Story by Rosemary Freitas-Williams, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Military Community and Family Policy
“Proud to Serve Again” is the tagline for the Defense Department Troops to Teachers program, and it truly expresses how veterans feel about beginning careers in education after transitioning out of the military. Today, I would like to recognize former service members, now educators, who are making a difference in the lives of young students across the country.
Veterans thrive in an ever-changing classroom environment because their military experience has given them the ability to successfully adapt to new challenges. Since the program’s inception in 1994, Troops to Teachers has assisted more than 17,000 service members to successfully transition to a second career in teaching, providing value to the schools and communities where they work.
Many participants have been recognized for their success in the classroom, receiving awards such as school, district and state Teacher of the Year, and others have been promoted to administrator and other leadership positions within school districts. Troops to Teachers participants have also been recognized for positive contributions to schools and communities in non-instructional positions.
This past fall, the Memphis Street Academy Charter School in Philadelphia, was recognized by the Character Education Partnership for its program, Project At E.A.S.E. Project at E.A.S.E. stands for Enhancing Accountability for School Engagement. This program, a partnership between the school and the Troops to Teachers program, has employed several Troops to Teachers participants at the academy as engagement coaches. Engagement coaches provide a strong role model presence and help mediate disputes, providing a more positive alternative to traditional punishment and discipline approaches.
My staff had the privilege of meeting Dave Leib, lead engagement coach, at the recognition ceremony. Dave spent 4 1/2 years on active duty as a Coast Guardsman before being medically discharged. While on active duty, he participated in drug enforcement patrols, homeland security patrols and the protection of critical infrastructure.
While Dave enjoyed a fulfilling experience with the Coast Guard, he found himself without a job and with few prospects on the horizon after his discharge. Like many veterans, he enrolled in college while working to support his family as a mechanic.
While balancing school and work, he recalled a lieutenant mentioning Troops to Teachers several years earlier. That memory led to some Internet research and ultimately, to registration in the Troops to Teachers program. He found a calling as an instructor in the program, and began pursuing his goal of becoming a special education teacher in Philadelphia.
Meanwhile, the Troops to Teachers North Atlantic Region Director Vanessa Barron had been making plans with the Memphis Street Academy to place program participants in the school as engagement coaches. Dave Leib was selected as an engagement coach, and later was promoted to the lead position. Dave and three other engagement coaches were – and continue to be – instrumental in transforming this once failing and unsightly school into a safe, welcoming learning environment in the neighborhood.
The bars on the windows are now gone. A metal detector no longer greets students at the door. Instead, students have an environment focused on learning and succeeding. The engagement coaches’ commitment to student achievement and positive personal growth support the aspirations of their students. And Dave Leib loves his work.
All of us at DoD salute educators and school staff across the country for their dedication and commitment to the nation’s youth, but we especially recognize all of our veterans who have answered the call to proudly serve again — this time in the classroom. You are all making a difference.
If you’re preparing to transition from military service, I would encourage you to look into the Troops To Teachers program. Service above self is part of your DNA. Maybe a new career as an educator is right for you. There are classrooms across the country where your skills, knowledge and experience are needed. More importantly, young students would profoundly benefit from your decision to serve again.
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