipper Jr, Easy Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, around 2 percent of teachers are military veterans, a pretty high concentration considering that veterans in general comprise only about 7 percent of the population.
So there are better than average chances that you are considering taking on a new kind of service to your community, one dedicated to building and shaping the society that you were so recently protecting. And with the kind of discipline, dedication, and benefits that you have acquired in the course of your time in the service, you also have a lot of advantages when it comes to getting started on that path… and a lot of wisdom and expertise to offer as an example to the next generation of Americans.
Creating a Battle Plan for Your Teaching Career
Becoming a teacher is not as straightforward as enlisting, however. Just as you had to be trained to both become a soldier or sailor and to become an expert in your specialty area, you will need to get both a general education in teaching while developing expertise in the specific subject areas that you will be teaching, and that goes double if you’re teaching middle and secondary grades and need a content area endorsement.
No matter what kind of teacher you want to become or where you plan to work, you need to get the kind of education that your state requires of all licensed teachers, while also meeting any additional requirements based on the grade levels and content areas you’ll be teaching.
Teachers are tightly regulated, and licensing is handled by each individual state. Although the details can vary from state to state, in general, to become a teacher you need to satisfy four basic requirements:
- Complete a bachelor’s degree at minimum
- Complete an accredited teacher preparation program (ITP, or initial teacher preparation), often included in specialized ITP bachelor’s programs
- Pass certifying exams demonstrating proficiency in teaching in general and in your content area
Within those general outlines, though, there are a variety of paths that any veteran might follow in order to become licensed as a teacher, but it all starts with getting that required college education.
“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”
~ General of the Army Dwight Eisenhower
Preparing For Your Studies With Department of Defense Resources
Whether you are still on active duty or not, it’s a good idea to brush up on some of the basics before you make the transition from war-fighting, or the regimented life in any military role, to the very different environment of a college classroom.
This is when you turn to the DANTES program, or Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support. Although it says non-traditional, and offers plenty of vocational options, DANTES most certainly supports traditional educational efforts too. The tool provides online support for many of the veteran’s benefits that we will discuss below, offering one-stop shopping for access to many of the tools that will help you out on your path to becoming a teacher.
DANTES also can give you a lift if you are starting out behind the curve on college admissions, with academic skills training resources, career path planning, and preparation for and assistance with registering for important college admissions tests like the ACT and SAT, or the Praxis tests used for teaching certification in many states.
DANTES also offers free access to CLEP, the College-Level Examination Program, which can allow you to receive college credits by examination for subjects where you know enough to pass a test without going through a full college class. Not all schools accept CLEP credits. But for those that do, with 33 different subjects covered, if you choose wisely, you can save hundreds in credit-hours for basic courses.
Troops to Teachers: Tailor-Made for Veterans Who Want to Serve Again
Part of that big package of DANTES tools and programs is one that you will want to get tight and cozy with as you progress toward a teaching career. That program is Troops to Teachers, designed specifically to help veterans get trained, certified, and employed as educators in K-12 public, charter, and Bureau of Indian Education Schools.
- Eligibility – You must apply for financial assistance within three years of retirement or separation, but other parts of the program are available to all former members of the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guards as well as the Reserve components or National Guard
- Services – Counseling and placement assistance are offered, basically charting your path to teaching by ensuring you will be qualified in your state, and helping you find a job once qualified
- Financial Assistance – You can receive up to $10,000 as an incentive payment, and up to $5,000 as a stipend to cover education, certification, or licensure (only if you are not already getting GI Bill benefits for them)
- Term – You must agree to teach for at least three years at an eligible or high-need school to receive a stipend or bonus
Troops to Teachers has offices in 20 states, but will help you out no matter where you plan to teach in the U.S. That includes not just information on ITP training and certification, but also job placement assistance, so you can easily line up your first assignment.
“I wish there was something like this last year [Troops to Teachers], because I was in a place where I didn’t know where to start. I… got my certification and everything was set in place, and I was applying for jobs, but there was still that disconnect because I didn’t know what to do next. I thought there may be somebody who was in my position last year, and not only can I learn some different management skills for this upcoming school year, but maybe I can help somebody else who feels that same disconnect that I felt.”
