Tonya Thomas, right, a science teacher at Newburg Middle School, listens as DeMarcus Hopson, a social studies teacher at Carter G. Woodson Academy, talks during the UofL Veteran Educator Symposium.

Tonya Thomas, right, a science teacher at Newburg Middle School (Jefferson County), listens as DeMarcus Hopson, a social studies teacher at Carter G. Woodson Academy (Fayette County), talks during the UofL Veteran Educator Symposium at the University of Louisville.
Photo by Mike Marsee, July 30, 2019

  • Teachers and prospective teachers attending the workshop learned about classroom management, instructional strategies, teacher-student relationships and trauma-informed practices.
  • KDE hopes to provide more professional development for these veterans and others entering the field of teaching.

By Mike Marsee

Kentucky has given its veterans a pathway to teacher certification. The next step is to make sure they are ready to succeed in the classroom.

A number of veterans who have turned to teaching got some of the tools they’ll need to become successful teachers July 30 at a workshop held by the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) and the University of Louisville (UofL).

Norma Andrade, a certification specialist with KDE’s Office of Educator Effectiveness and Licensure, said the UofL Veteran Educators Symposium is the first in what she hopes will be a number of professional development opportunities for veterans who participate in the Troops to Teachers program.

“We can get them certified, but we want to make them successful,” Andrade said. “We want them to feel like when they go into the classroom they’ve got those initial skills they need to be successful.”

Some of the veterans attending the workshop already have worked as teachers or substitute teachers; others are about to teach for the first time in the coming days or are still pursuing jobs. They learned about classroom management and instructional strategies from a fellow veteran who became a business teacher. They also heard about teacher-student relationships and trauma-informed practices.

Tonya Thomas, a Navy veteran who is about to enter her second year as a 6th-grade science teacher at Newburg Middle School (Jefferson County), said she came to the symposium to learn and perhaps to help others learn as well.

“I wish there was something like this last year, because I was in a place where I didn’t know where to start,” Thomas said. “I talked to Norma and got my certification and everything was set in place, and I was applying for jobs, but there was still that disconnect because I didn’t know what to do next. I thought there may be somebody who was in my position last year, and not only can I learn some different management skills for this upcoming school year, but maybe I can help somebody else who feels that same disconnect that I felt.”

The symposium was led by Jodi Adams, who serves as director of KDE’s New Teacher Institute and also is on the UofL faculty. Adams said nothing has been in place for professional development for veterans who are becoming teachers since funding was eliminated for the Kentucky Teacher Internship Program during the 2018 legislative session.

“Today is a stopgap to get you some information to help you get your feet on the ground,” Adams told the group. “We’re working on further development.”

Andrade said if KDE can obtain funding from the national Troops to Teachers organization, that development could include in-person or online meetings with these teachers on a quarterly basis or an expansion of this symposium to a three- or four-day “boot camp” for future groups.

“This gives us an opportunity to bring them in and give them some information that we feel is important, and it also gives them an opportunity to network with the other veterans that are just coming into the field,” she said.

She said the Department of Educational Leadership, Evaluation and Organizational Development in UofL’s College of Education and Human Development also has taken an interest in assisting veterans who want to teach.

“We’re really hoping to build a rapport with them so that down the road, maybe when we do get some national funding, we can start utilizing them to help us to deliver those boot camp opportunities,” Andrade said.

Tony Gearlds, a veteran of the Marines who began teaching at North Middle School (Henderson County) just two days after the symposium, said he welcomed the help he got there.

“I’m very thankful for the opportunity to learn from them, to drink from the fire hose, so to speak,” Gearlds said. “Having something like this is definitely beneficial before I set foot on the school’s campus and start teaching.”

Armed forces veterans can utilize one of eight alternative routes to teacher certification created by the Kentucky General Assembly. The legislature amended what is known as “option five” in 2017 to allow veterans who have at least a bachelor’s degree in an academic content area to become certified without taking a Praxis test.

In addition, veterans who hold a degree can become certified in another content area by taking and passing the Praxis test in that area.

“We want to get the word out. We would love to see a lot more veterans come through this route to certification,” Andrade said.

Thomas and Gearlds said they think more veterans would take an interest in teaching if they knew of that pathway.

“Within the last two or three months I’ve emailed the same information that Norma sent to me to two or three veterans,” Thomas said. “I’m kind of an advocate for the program because I’m passionate about it.”

Andrade said about 75 teachers were certified last year through the Troops for Teachers program, which was established in 1993 and has helped more than 21,000 veterans transition to a career in education.

“We’d love to be able to go and recruit, not just veterans who are leaving active duty but also those in the National Guard and reserves,” she said.

Troops to Teachers offers stipends of up to $5,000 for education, certification and licensing and bonuses of up to $10,000 as incentives.