Friday, June 22, 2007

Teaching and the Military

Joanne (see blogroll at left) provided the link, and I followed.

One of the panelists mentioned something about how quality teachers and principals are like all good leaders in that they set high goals and constantly assess their progress, and then they quickly said “like generals.” The conversation moved on, but I got stuck on that. What if we were to recruit and train teachers like the Army does for soldiers? Of course, teaching does not equal war, but there are lessons in recruitment and training. The Army gives large signing bonuses, especially for educational attainment and specific organizational needs. They train members in a relatively short period of time by building teamwork and getting recruits to buy into the mission and accept a common purpose. Members must demonstrate mastery before advancing in pay or rank, and when they finish their commitment, they are either given more bonuses to stay on, or take their occupational prestige with them to the private sector.
While not 100% accurate, it's not bad, either. It's probably as close as any civilian will ever get to accurate regarding the military.

Teachers marvel when I tell them the similitaries between teaching and the Garrison Army life I led in the late 80's. What does an army that's not at war do all day? It trains. It learns, it practices, it drills, until it can flawlessly do what it's supposed to do should it ever be called upon to do so.

When I was getting my teaching credential, several of my classmates had a very difficult time understanding a Madeline Hunter "objective statement". Those of us who were ex-military, and there were a few of us in class, just looked at each other with furrowed brows and said, "Isn't that just 'task, conditions, and standards'?" Why yes, it was. You see, in the army, every training event had a task to be accomplished, conditions under which it was to be accomplished, and standards to which it was to be accomplished. These were published in various manuals, and we followed them. That's how we were evaluated.

Anyway, those of us who had such experience had no difficulty writing such objective statements and creating lesson plans in accordance with them. We had already been trained to do so; the credentialing class was merely review for us.

I started teaching before I got my credential--I taught my first year on an emergency credential (I had a math degree and a pulse) and my next two years on an intern credential (going to credentialing classes at night and on weekends). I would not have survived my first year of teaching without my military background.

Teaching, like the army, is partly about getting people to do something they don't necessarily want to do. In the army, that something is putting themselves in physical peril, in education that something is schoolwork. Both fields require some form of leadership in order to get the unwilling to do the unpleasant.

I can hear you now: "But in the army, you just give them an order and they have to follow it." Riiiiiiiiight. And we don't have a Manual for Courts Martial, or a stockade/brig, or Fort Leavenworth, either, because everyone knows that anyone who wears a uniform is an unthinking robot that just follows orders blindly. Again, riiiiight.

The secret is leadership. Teaching the art of leadership is a big deal in military schools at all levels. The people under you have to know that you have their best interests at heart. They have to believe that you won't act capriciously, and won't ask them to do anything unnecessarily burdening (in education, that means busywork). They have to trust you, and think you're competent. They have to know you care.

If you can accomplish those things, you can get people to charge a hill--or learn algebra. You see, both jobs place you firmly in the "people business". You don't have to be popular, but there's a difference between popularity and respect. Some earn both popularity and respect, and I admire them.

There are more similarities. Rules must be firmly and fairly applied. You cannot show favoritism. You must be honest, even when you make a mistake. The mission is paramount.

It's for reasons like these that I support the Troops To Teachers program.


Anonymous said...

This is the stupidest idea yet to come down the wingnut highway. Teachers are the opposite of soldiers: we encourage free thought and we do not kill people.

Darren said...

2 things.

1. I said there were similarities, not that they're actually the same. How the hell, though, could they be "opposite"?

2. Your mind is so open that your brain fell out.

Anonymous said...

Teachers cannot encourage free thought without soldiers, sailors, Airmen and Marines there to threaten to inflict massive quantities of violence upon others who hate the idea of free thought. But then, that idea is surely lost on mealy-mouthed souls like anonymous.

Anonymous said...

I can see why anonymous wishes to remain anonymous. It would be embarrassing to his/her family if he/she were to reveal his/her identity.

This Troops To Teachers program is awesome, and is often utilized by credentialing agencies in many states.

BTW - Terrorists KILL people,not the military. The military defends our country from people who KILL people.

I suppose anonymous feels we should NOT have a military.

As far as Free Thought goes, this is just another reason to be happy that NCLB is in effect, and we can teach basic academic standards. Free thought is NEVER Free - it costs our country goo gobs of collateral damage, i.e., drop-outs, illiteracy, and a high percentage of minority students & males who have simply been left behind.

Anonymous said...

Aren't there some significant dissimilarities, as well?

Never having served in the military, I can't speak from experience. However, based on what I have heard and read, I get the sense that the majority of U.S. military leaders are generally competent and qualified.

Can the same be said of the leaders in U.S. edu-circles?

Of course there are good, bad, and fair-to-middlin' people in every profession. But based on my own experience, there is a far larger proportion of people who exemplify the Peter Principle inside edu-circles than outside of them.