~ Tonya Thomas, former U.S. Navy sailor, 6th Grade Science Teacher
What Exactly Makes a College “Military Friendly”
One way or the other, your path to becoming a teacher after leaving the military is going to involve getting in some schooling of your own; a bachelor’s degree at minimum assuming you don’t already have one, and a series of courses and student teaching experiences that together meet your state’s requirements for initial teacher preparation. Something you might have gotten used to in the military—and maybe even appreciated—was a certain lack of choices in your life. You took the assignments you were given, reported to the duty stations where you were told to go, and didn’t ask any questions in the process; you just did it.
But when it comes time to pick the college for your ITP program, it’s all on you—you’re going to have to shoulder the load of evaluating and choosing a school that meets your state’s education requirements for licensure, but also one that fits your personal priorities in terms of location, culture, and delivery method, whether that means on-campus or online. And, not least of all, even though you’re definitely going to have plenty of financial assistance, you still have to make sure the uncovered portion of your degree plan combined with living expenses fits into your budget.
It’s a fact that some schools are just more military-friendly than others. That’s true from both cultural and financial perspectives. So while there are many schools that offer ITP programs at different levels, it’s a good idea to start your search with the ones that make it easy for vets to attend.
Sergeant Ed Tipper looked a bit different from most of the other students in his English program at the Colorado State College of Education… unlike the bright-eyed, rushing post-war students he enrolled with in 1945, he walked with a cane and wore an eyepatch.
That’s because early on the morning of June 12, 1944, Tipper, a paratrooper with the 101st Airborne Division, had been assigned to clear German defenders out of houses in Carentan, Normandy. Just after clearing the first house, he was met by a mortar shell on the front step. It blasted him back into the house, broke both legs, and tore out his right eye.
Tipper’s war was over, but his life was just starting. He chose to make that life about teaching, and enjoyed a career of 30 years teaching English, literature, and running drama programs in Iowa and Colorado.
While Tipper became famous as one of the Easy Company “Band of Brothers” in books and an acclaimed mini-series, when he passed in 2017, his daughter said, “So much of what people talk about with him is what he did in the war. That was two years, and really six days starting on D-Day. Teaching was 30 years.”
Factors That Might Make a School More Friendly For Veteran’s Entering Teaching Programs
Military-friendly Admissions – Look for schools that have a specific military admissions department or counselors that are familiar with the unique needs and assistance programs for military vets who can advise you along the way—having staff like this on hand is a very good sign that you’re dealing with a school that’s looking out for you.
Veteran-friendly Tuition Acceptance and Services – Tuition policies that accept VA benefits or offer other advantages to vets increase the number of veterans on campus, which in turn often leads to the establishment of dedicated veterans services offices.
Demographics – You should also consider the demographics of the school. Many college students enroll immediately after high school, but you took a different route with an all-expenses-paid detour through dangerous and exotic places for a few years instead. At the very least, you’re going to be a little bit older than most students at most colleges, and quite possibly a lot older. This is something that places you squarely in the “non-traditional” student demographic. And the differences between you and traditional students is measured in more than years. You’ll have a maturity that comes from discipline and service that will put you in a different league than modern American youth, even in your age bracket.
Department of Defense Tools for Finding Military-Friendly Colleges
It might seem like a lot of work to sort through all those factors, but you are in luck: the Department of Defense has put together some automated, online tools to make it that much easier for you to find a suitable school.
GI Bill Comparison Tool
This tool allows you to put in your own status and eligibility in order to narrow the search to schools that meet your criteria, and to calculate costs including GI Bill benefits. You can search by city, state, or school name for universities that accept GI Bill benefits. As a bonus, you get data on:
- How much of your tuition may be covered
- How many current GI Bill students are enrolled
- What your housing stipend might be
- Participating veteran’s programs
- On campus student veteran groups
- Recent complaints against the institution
- If the institution offers credits for military training
Another consideration for your total benefit eligibility will be whether or not the school is a participant in the Yellow Ribbon Program, a VA program that schools can choose to enter that will waive extra tuition or fees that might might otherwise push your total costs above the level paid by the GI Bills.
As part of the DANTES educational support system, you have access to the DoD MOU College Comparison tool, called TA-DECIDE. The database includes all schools that have signed a partnership memorandum of understanding with the Department, which includes a rigorous screening to ensure quality and value and guarantees that the school accepts military tuition assistance programs.
