Derek Koon didn’t finish high school, choosing to pursue a 22-year career in the U.S. Army instead.
After leaving the military in 2004, Koon, 56, worked in a hospital for eight years before going to the Community College of Philadelphia in 2012, where he learned about Troops to Teachers, a national program that helps veterans become certified to teach in schools.
Koon was the only applicant in the program at Temple, which began last semester, and is now teaching 5th and 6th grade at Overbrook Educational Center four days a week.
“I always loved to teach. My wife is a teacher,” Koon said.
Temple is preparing to train more veterans to be teachers and earn their masters in education as the initiative moves into its second semester.
Those accepted to the program are placed within the Philadelphia School District where they work under a mentor before teaching their own classes, said Amy Scallon, the director of Troops to Teachers at Temple.
Enrollees must have taken two language arts, social studies and math classes and 16 credits in a specialty area as undergraduates to be able to teach at a middle school, said Tim Fukawa-Connelly, an associate professor of teaching and learning who teaches classes within the program.
The hope is that enrollees can finish the certification program in just one year, Fukawa-Connelly added.
The Department of Defense funds the program at Temple through a five-year grant that the university shares with Slippery Rock University, Scallon said.
For the 2020-2021 school year, five people have already applied for the program, though the goal is to get at least eight, she added.
The program aims to provide math and science teachers to local schools, Scallon said. Participants are required to stay within the Philadelphia School District for three years.
Enrollees in the program receive a salary of $38,000 plus $12,900 in tutoring awards per year, she added.
“It’s a really supportive model,” she said.
Troops to Teachers was launched by the Department of Defense in 1993 to help veterans begin new careers as K-12 school teachers, according to the program’s website.
Koon said that his experience in the military may have given him more teaching insights than taking classes themselves.
“You have to teach young troops all kinds of stuff,” he said. “I know how to talk to an audience and get their attention, it was very effective in the school I was in because the climate was out of control.”
Troops to Teachers aims to reduce veteran unemployment, increase the number of male and minority teachers and improve American education as a whole, according to its website.
“I do think that the biggest factor is the idea that these are people who are drawn to service,” Scallion said.
Fukawa-Connelly is excited about the possibilities the program could bring, he said.
“Say you’re a world languages teacher who comes out to teach Chinese because you’ve been stationed in Taiwan,” he said. “Just to talk about the importance of tone and culture, that’s super cool. It’s about thinking carefully about how vets can bring their experiences to the classroom.”