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From soldier to teacher

POSTED: June 23, 2007 5:06 a.m.
How does a person transition from a life of regimented detail to one of flexible chaos?  How does one stop living an ingrained way of life for 27 years and completely become the “anti-you”?
In reality, I already was a teacher ... in a soldier’s uniform.
Today’s military contains thousands of teachers, because a good leader is a teacher. Halfway through my military career I realized that teaching is what I would do. Getting the appropriate credentials, education, and student-teaching, between family responsibilities and military deployments, was the hard part. Planning and timing were important.
My plan was to begin the various leave programs associated with retiring from the military, in September, to coincide with senior block and student-teaching. My regular military pay would sustain our large family until January, when I would officially retire. Then it would be belt-tightening until May’s graduation. I could find summer-school positions to sustain us until August.
It was a good plan, except it was September 2001. In an instant, the world changed.  I was “stop-lossed,” which meant my January 2002 retirement was disallowed. With creative planning and effort, I was able to continue student teaching and still meet my military obligations. This required 14-hour days, seven days a week, for six months. I retired on April 1, 2002. I graduated in May 2002, magna cum-laude, and winning Valdosta State University’s “Annie Poe Hopper Award” as the top graduate. Even more exciting was that I graduated with one of my sons, who is also a teacher.
My first few weeks as a teacher were challenging. In the military, I could move entire units of soldiers and their equipment, miles in minutes, with precise lethality. As a fledgling teacher, I couldn’t get 26 middle-school students to the lunchroom in an orderly fashion. Ironically, it was three core values I had internalized in the military that helped me become a successful teacher.
Integrity first. My integrity defined me. I learned all I could, from my peers and from my students. I was quick to admit my mistakes but quicker to correct them. “Leading by example” was my creed. I modeled the behavior I wanted my students to practice.  It wasn’t long before I had earned the respect of my peers. More importantly, I had earned the respect of my students and their parents.
Service before self. In this case, my students always come first. I make sure I’m at school well before they are, and I don’t leave until they’re long gone. In class, we actively learn, with hands-on activities, yet maintaining respect in the classroom. I’m quick to award positive behavior, publicly, but correction is always done privately and with respect.
Excellence in all you do.  I teach with all of my heart or I wouldn’t teach at all. Everything I have I share with my colleagues, and we’re always quick to support each other in whatever needs to be done. After assessing a unit, I always analyze and remediate as necessary. My job is to teach, and if my students didn’t get it right, we’ll remediate until we do.
These three core values are how I carry myself daily.  Learned and internalized in the military, they’ve been my guiding standard as a teacher. Being selected “Teacher of the Year” by my peers; being selected as the system “Teacher of the Year;” and finally as a state finalist, in only my fifth year of teaching, is credited, in part, to a foundation laid by the military. But more importantly, credit goes to an outstanding cadre of educators that have shown me a dedication to what they do.
Finally, and most important, are those yearning young minds. They are why we, as teachers, are!  I learned in the military that leaders are always “on parade.”  And so it is that teachers are always on parade. Our students, watch, observe and learn by how we, as teachers, behave. With this in mind, I go back to what I’ve stated earlier: I teach with all my heart ... or I wouldn’t teach at all.

Haskin, a U.S. Air Force veteran who teaches at Hahira Middle School in Lowndes County, wrote this for the Georgia Public Policy Foundation. The Foundation is an independent think tank that proposes practical, market-oriented approaches to public policy to improve the lives of Georgians.
 

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