To President Obama on the Drawdown from Afghanistan: Put Veterans to Work Through ‘Troops to Teachers’

Jun 22, 2011 by

Tonight at 8 pm ET, President Obama will outline his plan to begin drawing down troops in Afghanistan.

Not only is this a fulfillment of his promise at his West Point 2010 speech to do so, it’s long past time we pivot away from battlefields and commit our precious people-power and national spending priorities to the many economic troubles we have at home. The American people favor, by large margins, a return of our troops and an end to the occupation of Afghanistan: 64% believe that troop levels should be decreased and 73% believe “substantial” numbers of troops should be withdrawn starting this summer.

It’s an undeniable fact that our veterans will be coming home to a weakened economy. How will we absorb them into a job market that can barely sustain the people here already searching for work? We’ve heard nothing but “austerity” talk from the GOP, and both tax cuts and job cuts — yes, government jobs are also jobs — from the Republican party. Clearly they have nothing to offer.

Bob Fertik over at the USA Jobs Party has a great suggestion: immediately hire 3 million teacher’s aides to help in the classroom, and give 99ers (those who have been out of work longer than the 99 weeks covered by unemployment benefits) and veterans first crack at work as teacher’s aides.

Building on that, here’s my suggestion: utilize a little-known part of No Child Left Behind called Troops to Teachers to help returning veterans who want to become teaching professionals gain the credentials and certification to enable them to have lengthy, successful careers in the classroom. These veterans would serve as teachers in low-income schools where need is greatest. Members of the House of Representatives Doris Matsui (D-CA), Tom Petri (R-WI), and Joe Courtney (D-CT) are currently co-sponsoring a bill that would expand Troops to Teachers outside of the effort to renew this section that also appears in the nation’s education law, No Child Left Behind. (Because NCLB’s reauthorization is delayed, many lawmakers have isolated portions of NCLB into stand-alone bills that might have a better chance of passing.)

When first implemented under the Bush administration, many returning veterans took advantage of the program, and were awarded stipends if they worked in high-need schools. Troops to Teachers is still active.


Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

No Child Left Behind (aka the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, or ESEA) is currently in a state of limbo, with several unfunded mandates. The most prominent parts that draw negative attention, such as Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) and standardized testing, are the major sections that impact students’ and teachers’ lives. But what we forget is that the law has elements in it that are worth redeeming. Troops to Teachers could be one such part. In 2010 it was funded at $14 million dollars. I propose funding it at higher levels and coordinating teacher credentialing at community colleges that have already received funding through the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010. Returning veterans could apprentice with master teachers immediately as teacher’s aides while also attending training and credentialing programs that would help them to transition into full-time careers as K-12 teachers.

We need veterans and their expertise in the classroom for these reasons:

  • veterans bring a sense of personal discipline, teamwork, trust, and honor with them as a result of military training, values we look for and cherish in our existing teaching force
  • military service is a form of public service, as is teaching; these values translate
  • the same leadership qualities that distinguish the armed services in the field are the same ones we ask of our teachers as they guide their students’ learning: fortitude, resilience, cooperation
  • veterans fighting in Afghanistan know that global peace and prosperity are possible when we defeat extreme, abject poverty overseas. They therefore have valuable perspective on the surmountable challenges that face families in low-income neighborhoods here at home, and what is both possible and necessary to do to help underserved communities in America reach their potential

President Obama would be wise to rescue and promote those parts of No Child Left Behind that help rebuild education, the teacher workforce, and the economy at the same time. Congress would be even wiser to fund and pass these parts of the law as soon as possible, as part of a real jobs program.

For more information and for updates on the progress of Troops to Teachers as part of No Child Left Behind, sign up here for K12 News Network newsletters:


join our mailing list
* indicates required

Cynematic founded the grassroots education news website K12 News, where parents, educators, and students tell us what’s happening in their local public schools.

Related Posts


Share This


  1. While that's an interesting idea, why does it remind me of the way returning WW2 vets pushed women out of the workplace? Oh, right, teaching at the K-8 level especially is a female heavy occupation.

    And while there will be retirements with the state of the economy not improving anytime soon, there will be a lot fewer as teachers work longer due to early retirement being phased out, and the fact that those teachers born in 1960 and later have to wait until they are 67 to retire with full benefits now.

    And look, not knocking the program, teaching is not as easy as it apparently looks. I left the classroom after 20 years of mostly teaching in working class/poor neighborhood schools. I was worn out and I hadn't been fighting a war prior to entering a classroom.

    Kudos to those looking to be proactive but there are teachers out of work or fresh out of school who already know what they are doing. What about them?