You can search by location, degree level, learning method, and accreditation or school type. Even better, you can use a keyword search to locate schools that offer teaching degrees. This tool also shows total students receiving GI Bill assistance at any school, as well as the number receiving other tuition assistance from the DoD, which will tell you a lot about how familiar the school is with enrolling and supporting vets.
Earning College Credits for Your Military Service
Another big measure of how veteran-friendly a college is will be reflected in their policy on granting college credit for prior service.
Not every school offers this and those that do have their own particular formula. Don’t expect to magically get a year or more credited for your time spent in the loader seat of an M1, though; college credit will come from any advanced training you might have gotten in the military that happens to line up with the courses offered at the college.
The information needed will come from your official military transcript, which you know as your Joint Services Transcript.
The JST is a collaborative effort between all the service branches to standardize the presentation of military schooling and work history in a format that won’t completely baffle civilians. The document includes:
- Highest military rank achieved
- Current enlistment status
- Additional Skill Identifiers and Skill Qualification Identifiers (ASI and SQI)
- Formal military education courses completed through service schools and other sources
- Military Occupational Specialties held
- Standardized test scores and credit equivalencies
The descriptions and credit recommendations are generated by the American Council on Education, which works with the higher education community and is widely accepted by most American universities.
Military record-keeping being what it is, if you find that you need to work with your branch to make corrections to the transcript for accuracy before submitting it; you can do so through the appropriate branch review board using a for DD 149.
Using The Transition Assistance Program to Plan Your College Attendance
You can also find plenty of assistance from the military and the Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA) to help you settle on a college and identify the best option to meet your goals.
If you are still on active duty, you will automatically be included in the department’s TAP (Transition Assistance Program) about a year before your date of separation. TAP includes:
- A one-on-one counseling session with a professional counselor
- A class covering all the various VA benefits available to you after separation
- Specialized two-day career track workshops
- A capstone process 90 days prior to separation to ensure you’ve met the TAP Career Readiness Standards
Taking this process seriously can leave you with a solid plan and a wealth of information on specific colleges to look at and various veteran’s benefits you have access to.
Getting Uncle Sam to Pick Up The Tab For Your Initial Teacher Prep Program
The Serviceman’s Readjustment Act of 1944 was one of the best ideas to come out of World War II, a transformative piece of legislation that set the country up to lead the world in technology and education for decades. Quickly dubbed the “GI Bill of Rights,” it allowed the 16 million men and women who had served in the armed forces through the war to come home to a helping hand rather than an indifferent society. In the first seven years it was offered, half those veterans took advantage of it, and college graduates more than doubled in the country between 1940 and 1950 as a result.
The GI Bill has been such a success that it has been extended repeatedly, most recently in 2009 as the Post-9/11 GI Bill. But there are still outstanding programs established under earlier versions of the GI Bill that you can also tap into for tuition and other educational assistance.
Since you’ve just spent a few years working for the federal government, you won’t be surprised that there are a whole lot of rules, caveats, and details that go along with receiving these benefits. But if you take the trouble to master the rules and regulations, you can get most of your bachelor’s education paid for through this route alone.
“I and many other veterans used the G.I. Bill to help pay for my education. In my case it allowed me to attend Central Connecticut State College (now a State University) to do my graduate work in education. The fact that so many people could afford to go back to school made the United States the best educated country in the years following World War II.”
~ Captain Hank Bracker, U.S. Navy
Using Your Post-9/11 GI Bill Benefits to Pay for Teacher Training
Under the current version of the GI Bill, if you have served for at least 90 days on active duty after September 10, 2001, you are eligible for at least some benefits. Those can include tutorial assistance, compensation for testing fees, and distance learning. You can also receive these benefits regardless of your time in if you received a Purple Heart and were honorably discharged, or if you served for at least 30 continuous days and had an honorable discharge with a service-related disability not related to combat.
The percentage of benefits you can receive depend on your term of active duty service. At 90 days, total, you qualify for 40 percent of total benefits (which just changed to 50 percent if you served after August 1, 2020!). At three years of service, you get 100 percent of the benefits.
