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What Military Veterans Need To Know About Becoming a Teacher


Choosing to become a teacher is a lifelong pursuit for some, but a newfound passion for others. Maybe you’re drawn to working with kids, breaking down complex ideas, or reaching students who struggle academically to find their place. Teaching is a taxing profession, but it’s also an opportunity to transform students’ lives in meaningful ways and foster a deep sense of purpose. 

From the front lines of combat to the front row of the classroom, military veterans are well prepared to take on new challenges in a school setting. Veterans bring their adaptability and problem-solving skills to the table. They know how to lead with a strong work ethic. They’re used to following strict protocols and clearly defined routines. These assets prove invaluable in the classroom. 

Veterans have served their country with honor and courage, now’s the chance to serve the community and impact the lives of students for years to come. Here are a few things military veterans should consider before becoming a teacher. 

Why Becoming a Teacher May Be Right for You

For those entering the job hunt, now is prime time to seriously consider the prospects of teaching full-time. Since 2010, a sharp decline in the number of teachers has failed to meet a growing demand. Between 2009 and 2014, teacher education enrollments dropped from 691,000 to 451,000, which represented a 35% reduction. The year 2016 presented the lowest number of available teachers in 10 years—between 180,000 and 212,000 teachers. This disparity is only widening, causing schools to work harder than ever before to attract and retain qualified candidates. 

The demand is ever-growing, especially when it comes to certified and experienced teachers. Currently, at public, non-charter schools, only 68% of teachers have an education background in the subject they teach, 77% have five or more years of experience, and 91% have full certification credentials.  

Beyond the job market demand, here are some personal reasons you may choose to enter the teaching profession. 

Unlock Students’ Full Potential

Each student is gifted, but it takes a dedicated teacher to unlock the potential of every student. From the most experienced to the newly certified, great teachers build rapport with students at the start of the school year to better gauge students’ interest, learning styles, passions and personal struggles. 

For students who lack confidence or for those who struggle in one or more academic areas, having a teacher who realizes a student’s full potential makes all the difference.  Students need to be exposed to all areas of academic pursuit, including S.T.E.M., arts, music, civil engagement and social advocacy. Prioritize intersectional learning so that students who excel in one area of learning can apply their skills directly to other areas of academic focus. Can students use art and music to demonstrate their knowledge of history or current events? Can they refine their technology skills by developing the blueprint for a mobile app?

Unlocking students’ full potential also means staying tuned in to the way that students learn best. Some students are analytical in their thinking, while others may approach learning from a creative perspective. How can you engage students with a wide variety of learning styles all at once?

Foster Diverse and Welcoming Classrooms

Throughout your teaching career, you’ll have the opportunity to interact with students and families from all walks of life. Learn how to nurture diverse and welcoming relationships in the classroom so that all students have the resources and support they need to thrive. 

SNU’s MA in Administration of Special Education will equip you with the skills to positively impact the lives of all students, including students with disabilities. You’ll learn to develop curriculum, evaluate students’ needs, manage IEPs, and collaborate with staff members and family to deliver specialized services to the students that need it the most. You’ll also have the flexibility to schedule your coursework in a way that works for you — both in-person (at night) and exclusively online options are available.

Create Positive Change in Your Community

You’ve sacrificed greatly to serve your country and its citizens. Now you have the chance to serve in a new way. Teachers profoundly impact the lives of their students, from helping them make decisions about career paths and higher education to instilling a sense of self-confidence, pride and motivation. 

While teaching shortages persist across the country, they are undoubtedly most pronounced in low-income communities. Teaching in any capacity has the power to transform the lives of students. But serving in areas with the greatest need for educators can have a profound effect on the whole community. When choosing where you may pursue a career in education, consider where the greatest deficits in your area reside. 

Do you know all the education benefits that are available to you as a veteran?  Our free e-book,Using Your VA Benefits for Education, has all the answers!

How You Can Make the Greatest Impact

Many veterans wonder where their career path will lead post-service. Transferable soft skills from the military signal teaching as a natural fit. In order to be the best teacher you can be and to make the biggest impact in your classroom, keep the following tips in mind. 

Encourage Effort, Not Perfection

Teachers work hard to see each one of their students succeed. This means creating dynamic lesson plans to engage every type of learner. It’s all too easy to create cookie-cutter lesson plans that lump all students together as uniform learners. Instead, push yourself to build a curriculum that appeals to learners of all kinds. 

At the same time, strive for effort, not perfection, from both your students and yourself. Assure yourself that students may not master material at the same time, and that’s okay. Practice patience and allow student chances to meet with you individually to spend time reviewing hard-to-grasp material. 

Establish Classroom Expectations and Procedures

Students appreciate routine. Students of all ages want to understand what’s expected of them and how they will be assessed. For younger students in particular, knowing the structure of their day and week will provide added comfort and reassurance. 

Luckily, military veterans know what it’s like to set a schedule and maintain a list of clear objectives. Consistent daily schedules play a critical role in establishing healthy learning habits for all students, but especially for young learners. Be transparent with students early on about what these routines and procedures will look like, including addressing question such as: 

  • How much time do students have to complete assignments? 
  • What are the consequences of turning in an assignment late? 
  • When can students come in for extra help? 
  • What daily tasks are students expected to complete each day, on their own time? 

New teachers may worry about setting too many expectations from the start. However, being clear with students about what’s expected of them and how to go about finishing each of the tasks at hand actually serves to create calm and order in the classroom, which in turn fosters productive models of learning. 

Embrace Creative Problem-Solving and Adaptability 

Even the best teachers are bound to come across roadblocks that call into question their ability to resolve issues and carry on with daily learning objectives, such as:

  • How can you best support a student who is failing your class? 
  • What to do in the classroom of a student who is consistently disruptive? 
  • What if parents disagree about a classroom support plan?

Military veterans are used to flexing their adaptability muscles. Likewise, teachers must be prepared to incorporate and innovate with problem-solving strategies on the fly. Think of this new experience in the classroom as simply an extension of the problem-solving you’re already accustomed to. 

Build Your Career To Become a Leader

School administrators usually begin their career as a teacher and then move up to positions of leadership. People in these roles must strive for the same balance: to encourage both staff and students to strive for excellence, without creating undue pressure or added stress. Perhaps you find yourself drawn to a career in education but not necessarily in the day-to-day lesson planning of a teacher. You may want to consider a job in education administration. 

SNU’s Master of Arts in Educational Leadership (MAEL) program creates leaders of tomorrow in administrating grades K-12. Classes are offered in-person and online so that you can keep up with life’s demands while also pursuing your education to further your career goals. Comprehensive coursework sets students to be great educators in every aspect of academic life, including:

  • School law 
  • Finance 
  • Educational research 
  • Curriculum evaluation
  • Human resource and technology leadership 

Discover New Ways To Grow

Teachers and school administrators who build a strong foundation as a student can take on the challenges they will face professionally. Choose a master’s in education program that will set you up for success.

SNU knows the transition from military to civilian life can be difficult to navigate, especially in the early stages. That’s why we’re committed to offering students support throughout their college experience, from application and registration through the moment they cross the stage at graduation. 

SNU’s Troops to Teachers program equips veterans with the skills they need to one day lead classrooms of their own. The six-week format guides students through courses in assessment and instruction, classroom leadership and secondary teaching methods. SNU’s VETS Center supports veteran students throughout their coursework to fulfill the education component of the Oklahoma Teacher Certification.

Check out SNU’s Troops to Teachers program to learn more about using your VA benefits toward your education.

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