WASHINGTON – State and federal officials hope a $150,000 federal grant will give a “major boost” to Troops to Teachers here, by letting Maryland hire its own manager to coordinate and market the program.
Of the 7,000 former military personnel who have joined the program nationwide since it began in 1994, only 100 have become teachers in Maryland, officials said. Virginia has had 500 troops become teachers in the same period.
“We have not tapped the market that is out there in terms of military folks who would like to take advantage of the program in Maryland,” said John Smeallie, state superintendent for certification and accreditation. “We can do more and we will.”
The Defense Department launched Troops to Teachers in the wake of post-Cold War downsizing, as a way to help retiring military personnel transition to a second career in the classroom.
The program ended in 1999, but was revived a year later with help from the Department of Education. The two departments — Education funds the program and Defense manages it — began actively recruiting and providing stipends to retired military personnel to pay for their teacher certification.
Nationwide, about 75 percent of the program’s participants teach disadvantaged kids. In Maryland, they are often assigned to Baltimore City and Prince George’s County schools.
Former soldiers and sailors who sign up for the program can receive up to $10,000 from the government, in addition to their teaching salaries, if they work in a high-needs school.
The state hopes to hire a full-time coordinator in the coming months. That person — who ideally would have both teaching and military experience — will be asked to develop a marketing plan to recruit retiring military personnel, advise those new teachers through the certification process and mentor them throughout their teaching careers.
“There’s a lot of military presence in the Washington, D.C., area and Maryland, and so having a full-time coordinator will really be a major boost to the program,” said John Gantz, the national director of Troops to Teachers. “Part of that recruiter’s duties will be to go down to Fort Meade, the Pentagon, Patuxent River (Naval Air Station).”
Teachers culled from the military have the advantage of bringing skills that are desperately needed in the state. About 27 percent of troops-turned-teachers teach math or science, and 20 percent teach special education, areas declared as having shortages in the 2004-2006 Maryland Teacher Staffing Report.
Eighty-one percent of the former military who go into the program are men and 47 percent are minorities, also a welcome prospect in light of the state’s lack of male and minority teachers.
Nationally, 75 percent of those in the program are still teaching after five years, and retention rates in Maryland are comparable: Of the 100 who have started the program here in the state in the last decade, 69 are still teaching. State educators said they do not keep records on retention rates for the general teaching population.
Gantz said the war in Iraq has not yet had much impact on the program’s growth, and he thinks the future of Troops to Teachers in Maryland is bright.
“There’s more opportunity in the state of Maryland than I think we’ve capitalized on,” he said.
-30- CNS 10-15-04