Like a liberty pass, though, these benefits may expire if you don’t use them depending on when you ended your service:
- If your service ended prior to January 1, 2013 – 15 years after separation date
- If your service ended after January 1, 2013 – Benefits do not expire
Tuition and Fees – The primary tuition assistance under this program covers up to 36 months of schooling to a total of $25,162 per year, or all tuition and fee payments for public universities for in-state students.
Housing Allowance – If you attend more than half-time, a housing stipend can be offered based on cost-of-living where your school is located.
Books and Supplies – Up to $1,000 per school year is granted for school books and supplies.
Relocation Assistance – You can qualify for a one-time payment of $500 if moving from a rural county or must relocate via air to where your school is located.
The Yellow Ribbon program offers a way for you to cover costs over and above the tuition assistance limits in the GI Bill for certain types of schooling. If you attend an out-of-state, private school, or graduate school where the cost of tuition exceeds the limits, you might still be able to have the total amount covered by a combination of waivers from participating schools and contributions from the VA.
Using The Montgomery GI Bill Education Benefits for Teacher Training
There is another path to receive educational assistance under an older version of the GI Bill as well. The so-called Montgomery GI Bill benefits, a 1984 revamp of the educational benefits package that allows you to receive financial assistance for up to 36 months as well. You are generally eligible for these benefits for 10 years after your date of separation.
The major educational benefits you can receive under that program have more stringent requirements, but if you meet them, it provides one of the best options available to you:
- Active Duty –
- Have served at least 2 years on active duty
- Have a high school diploma, GED, or 12 hours of college credit
- Had your pay reduced while on active duty
- Selected Reserve –
- Have a 6-year service obligation OR are an officer who has agreed to serve 6 years in addition to your initial obligation
The benefit amounts are calculated according to your length of service, the type of education program you are attending, category of qualification, whether you qualify for other funds, and whether or not you contributed to the $600 Buy-Up program, a way you can boost your benefits package by making more contributions to the program.
Originally, you were required to pick either the Montgomery or the Post 9/11 benefits, but as of 2020, you can tap into both programs for a total of 48 months of benefits (or slightly longer in some specific cases, such as when they would otherwise expire in the middle of an academic term).
Other Veteran’s Benefits That Can Help With Your College and Teaching Certification Costs
Getting your tuition and housing costs covered is absolutely the biggest part of the financial assistance you need in order to get through your ITP program without having to sell an organ, but there are also some other veteran’s benefits that you can tap into to cover other expenses:
The VA College Toolkit
The VA is well aware that transitioning to the civilian college life after living in the tightly-controlled military world can be a heavy lift for vets. So they have a comprehensive set of resources to help prepare you for that transition and to support you along the way. It includes access to the VITAL (Veterans Integration to Academic Leadership) program, which integrates your on-campus mental and physical healthcare services with local VA services to offer a seamless package to help you through unique issues former military college students face.
State-level Veteran’s Benefits
Many states offer benefits to veterans apart from those offered by the federal government. These can be more difficult to track down, but the list offered at Military.com is a good place to start. It can include everything from college tuition fee waivers at state schools, as is available in California, to exemptions on fees for your teacher certification and licensure, like you will find in Texas.
Scholarships and Financial Assistance for Military Veterans
The GI Bill and various state-level assistance programs go a long way toward covering your ITP program tuition, but depending on the school you choose, it might not cover everything—or you may decide to forge your own path, attending a school that doesn’t accept GI Bill benefits.
In those cases, you’ll want to look into other ways to help fund your education. For the most part, that means going the same route as millions of civilian students in applying for Federal Student Aid in the form of low-interest loans, or looking for scholarship grants that fit your needs. And don’t forget that there are already many programs to help civilians on the path to careers in teaching that you qualify for too, such as the Teacher Loan Forgiveness program that allows any student teacher willing to teach at a designated high-need schools after graduation to have some or all of their loans forgiven.
But even outside of the official benefits you’ve earned through your service, your veteran status can offer you some advantages, because there are many scholarship opportunities that are available only to veterans. A few of the best include:
Tillman Scholars Program
Pat Tillman was an inspiration and an exemplar of the very best of America’s citizen soldiers. In his memory, the Pat Tillman foundation offers scholarships to students who are veterans or active duty service members who demonstrate similar humility and leadership potential. Expect to be judged against the finest of your comrades, as this scholarship requires a character recommendation, a biography, and two 400-word essays in addition to proof of military service.
