The Virginia Troops to Teachers Center, housed in the William & Mary School of Education, has received a $1.9 million grant from the Virginia Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Defense to recruit military veterans for second careers as teachers.
Announcement of the five-year grant, providing $380,035 in annual support, came in a press release from Gov. Ralph Northam on June 7.
“Many of Virginia’s military retirees possess educational backgrounds and life experiences that are well aligned with the needs of our students and schools,” Northam said. “This additional funding will allow the Commonwealth to build on our effort to tap this pool of talent as a means of easing the teacher shortage, especially in critical areas like mathematics and career and technical education.”
Lawmakers applauded the initiative and the increased opportunities for veterans across the state.
“Our veterans are rich with knowledge and experiences that make them invaluable to our students and schools, " said Rep. Scott Taylor (R-Va.) "The Troops to Teachers Center is not only helping to ease the burden for service members as they transition back into civilian life, but also giving them the opportunity to impart their wisdom and experience to the next generation of leaders. I am pleased that this funding was secured to extend the Center through the next five years as they continue to help our nation’s veterans."
Established in April 2017 as a pilot program, the new funding will allow the center to expand its services to veterans seeking a career in education. The Virginia Department of Veteran Services estimates that 20,000 service members separate from the military in the commonwealth every year.
“Many of these veterans want to continue to serve, and education is the way they choose to do that,” said Gail Hardinge, principal investigator and director of the center. “With the right support and resources, veterans are ideally poised to become teachers.”
In developing the program, Hardinge and her team interviewed veterans and found the need for a comprehensive and personalized approach — one that would support veterans throughout the transition to their new teaching careers. The resulting multi-tier program offers career exploration opportunities such as virtual chats and job shadowing, guidance on educational and licensure options, and mentoring experiences once a veteran has successfully transitioned to the classroom.
During the pilot year, the center surveyed more than 6,000 veterans to guide its efforts and learn more about the needs of veterans-turned-teachers across the state.
“One amazing point was that veterans who had become teachers wanted to be available to other veterans entering the teaching profession,” said Hardinge. “An incredible 79 percent of veterans surveyed indicated that they would like to serve as mentors. We’re excited to develop more communication and leadership opportunities for veterans in the classroom.”
The center’s research also confirmed the effectiveness of the program, with 58.6 percent of veterans who were registered with Troops to Teachers indicating they pursued a teaching career, compared with 31.2 percent of veterans who did not register with the program.
“Veterans bring diverse talents and valuable experiences to the classroom,” said Karen Hogue, a project specialist with the center. “One veteran we worked with had taught master’s level media and communications courses to more than 5,000 military personnel. With the help of the Troops to Teachers Virginia Center, that veteran is now teaching English to high school students. I consider that a great success!”
With a teacher shortage looming across Virginia, recruiting talented and well-prepared teachers for the state’s public schools is critical. The Virginia Education Association reported approximately 800 unfilled teaching positions in the state last year, and that number is expected to increase to more than 1,300 next year.
Troops to Teachers offers a best-fit approach, guiding veterans through the often complicated licensure and job search process to find the educational career that best fits their interests, talents and experiences.
“Because of the personal service we offer, we are able to be a champion for each veteran who enters our program, encouraging the participants to continue on the path to licensure and be proactive in the job search process,” said Kelley Clark, program coordinator for the center.
In its first year, the Troops to Teachers Center has interacted with more than 1,600 veterans, collaborated with 29 veteran and active military education programs and worked with more than 25 universities . A statewide service, the center focuses on connecting veterans to teacher education and technical programs across the state.
“As someone who personally transitioned from the military to the classroom, I am passionate about connecting those with military service to the teaching profession. Teaching is a wonderful opportunity for our servicemen and women, and they have immense experience that is valuable to our students,” said Virginia Secretary of Education Atif Qarni. “This new federal funding will enable us to support more veterans in their transition to the classrooms, benefiting the teachers and students alike.”
The newly-approved biennial state budget also included $287,850 for the School of Education to develop a military and veterans counseling program. With the new funding, the school aims to launch both a new concentration for its master’s-level Clinical Mental Health Counseling degree, as well as an advanced certificate program. Both will train counselors through specialized coursework and internship experiences to meet the behavioral health needs of active duty military personnel and military veterans.
“We’re thrilled to support our veterans through these new initiatives,” said Spencer Niles, dean of the School of Education. “Whether by helping them transition to a meaningful and rewarding career in education, or by training skillful and compassionate counselors to meet their specific mental-health needs, we’re excited to help veterans thrive and make the best use of their unique talents.”