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The world of school dances and spelling bees may seem light years removed from the disciplined and often dangerous world of the military. But numerous former troops have transitioned to teaching careers, many of them aided by government and nonprofit programs.
In his two decades in the U.S. Navy, Richard Bermudez Sr. circled the globe twice, spending time in the Philippines and Spain, and patrolling the Persian Gulf on the USS LaSalle. As a petty officer first class who worked in telecommunications, he says he learned many skills that were helpful as he made the transition to elementary education.
Of course, the military didn't prepare him for all aspects of the job, like the kids who ran up to give him hugs. "There's no touching in the military," he says, laughing, "So you're like, whoa! What's going on?" But he says he gradually became acclimated to his new role.
Bermudez teaches at Palmer Way Elementary School in National City, Calif. His students are English-language learners at the fourth, fifth and sixth grade levels -- all in the same classroom, all at the same time. It took some time to build up the skills and the confidence to handle this diverse and challenging group. "That first year, you're ready to crawl in a hole," he says. "Now I like it more and more. I enjoy teaching."
Placing former military personnel in high-needs schools like Palmer Way is the mission of the Troops to Teachers program, which helped Bermudez get his teaching credentials and master's degree in instructional technology from Ashford University in 2007.
Troops to Teachers, which is funded by the U.S. Dept. of Education and administered by the U.S. Dept. of Defense, provides counseling and financial assistance to veterans interested in the teaching field. Since its inception in 1994, it has helped about 12,400 members of the military enter the profession. To be eligible, former troops must have a baccalaureate degree and have separated from the military in good standing, among other requirements.
Nonprofits also offer alternative routes to teacher certification. For example, the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence, or ABCTE, has certified more than 3,100 teachers since it was founded in 2001 and is now accepted in 11 states. "ABCTE's program allows veterans to earn their teacher certification from anywhere in the world and be able to start teaching in their community upon their return home," says Shawn McCollough, ABCTE president and CEO.
For veterans who want to go back to school to get education degrees, the military offers additional benefits. For example, the Post 9/11 GI Bill is paying tuition and living expenses for Jim Curtis, a former U.S. Navy construction mechanic who is studying elementary education at the University of Central Missouri.
Learning algebra and analyzing children's literature is a far cry from building bridges over the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, or his other Navy responsibilities, Curtis says. But he's glad he took the plunge. "Do not be afraid to get out of your comfort zone," he says. "This is way out of my comfort zone, so I'm practicing what I'm preaching."
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