Purple Heart Foundation Scholarship
If you have been wounded by enemy action, it’s nice to know that there are still people who will be looking out for you in civilian life. That means the Purple Heart Foundation, which is dedicated to improving the quality of life for wounded veterans. And because part of that involves moving on with your life after suffering from those wounds, the Foundation offers scholarships to wounded vets up to $2,500. You’ll need two letters of recommendation, a full-time enrollment, and a 300-400 for essay on honor to apply.
Blinded Veterans Association
In a similar vein, if you are a veteran who is legally blind, you may qualify for a scholarship from the BVA, which offers awards between $1,000 and $2,000 to seven individuals each year. Unlike the Purple Heart Foundation, the cause of your blindness does not need to have been combat-related; you only need to be a veteran. You still must submit a 300-word essay on your educational and career goals, and highlight any past awards and achievements.
New York Military Service Recognition Scholarship
Many scholarships for veterans are offered at the state-level, such as the New York State veterans tuition awards, which can cover up to the full amount of tuition at approved state schools. The awards are open to Afghanistan or Persian Gulf vets or anyone who received a military expeditionary medal after 1961. To be eligible, you only have to be enrolled full-time, in good academic standing, and not in default on any current student loans.
Army Women’s Foundation
Female vets have another option, one that can award up to $2,500 toward undergraduate or graduate studies. Awarded based on merit, academic potential, community service, financial need, and letters of recommendation as well as a personal essay, you’ll need to have maintained a GPA of 3.0 or better to receive one of these awards.
Many individual colleges and universities also offer specific military scholarships, often endowed by graduates who went on to serve. Once you narrow down the school you plan to attend, it’s definitely worth consulting counselors and the financial aid office to see if any of these exist and how to apply.
Working in Education Begins With Getting the Right Education Yourself
ITP degree programs include the coursework and student teaching experiences that your state mandates of all qualified teachers, in every potential grade range and subject area you might be interested in teaching. You can think of it as being very similar to your basic training: a core set of skills that every teacher must master before taking on the challenges of a real-life classroom.
You can find ITP programs at different educational levels, however, reflecting the reality that you might be coming into teaching from different starting points depending on how and where you left off with your military career. A twenty-year-old who has done a two-year tour right out of high-school is looking at a very different path from an officer who is retiring after putting in 20 years and earning an advanced college degree along the way. It’s also not uncommon for service members to have completed a couple of years of community college before enlisting to start off at E-2 or E-3 straight out of bootcamp. So your path to licensure can vary a lot depending on your background after discharge.
“These things [organization, leadership, discipline, respect] aren’t taught in college—you need real-life experience to fully master them. Veterans have these skills and can easily apply them to teaching. The education system needs great teachers to produce great students. In my opinion, the more veterans the better.”
~ Gunner Sergeant Ben Cooper, United States Marine Corps
Bachelor’s Initial Teacher Preparation Programs
Standard teacher training programs, typically called Initial Teacher Preparation (ITP) programs, are offered at the bachelor’s level and have all the requisite pedagogy classes and student teaching experiences required for state licensure built right in. Accelerated programs are available that can get you through in the four years it typically takes to earn a bachelor’s, but more often when you include the whole teacher prep course sequence and field experiences, you’re looking at closer to five years. These programs are designed to fulfill the requirements for licensure at different levels, so as you would expect, an early childhood education or elementary teacher program is going to have a significantly different focus than one designed to prepare teachers in the middle grades and high school.
A big part of that difference isn’t in the teacher prep course sequence that essentially teaches you “how to teach,” but instead has to do with the content area you’ll be teaching. If you’re going for licensure as a middle or high school teacher, you’ll typically earn a degree in education with a focus in your content area (math, English, science, PE, etc). The ITP portion of the program would then qualify you to teach the subject the focus was in.
In all cases, you can expect a wide selection of core undergrad courses and electives that encourage critical thinking and communication skills, and covering general education in areas like social studies, math and the liberal arts. And in all cases, a state-approved ITP program will include everything you need to become licensed.
Do You Already Hold an Associate Degree or Other College Credits From The Service?
