Transitioning Airmen learn to cross from the blue into the classroom

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Alessandra N. Gamboa
  • 28th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
Airmen interested in becoming teachers after their careers in the military gathered at the conference room of the Rushmore Center to learn about education and employment opportunities, March 23.

Various speakers from the Troops to Teachers program provided information about teaching as a second career for servicemembers, veterans and retirees interested in becoming teachers.

Troops to Teachers is a federal program whose mission is to assist eligible military personnel to transition to a new career as public school teachers by providing financial assistance, advice and counseling, as well as connections with teacher preparation institutions and school districts.

The seminar about the program was led by Byron L. McKinney, a Troops to Teachers advisor from Montana State University in Bozeman, Mont.; Roxie Thielen, a certification specialist from the South Dakota Department of Education; Brett Distel, a teacher at Douglas Middle School, and Patty Dewey, a Dakota Assets coordinator at Black Hills State University, and former administrator of 20 years in the Douglas school district.

Mr. McKinney, Mrs. Thielen, Mr. Distel and Mrs. Dewey addressed questions and concerns from all those who attended.

One question focused on the availability of teaching positions while the economy is in decline. Mrs. Dewey responded by pointing out the upcoming retirements of teachers in the baby boom generation.

"Baby boomers comprise a huge percentage of educators in school districts," Mrs. Dewey said. "Two to three years ago, we anticipated the retirement of these teachers. Many of them decided to work for a few more years due to the state of the economy. However, retirement cannot be postponed indefinitely."

The speakers pointed out that teacher hiring, as with any profession, goes through periodic highs and lows nationwide, but there is always a need for qualified teachers. Priority effort is placed on recruiting teachers to fill shortages in critical subjects, and to teach at high needs schools.

"When legislative bodies decide to make budget cuts resulting in fewer teachers and more students per classroom, eventually parents grow concerned for how the children are affected," Mrs. Dewey explained. "The same situation occurs when budget cuts affect fire and police departments, resulting in more fires and higher crime rates. Lawmakers frequently realize they've made a mistake, and those career fields then experience a high demand for employees."

Mr. Distel, a retired master sergeant with the 28th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron who is now a teacher, addressed the Airmen as someone who was once sitting in their boots.

"I helped generate 10 to 15 B-1B Lancers on a regular basis," Mr. Distel said. "Now I'm helping to generate knowledge in students. What you are doing in the military now will help you to do real-life things when you pursue a different career path. Whether you're outside working on B-1s out on the ramp or sitting behind a desk in an office, you're building credentials which will help you succeed in the future."

As part of that future success, some of the benefits with the Troops to Teachers program include potential eligibility of qualifying current and former military personnel for up to $5,000 as a stipend towards teacher preparation and up to $10,000 as a bonus for teaching in a qualifying school.

For more information about the Troops to Teachers program, call 1-866-478-3224, or visit the national and regional web sites at and