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Troops to Teachers: A DoD program guides veterans to new careers in the classroom

Tiffany Oates has dreamed of being a teacher since she was 5. She remembers convincing her four brothers and sisters to play school with her, insisting on being the teacher despite her older sister’s protests.

So when she was medically retired from the Army in 2009, she turned to Troops to Teachers for help and guidance launching her second career. It’s a national program with state and regional offices that’s managed and funded by the Department of Defense. It helps veterans obtain teaching licenses and encourages them to teach in lower-income schools.

“We really help troops find positions, help them with the licensure process, guide them in finding jobs, help them with resumes,” said Joe Wargo, director of Virginia Troops to Teachers, the program through which Oates participated.

The program does not grant licenses, but offers guidance to participants on how to complete degrees, find financial assistance, obtain licenses and more.

“We are not an alternative program for licenses,” Wargo said. “We give them options depending on what they want to do.”

Veterans can potentially receive financial assistance and bonuses through Troops to Teachers, depending on individual circumstances and where the participants choose to teach, Wargo said. Stipends of up to $5,000 may be granted if a veteran has used all of his or her post-9/11 GI Bill benefits, he said. They may also be eligible for up to $10,000 in bonus pay if they meet certain criteria for teaching specific subjects in high-needs schools, he said.

Schools connected with the program must have 50 percent or more students on free or reduced lunch for elementary and middle school; high schools must have 40 percent of students on free or reduced lunch programs, Wargo said.

That was part of what drew Oates to the program.

“I was an underprivileged kid,” she said. “We didn't always have everything we wanted, but we had everything we needed. I understand what it’s like to be kinda pushed off to the side. I’ve always wanted to go in and make a difference for these kids.”

Oates will be finishing her master’s degree in education in May. She’s been student-teaching in a school outside of Fort Eustis, Va., and is currently applying for a full-time teaching position. Troops to Teachers is helping her on that end as well, she said, helping her with her resume, making contacts, even representing her at career fairs she can’t attend.

“They really do try their best,” she said. “They will do everything possible to get you everything they can to help you out to make you successful.”

Combining her military training with her lifelong passion for education is also part of what makes her successful, she said.

“I’m able to manage the classroom and teach what I need to teach -- I think a lot of it’s from my military background,” she said. “Now that I’ve been in the military, I have that discipline and I have that leadership.”

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