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MSU Troops to Teachers regional program receives federal grant to reinstate services

Friday Jun. 16th, 2017

A Montana State University program that for more than 10 years has assisted veterans who are interested in becoming certified teachers has received a federal grant to continue its services.

The U.S. Department of Defense awarded $716,000 to MSU’s regional Lewis and Clark Troops to Teachers program, making it one of only a handful of regional Troops to Teachers offices in the nation that was recently reinstated following a restructuring of the program at the national level. The grant, awarded through the Montana Office of Public Instruction, will enable MSU's program to continue serving veterans in eight states -- Montana, Idaho, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Wyoming and Washington – who are interested in attaining certification to teach kindergarten through 12th grade. The total veteran population of the region is 1.8 million.

Based in MSU's College of Education, Health and Human Development, Troops to Teachers does not provide education for would-be teachers, but rather helps them determine what classes they need for certification, guides them through the process and assists them with job placement and career development. The program also emphasizes placing veterans in rural schools, on and near American Indian reservations, schools with higher poverty levels, and in high-need urban areas, offering teachers small teaching bonuses for those placements.

Retired Army Col. LeRoy Gaub, Troops to Teachers program manager, said that teaching the country’s future leaders gives veterans who served the nation a way to continue serving, which for many is their life’s focus.

“They are proud to serve again, educating and teaching our youth to be good citizens,” Gaub said.

The military is interested in what happens to veterans after their service and in helping them make a smooth transition to civilian life, said Robert Carson, MSU education professor and Troops to Teachers program director.

“We bring the experience of how teacher preparation works,” Carson said. “And, it tends to work better if it's a well-lit path.”

By factoring a veteran’s knowledge and experience into civilian employment opportunities, the program ensures that the veteran’s prior education and experience are credited, which may reduce the number of courses required for licensure, Carson said.

For example, retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Jim Tweet teaches math, aeronautics and life-skills electives at Belgrade Middle School.

Tweet attended MSU on an ROTC scholarship, graduating with a degree in electrical engineering. After a 20-year Air Force career, he retired in 2008 having already received a temporary teaching certificate by taking classes online through the now-discontinued Northern Plains Transition to Teaching program.

Troops to Teachers was the catalyst to his finding a teaching job and, he said, it's one that suits him well.

“I became a teacher so that I could have an influence on the next generation of American adults,” Tweet said.

Retired U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Matthew Bakken joined the Marines early in his college career to “get some direction,” he said. After serving four years, primarily in Iraq, he worked in construction while taking classes at MSU and earned his degree in technology education in 2012.

While finishing up his degree, Bakken learned about a teaching position in the Big Sky School District through Troops to Teachers and landed the job two weeks before graduating. He will leave the Big Sky School District, where he also coached football, for a similar position in Three Forks next year.

Both Tweet and Bakken say they enjoyed being instructors in the military and that their experience gained while serving prepared them to be successful teachers.

“I'm able to be a positive role model, leading by example, while also holding students accountable for their behavior,” Bakken said.

Tweet said he doesn't think he would have been a good teacher right out of college. He learned discipline, flexibility, communication and other skills in the military.

“Teaching middle school is all about relationships,” Tweet said. “Every kid in middle school is ‘too something’ – too fat, too skinny, too pimply. It's gratifying helping them transition from little kids to adults. They need boundaries, but the boundaries don't have to be absolute.”

Since 2003, MSU's regional Lewis and Clark Troops to Teachers program has served around 4,000 participants, nearly a quarter of whom have been hired for new teaching jobs, according to national data.

To be eligible for the program, participants must have been honorably discharged from the military on or after Oct. 1, 1990. Participants must also submit a copy of their certification of release or discharge from active duty, as well as a copy of their Troops to Teachers acceptance letter.

For more information about Troops to Teachers, contact Gaub at (406) 994-4436 or lgaub@montana.edu.