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Why Teachers Should Think About Joining the Military

I served in the U.S. Army as a combat medic for nine years (during wartime) and as a teacher in the state of Georgia for 25 years. It is only at my husband's request that I ever left the military (A decision I greatly regret). Both teaching and military service provide a sense of purpose beyond most other professions. However, I can tell you this, teaching is more frustrating, illogical, and down-right more difficult than serving in the Armed Forces. There are so many good things about teaching, but sometimes the negatives seem to far outweigh the positive. My time in the Army made me a better person and a better teacher. More importantly, serving in the military gave me many skills that help me on a daily basis to endure the 30 years required to reach retirement as an educator. Everyday I go to work I encounter teachers in tears or on the verge of a mental breakdown. Life is too short to live this way. You have other options.

You can walk away from teaching completely and find a new career or endure the difficulties and let it negatively impact your life. After spending at least four years training to become a teacher, neither of these options may seem great. The secret is to be stronger, smarter, handle stress better, and always have a backup career ready to go... just in case you reach a day when you say you've had enough. This is where the military comes in.

You can play it safe by joining as a National Guard or Reserve member and usually only serve one weekend each month and two weeks during the summer. But, first you have to get trained. Imagine spending part of your summer going through basic combat (or as I like to call it, everyday as a teacher) training, then missing some of the Fall semester learning a new skill free of charge all while receiving a full time paycheck at the same time. Essentially, you will be getting paid your entire teaching salary while on military leave AND getting paid an additional $2200 to $3200 per month depending on whether or not you decided to be an officer or go enlisted. (Officers are like administrators and enlisted personnel are like teachers, as far a rank goes in the military.) In other words, officers are in charge. Here is the short and sweet version of how teachers benefit from joining the military.

  1. Extra Income: As already noted above, you get paid while on military leave for up to two weeks. If you have student loans or want to pursue a graduate degree, the military will help pay for it. Or, you can save your money to purchase teacher retirement and retire earlier.

  2. Free Training: You have just spent at least four years paying for an education and training to be a teacher. That was costly. It is not easy to go back to school and learn a new skill while working full time, especially when you are exhausted from a day of teaching. Most branches of the Uniformed Services allow you to choose your military job or MOS (Military Occupational Specialty). So, pick a good one. They will pay you while they train you to learn whatever skill you want. Practically anything you can do in the civilian world, you can do in the military. Public affairs, photographer, computer information systems, cyber security, nuclear propulsion, air plane pilot, EMT, nurse, physical therapist, physicians assistant, paralegal, construction worker, truck driver, electrician, electronics, communications, financial manager, education counselor, secretary, intelligence specialist, police officer, investigative specialist, and the list goes on. Most importantly choose a skill you will enjoy. This will become your backup career when/if you finally have enough of teaching. Just knowing you can quit at any time and get a job anytime you want (because you are trained) takes away a lot of stress associated with teaching. Also, you get college credits for all of your military education.

  3. Strength: I say this with all honesty. If you go through military basic training, you will feel a sense of confidence and strength you may have never felt before. Military training teaches you that you can do more than you ever thought possible. You will be mentally and physically tougher and better able to handle daily stressors associated with teaching. The training really does change you...for the better.

  4. A Backup Plan: Regardless of whether or not you end up loving military service, you will always have the training and experience you received. So, if you chose intelligence analyst as your military occupational specialty, then if you decide to quit teaching, you already meet the requirements to apply for this position with a civilian company or even the state or Federal government. You are no longer "stuck" in teaching.

  5. Promotion: Now here is something you really rarely get as an educator unless you are a bad teacher (or is that just how it seems?) Just keeping it real. We all know teachers that have moved from the classroom to curriculum specialist or administrator because of who they knew or how badly they taught. News Flash! As a rule, that does not happen in the military. You must earn your promotions by meeting standardized criteria. So, if you do a good job, you get promoted regardless of who you are. Of course, in the military promotions come with pay raises as well as increased responsibility.