  2. Hi Annie,
    Those are all good points to consider.

    As for pushing women out of what is a mostly female-dominated profession la a "Rosie the Riveter" — many returning veterans will also be female. It won't only be male vets eligible for, desiring to, or entering into the profession. I'd imagine there'll have to be all the various screens for mental health and other disqualifying elements of a person's background. Self-selection will be another thing that keeps veterans from flooding the pipeline for teachers. However if we have veterans with bachelor's degrees (many with master's already) who want to teach, especially in working class/poor neighborhood schools (not everyone's first choice), shouldn't we enable them to get the additional credentials and training they need to do so? This is most definitely not a Teach For America kind of situation where after 5 weeks someone sends you into the classroom — this is about getting the credentials and training you need to teach properly.

    There might be many teachers who stay in the profession longer because of the end of early retirement, but there's also the "other" dropout problem — the fact that early career teachers often leave the profession before three or five years have elapsed. It's the collapse of that pipeline that's of concern too.

    No one's saying that it's easy to become a teacher overnight. Perhaps for returning vets, starting with classes and apprenticing as an aide beside a master teacher is the way to go. I'd estimate that enlarging the pipeline for veterans who want to teach would probably take 2-5 years to get up and running even if legislation were passed tomorrow. In that time, I'd hope all the experienced teachers who most recently lost work due to the hellish politicizing of the profession by the GOP could get their jobs back at the level they were before they were cut. We need smaller class sizes and properly funded schools, period. That doesn't change regardless of what entry point is the one teachers use to enter the profession.

    The most recent study on the Troops to Teachers program I could find was from 2005, and it's linked here: I'd like more up to date statistics but haven't found them yet. If you see anything more recent, Annie, let me know.

  3. Kathi

    Oh, sure. Because there are SO MANY teaching jobs available, sitting there emptily waiting for someone who never wanted to be a teacher to come in and take that job. Are you quite entirely serious?!

    There are thousands of people in my (small) state alone who have trained for years and dream of being teachers, who can't get jobs because the economy has stripped schools of teaching positions. This is our LIFE, not a "fall back plan" or a thing we guess we can do now that our real career is over.

    Returning soldiers have so many excellent opportunities to start a new career if they want to; their education is subsidized, and in many states they are given preference for teaching jobs anyway. If that's a soldier's dream, then that's wonderful – he or she can pursue it on the same timeline as anyone else who is pursuing a dream. But many of us have already been working our hearts out, waiting patiently for a teaching position.

    We're not anti-patriotic. We're not worse Americans or less worthy as educators because we didn't (or COULDN'T) be soldiers. Just because you're a soldier doesn't mean you'll be a good teacher. Just because you're not a soldier doesn't mean you'll be anti-technology or somehow "backwards."

  4. Hi Kathi,
    What I'd like to see is every state in the nation invest in MORE teachers at all levels. And I mean the full spectrum: teacher-librarians, speech therapists, occupational therapists, special ed shadows, guidance counselors, aides…every single area that has been artificially cut back due to "budget crises" created by tax cut giveaways to corporations or the wealthy. Did you know that in my state, California, we have the 49th lowest ratio of staff, 93.3 (all certified and noncertified) to every 1,000 students among all the 50 states? Source:

    If teachers have lost jobs, it's because states have woefully underfunded schools. Taxpayers have taken the easy way out of tax cuts but don't want to pay for services that they expect to stay at the same level.

    I'm not suggesting that one set of people squeeze out another set, I'm saying schools need to be returned to adequate levels and adequately funded at even 2005 levels. In the past three years alone, $18 billion has been cut from CA public schools and this year K-14 was faced with still more $6 billion in cuts.

    With wars winding down, I think we absolutely should be demanding that spending increase at home. And that means rehire all the teachers who were let go due to "budget cuts" just to get us to status quo, but also staff up to adequate levels, period. Does that make sense?

    Schools deserve a bigger pie, not a battle over what size slice.

  5. I contacted the person who administers the Troops to Teachers program.

    Major Monica Matoush told me this: since the inception of Troops to Teachers in 1994, the current number of veterans in the program is 12,852.

    For comparison: just this year, 19,000 teachers in Los Angeles Unified School District were laid off as a result of budget cuts in 2011. There are probably some 60,000+ public school teachers in the metro LA area. All of those teachers within the system that were let go need to be rehired just to get to status quo, and then we STILL need to increase the number of teachers in California just to get to acceptable levels. As I mentioned before, status quo is barely acceptable (if you think 49th out of 50 is ok). We simply must find a way to FULLY fund our schools to the level our kids deserve. Period.