You can enroll in this kind of program with only a high school education under your belt, but you may also be able to apply any community college training you previously received toward the credit requirements for your bachelor’s. The military has very generous policies for members who have the opportunity to take college courses while on active duty—100 percent tuition coverage up to certain limits.
If you used those policies to earn college credits when you were on active duty, or if you attended college before you joined up, you can check to see if you can apply those credits to your bachelor’s program. While this process is simplified if the community college you attended has a formal transfer agreement with the four-year college you are enrolling in, it’s worth exploring with a counselor to see if any or all previous training can be used to cover some courses required for your bachelor’s. You can get in and out a whole two years earlier in some cases, and save a bundle of money in the process.
Post-Baccalaureate ITP Programs
Many of the same schools that offer a full bachelor’s degree with ITP training also offer post-bachelor’s certificates as an option for anyone who already holds a bachelor’s degree. If you joined up as an officer, you might well already have a degree under your belt, or if you used tuition assistance during your enlistment to earn a degree, then this describes you.
It’s unlikely that degree also included the ITP program you need to fulfill your teaching ambitions, so you’ll still need to get the state-required courses out of the way to become qualified for licensure, as well as conducting any required student teaching hours.
A post-baccalaureate ITP program will pare itself down to just the subject-specific courses you need for your endorsement along with the initial teacher training and student teaching time necessary for licensure, saving you a year or two of time and a lot of money on your way to teacher certification.
Master’s ITP Programs
A master’s degree is two years of advanced training that is generally only available to candidates who already hold a bachelor’s degree and attained some level of expertise in their field, and with master’s-level Initial Teacher Preparation programs widely available, it’s also a very viable path to becoming a teacher. It’s often the path into the field for career changers that hold a bachelor’s in the content area they’d like to teach, but who were previously working in a field other than teaching. That means it’s also the perfect path for retiring officers or even senior enlisted ranks who have been working in technical specialties or otherwise improving their education through the course of their time in the service.
It’s a good alternative to a post-baccalaureate ITP program if you want to earn the degree required to achieve highly qualified status and don’t mind spending two years and some of Uncle Sam’s money on getting a master’s degree.
Alternate Teacher Certification Pathways
Some states offer even more pathways into teacher certification that may allow you to become a teacher without going through a formal ITP program at all. This is still pretty rare, but with major teacher shortages in many states, they are starting to think outside the box to get qualified individuals up in front of the classroom.
These paths are usually based on proven experience in a particular subject area. Although, so far, there is not a great demand for teachers who can drop a 60mm mortar shell on a dime, but there are quite a few MOS categories that might have given you exactly the kind of subject-matter expertise that these programs are designed to draw in… electronics, computer programming, or engineering disciplines, the so-called STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) subjects, are always identified as major teacher shortage areas.
In California, for example, one state that is offering these alternative pathways, it’s possible to begin your teaching immediately as an internship, allowing you to learn on the job while actually instructing pupils and taking state-required coursework outside of a regular ITP program. California also offers private school teachers (who are not required to earn a state license) the option of transitioning to public school teaching on the basis of their demonstrated experience. These options won’t apply for every veteran seeking teaching credentials, but they are worth exploring to see if you qualify.
Veterans have been pitching in to help out with American education for a lot longer than many people realize. In 1933, during the teeth of the Great Depression, the public schools of Winter Haven, Florida were at an impasse: the city could only fund classes for the morning hours, serving only a fraction of the students in the town, and only students who could pay. The local American Legion, Post 8, many of them veterans of the Great War, stepped up: they came up with a principal, teachers, and even a janitor to staff the school during afternoon hours, and offered it all free of charge.
Through their efforts, the afternoon class students managed to learn and achieve the same results as the morning classes taught by actual teachers. The give-back, take-charge, get-it-done perspective of former soldiers helped children get through a dark time and go on to build a better America.
Earning Your Endorsements to Teach Different Subjects
There are some parallels from your military service that will help you out on your journey to becoming a teacher. Military life is full of qualifications, to the extent that you probably just refer to them as “quals” now. Getting a teaching license in any state similarly involves becoming certified in certain specific skills and subjects. Instead of having to memorize the particulars of a submarine rudder and diving plane hydraulic system or learning to traverse and elevate an M240B at 800 meters, however, for most states you will pass standardized tests to demonstrate you have the grade range and subject-specific proficiency to teach at that level and in those subjects.
