William & Mary

Alumnus uses his unique experience to help fellow veterans transition to teaching

  • Troops to Teachers
    Troops to Teachers  At the new Troops to Teachers Virginia Center at the William & Mary School of Education, Charlie Foster M.Ed. '17 is using his experience in the U.S. Marine Corps and his master's degree in higher education to help military veterans become teachers.  Photo by Skip Rowland '83
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He didn’t know it at the time, but each step along the way was preparing Charlie Foster M.Ed. ’17 for his current job.

Foster, veteran liaison at the Troops to Teachers Virginia Center established at the William & Mary School of Education in May, cut an untraditional path that has paid off. He ended college in his second year to become a United States Marine, became a college student again, then an employee and most recently a graduate student.

Foster became a university employee again in May when, just after finishing his master’s degree in higher education, he was hired at W&M. In his new role, he helps veterans and those transitioning out of the military find the best route to becoming K-12 teachers.

“We’re a resource for anyone who has served who wants to become a teacher,” Foster said. “We help them plan that next career.”

As far as his own career, Foster really didn’t have a plan.

The Alabama native attended the University of Alabama for three semesters before dropping out to join the Marine Corps at age 19. Foster became a combat correspondent, doing news writing and broadcasting for a year in Japan and two years in public affairs at the Pentagon.

The Pentagon role brought him into contact with many various people and their work for the military.

“It was just a one-of-a-kind job,” Foster said. “I learned a lot about all the different things that people did.”

He emphasized how even the most mundane work was important to the people doing it because it all supported the military’s overall mission. His stories ranged from covering field training to Marines packing parachutes to a harrowing tour of an explosive ordnance disposal facility.

While in public affairs, Foster also helped organize big events — including some for the White House Commission on Remembrance and the Secretary of Defense’s air show — and to process requests for “The President’s Own” U.S. Marine Corps Band and the Silent Drill Platoon. He also took calls from the public, which yielded myriad interesting conversations.

“I think the highlight was meeting a whole bunch of different people and trying, sometimes in vain, to tell cool Marine Corps stories,” Foster said.

He then used his GI Bill to attend Berea College in Kentucky, graduating in 2010 with an English degree and going on to work there in communications. A Thanksgiving visit to his aunt and uncle in Williamsburg brought up a discussion of higher education, and they suggested he visit W&M’s education school.

After talking with several faculty members, Foster applied and was accepted into the graduate school program. In May, he graduated with a master’s degree in higher education

He was soon hired as part of the new Troops to Teachers Virginia Center, which is funded by a $400,000 Department of Defense grant and opened in June.

It’s part of a national program started in 1993. Veterans are being tapped as an important resource to help fill teacher shortages across the country.

The center advises military members and veterans free of charge on how to obtain credentials necessary for teaching and how to get jobs. It serves the entire Commonwealth and considers every educational and financial option, including all four-year colleges and universities, and the Virginia Community College System.

Explaining the complications of the qualifications needed, means of funding and the GI Bill are all part of Foster’s daily job. He has talked with more than 750 individuals and made more than a dozen presentations and visits to military installations, education and job fairs, transition programs and other venues.

Of the more than 50 case files he is currently working on, each person’s situation is different, he said. The Virginia Center’s specialized help can take into account all of the variables and show the best route for a potential teacher to take.

“We know what’s less expensive, and we know what programs take longer,” Foster said.

He credits fellow staff members and W&M School of Education faculty with helping him become oriented in his new job, and points out how much of what he learned in the higher education graduate program connects with what he’s doing now.

“I have kind of an obligation to give people good information about education, and specifically higher education, so that’s why this job is an interesting intersection of my experience,” Foster said.

“Because I was in the military and I also have a master’s degree in higher education, I can help veterans consider their options. A lot of the veterans who become teachers have to go back to school, and I can help them research what school might be right for them.”