  6. Recognition: Called at-a-boys in the military and teacher of the year in the educational field these citations are awarded for a job well done. However, in the military, medals and citations are not handed out based on popularity or favoritism. The military recognizes members for good conduct, good leadership, heroics, time of service, location of service... It is a good feeling and it builds confidence. You just don't get that in teaching. Too often, you only get attention when there is something wrong.

  7. Free Education: While serving military members have endless opportunities to attend extra skills training for free. From Master Fitness Instructor courses, to EMT courses, to Airborne training...just about whatever you want is available. Take advantage of it.

  8. Travel: Most soldiers take this benefit for granted because they are too young to realize how valuable it is. Most are away from home as 18 year olds for the firs time. You can volunteer to do temporary duty assignments just about anywhere in the world. Or, use space available travel for vacations.

  9. 20 Year Retirement: If you enjoy the military, stay in or go full time. Do 20 years and walk away with 50 % of your part time salary. Or, go active duty and get 50% of a full salary. You an always return to teaching later, get vested and get a second retirement.

  10. 100% Financing on a Home: Veterans get VA loans for homes. No money down. This is how I bought my home. It is so much easier than waiting while you save up 20 or 40 thousand dollars.

If all of this sounds pretty good that is because it can be. But, if you choose the wrong job or the wrong branch of service, you will not enjoy yourself. Here are a few key point you should be aware of before talking to a recruiter.

  1. Army: The Army is the largest branch of the military. As such, it has more jobs and enlistment bonuses to hand out. You can choose exactly what job you want and what National Guard or Army Reserve Unit you want to drill at to fulfill your one weekend a month and two week summer training requirement. As a larger branch, there is plenty of room for promotion. Those are the positive points. There are a few negatives. It is the Army. If you choose to serve in a combat job (infantry,ranger...) or in a combat support role, you may end up deployed to a war zone at some point in your service. That adds an element of danger some are not comfortable with. But, it also provides opportunity for service, promotion, and pride.

  2. Navy: The Navy is pretty cool if you get the right job and do a good job. They have plenty of jobs based on cutting edge technology. Talk about great free training. They have the shortest basic training out of all the branches of service and promotions are slightly more automatic than other branches. Be aware that you may need to spend time on a ship at some point depending on the job you choose. You still only serve one weekend each month and two weeks during the summer near home, but it is possible you may be asked to do a ship-based tour of duty before your commitment is over. Again, it depends on the job you choose.

  3. Marines: The Marines is a small branch of service. But, they are mighty. There are a variety of jobs to choose from. Like in the Army and Navy, you can choose your career field and T which reserve base you will complete your part time service. Keep in mind that the Marines have no medical jobs. The Navy provides transportation and medical services for the Marines. Like the Army, the Marines are combat focused, so if you choose this branch, you may end up in combat or in a combat support role.

  4. The Air Force: The Air Force mission is to fly, fight and win in air, space and cyberspace. You can be a pilot, air crewman, space operations specialist, medic, nurse, doctor, computer specialist... The Air Force is the most difficult branch of the military to qualify for. But, once in, it has the highest quality of living. Even the lowest enlisted airman has a dorm style room on base. Dining halls, living quarters, base recreation areas, and work-life balance are outstanding in the Air Force. There is only one catch, you will get a job based on your ASVAB scores and a list you provide. So, you may not get your first choice in jobs. If you are not the foxhole or carrier ship type and prefer to be surrounded by a few more luxuries, this is the branch for you.

  5. Coast Guard: Yes, the Coast Guard is a branch of the military. However, as a member of the Coast Guard you work to secure or provide search and rescue services near United States boarders. Unlike the first four branches mentioned, the coast guard usually has arrest powers. Coast guard vessels do not go over seas for combat missions. Think of them as police on the water.

  6. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: Yes, they are a uniformed service of the United States. Like the Coast Guard, they do not have a combat role or a national defense role at all. They do scientific and weather research related work.

I truly hope you are a happy teacher. There are many ways to make teaching easier and the military is not for everyone. Whatever strategies you choose, make sure you take time to take care of yourself. Reduce stress, eat well, get enough sleep, and exercise. Your life is important too.

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