Endorsements tend to become more focused and specialized at higher grade levels and more general for earlier grades, reflecting the reality of classroom teaching between elementary and high school. States will often offer a basic elementary or core subjects certificate for early childhood through third grade teachers, with more options like math, science, or physical education up through sixth or eighth grade, and then the full range for high school classes.
At the Pre-K through elementary level that would generally involve a grade range endorsement in Early Childhood Education or Elementary Education, and could also involve a secondary endorsement in areas like Special Education, Reading and Literacy, ELL/Bilingual or Music.
Of course, at the middle and secondary levels you could also earn similar secondary endorsements on top of your primary endorsement in your content area, whether that’s English, Biology, Chemistry, Math, or Visual Arts, etc.
Different states have different endorsements, outlined by the board or body that grants teaching certifications; while the above are fairly standard you will also find states with very specialized endorsements like teaching choral music or agriculture and natural resources. They also offer different pathways to receiving those endorsements:
- Complete a teacher preparation program – This is the standard path for anybody getting into teaching, whether that means straight out of a bachelor’s-level ITP (Initial Teacher Preparation) program or as a career changer with an existing bachelor’s who takes the ITP curriculum and student teaching as part of a master’s program. Candidates have to undergo a suitable and usually pre-approved ITP program in the field in which the endorsement will be awarded.
- Test-only – This option is typically reserved for existing teachers who already have their teaching degree and credentials and just need additional endorsements to teach other subjects. Candidates must pass a knowledge-based test in the endorsement area, usually through a standardized test system that has been picked by the state educator licensing board, such as the WEST series of exams in Washington or the CSET in California.
- National Board certification – Many states accept certifications awarded by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, where those Board certifications have a direct equivalency to a state-level endorsement. At this time the only STEM-related certification available through NBPTS is for general mathematics for early adolescence or adolescence and young adult students. Board certifications are notoriously challenging, but it often comes with salary and promotion benefits.
Teaching Outside Your Endorsement Area
Also just like the military, you are occasionally going to be asked to get outside your comfort zone to do what needs to be done. In many cases, this will involve teaching outside your specifically-endorsed subject areas.
Recognizing that there are significant teacher shortages nationwide, most state licensing boards do offer some allowance for schools as a way to get teachers to work in subject areas they haven’t been endorsed in, but only in one of three situations: 1) the school is unable to find a certified teacher for that class, or 2) if you are actively pursuing an endorsement in that subject, or 3) if you happen to have qualifications from past experience but haven’t yet had a chance to jump through the bureaucratic hoops to actually get your alternative pathway certification.
Although no one will expect you to instantly become an expert in these areas, you do owe it to your students to make an effort to get up to speed before you pick up the chalk and start teaching.
Other Resources for Veterans Preparing to Become Teachers
You have a whole bunch of resources available through the VA and DoD that will help you get some traction on your path to a teaching career, and even some state-level programs designed especially for veterans too. And there are also many other associations and resources, many of them founded and run by fellow vets, that are out there to offer you support and guidance through your college training.
Student Veterans of America
With more than 1,500 chapters at schools nation-wide, this non-profit gives you a point of contact for other vets at your school and around the country as well as advocating for student veterans at the policy level both regionally and at the federal level. SVA encourages you to develop the same leadership skills that you learned in the military for the good of the nation.
Teach For America – Military Veterans Initiative
Coming in at the confluence of the national need for qualified teachers and the need to support veterans, Teach for America put together the MVI in partnership with key veterans support organizations, training former military members as teachers for high-need schools and assisting them in finding teaching positions and thriving after they are on the job. This is a sort of civilian version of the Troops to Teachers program, backed by a non-profit with proven success in getting recent college graduates into teaching positions in rural and impoverished schools around the country.
U.S. Military Educators Association
USMEA is less focused on veterans becoming teachers, and more focused on teaching to veterans. But since you are going to be both, it’s still a valuable resource for identifying educational institutions that offer quality education to veterans and active duty military members. USMEA also works with partner organizations and schools to help them up their game in educating veterans and developing best practices and support to improve educational opportunities for those who have served.