Connections: Linking Talented Educators
Connections: Linking Talented Educators

12 Ways The Military Prepared Me For a Career in Education

November 11, 2015
Milken Educator veterans collage

Milken Educators with military ties: clockwise from top left, Jonathan Kern (FL '03); Ryan Moore (CO '15); Larry Conley (OR '06); and Jenna White (AK '14)

Whether it’s honing communication skills or developing the courage to face challenges head-on, the values learned by United States military personnel can come in handy in the classroom, too.

We asked four Milken Educators — and veterans of the United States Army, Air Force, Marine Corps and Air National Guard — to reveal how their background in the armed forces helped prepare them for a career in education.

Ryan Moore (CO ’15) is an 8th-grade science teacher at Liberty Point International School in Pueblo, Colorado. He served in the SSG 19D U.S. Army.

“My military experience was the best diversity training I could have asked for. Without it, I would struggle to manage the different personalities and cultures I see every day in the classroom,” says Moore.

1. Mission first: What’s my mission again? Without detailed specific orders, a mission will not succeed. As simple as this sounds, you need to know what your teaching mission is. What are your state standards? What are your students’ scores? What is the school’s goal for this group of students? What do individual students need from you? Organize this intel and you will be successful.

2. When communications fail, missions fail. Army Scouts keep the communication nets open and clear of unnecessary traffic because when you need them, you need them. Soldiers train and train on use of the radio and proper etiquette for the situation. The same should be true with student/parent communication. I use a planner to ensure consistent daily communication. I have to train parents and students on what should be present, where to find information, and how to send messages back and forth. This takes time and practice but students and parents appreciate the communication in the end.

3. Team mentality: Teacher teams, student teams. In the military I knew I could trust the other section sergeant. I knew his strengths and weaknesses. He trusted me and knew my abilities and limitations. The same has to be true of your teaching teams. If you don’t trust each other or you don’t truly know each others’ strengths and weaknesses, the team won’t rise to its potential. Similarly, if students don’t need each other in your classroom, they are missing new perspectives and opportunities to learn. As they learn the benefits of helping each other, they see the value in others.

4. Dress Right Dress. How do you inventory and inspect $3.5 billion of equipment in a single afternoon? The answer is flawless organization. Years later, I realized that the only way to grade 180 assignments in two plan periods is to have flawless organization. By “training” your students to follow standardized formats in their assignments, you can identify mistakes quickly and efficiently. Just like soldiers, my students soon learn to identify their own mistakes quickly and efficiently as well.

5. Respect. In the early phases of basic training you respect your drill sergeant because he demands it. But something changes as you come to the end of your training time. You begin to respect them differently. You respect them because they are strong, they have the answers, and they are professionals. You realize they are not flawless, but they know enough to guide you through the tough experiences. You realize everything they do is for you. Be that teacher and you will earn your students' respect.

Larry Conley (OR ’06) is principal of Rural Dell Elementary School in Molalla, Oregon. Conley was a staff sergeant in the U.S. Air Force, where he served as a cryptologic linguist specialist (Russian) and later as an intelligence analyst.

“My 13-year military service was a reflection of my commitment to community and country, and I feel blessed to have had the opportunity. I use what I’ve learned every day,” says Conley.

6. Teamwork. Working together is the only work that “works.”

7. Perseverance. Tenacity and determination is commitment put to the test.

8. Courage. Being brave is having the strength to confront one’s current state while working toward one’s vision.

9. Leadership. True leadership isn’t about surrounding yourself with the best and brightest – it’s about finding untapped strength and brilliance in those you serve. 

Jonathan Kern (FL ’03) is an intensive reading teacher at Mandarin Middle School in Jacksonville, Florida. He served as a corporal in the United States Marine Corps from 1988 to 1992, and an infantry marine on board the USS Saratoga during the Persian Gulf War.

“I would definitely be a different teacher without the Marine that lives inside of me,” says Kern, who just entered his 19th year of teaching.

10. JJ DID TIE BUCKLE. The attributes the Marine Corps gave me that I apply to teaching can be captured in one acronym that was continually drilled into our heads: JJ DID TIE BUCKLE. The letters stand for: judgment, justice, dependability, integrity, decisiveness, tact, initiative, enthusiasm, bearing, unselfishness, courage, knowledge, loyalty and enthusiasm.

I can't imagine a day that goes by in which I don't utilize many or even all of those attributes. Because I am a marine, there are many days I also remind myself that in order to carry that title, I have to attack teaching with the same spirit of those Leathernecks raising that flag at Iwo Jima. I have to devote myself to the lives of others in the same manner as those Marines at Fallujah. And I have to lead children with the same gusto as the greatest marine to ever live, Chesty Puller (the most decorated American marine in history; he fought in battles of World War II and the Korean War).

Jenna White (AK ’14) is a physical educator at Orion Elementary School, located on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage, Alaska. White served in the Air National Guard for four years.

“I often think about the Air Force core values (Integrity First, Service Before Self, Excellence In All We Do) and strive to live them out each day,” says White.

11. Confidence to overcome obstacles. In basic training, you’re pushed to mental, physical and emotional limits. You learn to balance many things, to pay attention to detail and to hold yourself to high standards. As an element leader within my flight, I learned to be responsible not just for myself but for the success or failure of others. I sharpened my leadership skills and learned to motivate and inspire others to achieve and build a cooperative community based on common goals and teamwork.

I also learned to put the best interest of others ahead of myself, to make sacrifices for the good of the community, and to work with people of diverse backgrounds, strengths and abilities. All of this has undoubtedly carried over to my teaching career as a physical education teacher, as I strive to instill the same values in my students and to teach them the skills necessary to build successful relationships and to achieve their personal best.

12. Building meaningful connections. Being in the military also introduced me to amazing people, both fellow airmen and civilians alike, many of whom are still very close friends today. These friendships have continually shaped my character over the years and even played a role in bringing me to Alaska and my current job. 

My military experience also allows me to connect with my students and their families in a more meaningful way because I understand the military culture and can relate to the challenges that my students face as a result of growing up in a military family. Because of the transient lifestyle of an active duty military career, my students typically move to a new base every three to four years. As educators, we understand that the social and emotional connections students have at school have a great impact on their learning and success in the classroom. I really appreciate how important a sense of community and belonging is, especially for young kids, and I strive — through physical education classes and within the greater schoolwide setting — to offer experiences that encourage students and families to build those connections that we know contribute to their sense of well-being, self-confidence and academic achievement. 


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