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Shaping the future

Troops to Teachers program offers veterans an opportunity to use their military experience

Sunnyside High School teacher, Spencer Martin, advises the Sunnyside robotics team during the state VEX robotics competition. Photo courtesy of The Daily Sun News

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As a swarm of students darted through the narrow hallways of Sunnyside High School, math teacher and 20-year Navy veteran, Spencer Martin, kept watch from a classroom doorway. Amongst the shouts of hellos from students, came the voice of a senior that hadn't uttered a word to Martin since telling him, "I hate you," during his freshmen class year.

Now, days before graduation, the student handed Martin her senior picture with the following message scrawled on the back -- "Thank you for all the times you pushed me to do my work. I feel as if you're the reason I'm leaving this school and beginning my future ..."

That message was the first time the veteran teacher and Troops to Teachers, or TTT, alum, realized the impact an educator can have on the lives' of their students.

Martin said, "(It was then) I think I really saw the significance of my impact ... Teachers are the front line troops. We spend a considerable amount of time with students, and help shape their futures, not only with ... teaching ... but also with the examples that we set by the way we conduct ourselves.  In some instances, we are the only support group that our students have."

Martin had never planned on becoming a teacher until he was approached by a university representative two years before his planned retirement. It was then that the former machinist's mate and Navy counselor heard about the TTT program.

"(The university representative) and the Navy College Office helped me with my decision ... I had been teaching sailors for a while and I enjoyed (it), so I figured I would give it a shot," he said.

With financial assistance from TTT, Martin earned his certification, and designed Sunnyside's career and technical education curriculum, which also helped earn him the Educational Service District, or ESD, 105 "Regional Teacher of the Year" award in 2015.

Martin said that he would definitely recommend the TTT program to separating servicemembers and added one of the many reasons why veterans make good teachers is because they're mission-oriented.

He continued, "We are not afraid ... to put in the hours necessary for our students' success, (and) we can also show the application of our classes to real-world situations."

Veterans who are interested in pursuing a career in teaching can receive up to a $10,000 bonus for teaching for three or more years in an underserved or eligible school.

In addition to the monetary bonus available, the program can assist veterans with choosing a teacher preparation program, job search, as well as provide veterans support through their first three years teaching.

Washington State TTT coordinator and retired U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Doug Asbjornsen, said that he is convinced that some of the best teachers are veterans.

"So much of teaching is engaging with people through life stories and experiences. Veterans have that. They're disciplined, mission-centered ... and pretty serious about doing a good job. I have twenty-one years of school administration experience and I've just had huge success in hiring veterans," Asbjornsen said.

He continued, "We're looking for a triple winner. A win for veterans to allow them to continue to serve in a meaningful way, a win for the school and district because their getting a great employee and team member, and a win for the students who get a teacher that brings unique skills and experiences to the classroom."

For more information about the TTT program, visit proudtoserveagain.com, connect with the Washington TTT Facebook page at facebook.com/TTT.Washington/, or call 360.725.6412.

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