Education's New Recruits: Soldiers

South Carolina implements program to let military personnel train to become teachers
As many as 34,000 teachers, about 45% of the total number in South Carolina, are expected to retire within the next five years. Educators at the state's leading universities believe they've found a potentially rich source of new recruits: military personnel finishing their active duty and looking for civilian work.

The problem has been that few of them want to spend the time and money to train, because they aren't eager to give up a paycheck and go back to school full time. That's why the state's Transition-to-Teaching, or T3, Coalition turned to an IBM Lotus-based virtual classroom and content-management system so military personnel around the world can prepare for certification in their free time before leaving active service.

"In talking with service members, it came across ... that they wanted some way to get in the classroom without spending 2-1/2 years training to become teachers," says James Allen Jr., a retired major general who spent 35 years in the military, then a decade as director of South Carolina's veterans' programs.

The Citadel, Clemson University, South Carolina State University, and the University of South Carolina provide online curricula for the program. T3 has two phases: distance-learning course work followed by an internship at a South Carolina public school.

Allen was working with veterans in 1992 when the U.S. government launched its nationwide Troops-to-Teachers program, a precursor to T3 that helps military personnel retiring from service after at least six years find the training necessary to become certified teachers. T3 takes Troops-to-Teachers a step further by providing Web-based training.

Military personnel can take the first nine courses in T3's teacher certification curriculum anywhere in the world they're stationed. T3 uses Lotus LearningSpace technology that includes learning-management software for students and instructors to track classes as well as virtual classroom capabilities for instructors to deliver Web-based classes simultaneously to various locations.

Most military bases have an education center with computers where personnel can log on. Most of the course work, which includes methods for teaching a particular discipline, classroom management, and student assessment and evaluation, can be completed at the soldier's own pace. Instructors communicate with their students via instant messages or E-mail.

The greatest threat to T3's success isn't technology, however. It's the military itself. Last year, it began a Stop Loss program as a result of the Iraqi war, which means personnel can't leave the military until the program is lifted, Allen says. The Washington Post reported in December that the Army alone has blocked the possible retirements and departures of more than 40,000 soldiers, about 16,000 of them National Guard and reserve members, who were eligible to leave the service in 2003.

Soldiers without a firm date for going home tend not to think about civilian life after military service, Allen contends. "They're concentrating on the task at hand," he says. The Stop Loss program also means that any plans the military had for similar online training programs for engineering, nursing, and other professions are on hold as well.

Still, T3 can survive despite the war, says Nancy Dunlap, chairwoman of the T3 Coalition at Clemson University. The program has 40 students enrolled, and it has the capacity for as many as 100 students at a time. One T3 student in the Air Force has continued to take courses despite traveling to and from Iraq several times since April 2003. "He's very dedicated," Dunlap says. "He lets us know his schedule as soon as he knows it."

Photo courtesy of U.S. Army

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