I know it is uncharitable to speak ill of those who are not here to defend themselves, but I had some real dims as professors when I took all of the mind-numbingly stupid credential courses I was required to complete for my secondary credential. Thomas Sowell's "Inside American Education" is, sadly, too true.

Anonymous said...

words of incredible wisdom from those who would sacrifice youth for oil company profits.

so tell me, great and wise war ennablers: how many times did you vote for the bush crime family?

Darren said...

I voted for the Bush family 4 times. I'm 3-1 with them, which isn't bad.

Now I'm done posting your trolling. Reasoned disagreement is one thing, being a troll (in every sense of the word) is another--and it's not welcome here. Either debate, rationally, or leave. This blog is like my house, and you are not welcome as a guest here if all you can do is spout invective.

Law and Order Teacher said...

It is becoming tiring hearing from lefties who continue to ride the dead horse of "blood for oil." Once again, here we go and please try to read slowly for maximum understanding. In both wars in Iraq the evil US returned the oil wells to the Iraqi people to profit from. In 1991 the US spent considerable amounts to put out the fires that Saddam's troops started. If the US wanted to take over the oil wells we could have easily done so and we wouldn't be paying $3 a gallon, we would be paying less that a dollar as they are. Please come up with another canard this one is boring.

Anonymous said...

Oh dear. "Teachers are the opposite of soldiers: we encourage free thought and we do not kill people." "...words of incredible wisdom from those who would sacrifice youth for oil company profits."

This is almost so easy it's not worth responding, but what the heck; I'll shoot some fish in a barrel.
In American democracy, our soldiers are citizens who choose (since Vietnam--no draft, remember?) to risk their lives to ensure that freedom survives. Without the soldier, teachers could not possibly "encourage free thought." Every totalitarian regime in history has killed every intellectual--and to them that means teachers--first, fast and completely so that they could impose their own orthodoxy without free thought. Our Islamist foes are doing exactly this today. It is a great credit to our system and our citizen-soldiers that when their job is done, they return to America to kill no more, but to contribute in a different way.

And blood for oil? If America's motivation had anything to do with seizing oil, or even lowering gas prices, we've done rather a bad job of it. To suggest otherwise indicates a tenuous grasp on objective reality at best.

Our nation was made the most powerful nation in history, and the most powerful force for good in history in large part because after WWII, hundreds of thousands of soldiers came home and took up jobs as teachers. The maturity, gravity, wisdom, confidence, discipline, experience, responsibility, honor, and above all else, their intimate knowledge of the value of liberty and of how close the world came to losing it if not for their sacrifice, transformed America. They were people in and barely out of their teens who literally saved the world, and our soldiers are doing nothing less today. And we don't want them teaching?!

Sadly, few veterans teach today, and we are the poorer for it. In my medium sized Texas high school, only about eight of the faculty are veterans, a group of which I am proud to be a member. I do not suggest that one need be a veteran to be an effective teacher, but the qualities inculcated in every honorably discharged veteran are precisely the qualities we want in any teacher, and qualities worthy of respect, not denigration through mindless, blatantly false anti-military bumper sticker slogans and misinformed ideas of social justice.

Law and Order Teacher said...

I, too, number among those military veterans who teach. My experience in the military and Vietnam taught me one very important truth, freedom isn't free. Trite or otherwise it is unchallengeably true. I teach my students that whatever you think of wars, current or past, sometimes it is necessary to fight. I don't glorify war because it isn't glorious. It's nasty and horrible. Nevertheless it is sometimes necessary. Students should be encouraged to explore alternatives to war, just as they should be encouraged to study why wars have and do occur.

Ellen K said...

Hey Darren, I have a reading recommendation that gives some historical, although somewhat liberal, background on the region of Pakistan and Afghanistan. It's called "Three Cups of Tea". On the one hand, I love it because it deals with bringing education to a population that before that time had none, or had their best and brightest hand picked for radical madrassas. On the other hand, it is written as a political point of view, but I like it because it gives some of the history of the region BEFORE the Taliban, BEFORE Al Quada and BEFORE the Saudis sent their Wahbist ideology and suitcases of cash to the region with the idea of restarting the Ottoman Empire. It's well worth the read just for the history. As for the school military similarities, I can see that to a degree, but frankly some of the exmilitary that we have had as teachers aren't really making it through the system. I don't know whether it is a reluctance to conform due to their years of having to conform, or if it an unwillingness to work within an already existing structure rather than adhering to a military type program. I can see that having discipline would benefit everyone from administration on down, but when you want to apply your own rules and ignore existing ones, it causes dissension in the, I don't know why someone with a math or science background would want to be in a public school classroom when they can get better pay and benefits in the private sector.

Phyllis S said...

Ah, leadership. Wish my district could stumble across some of that. As for me, I think the Troops for Teachers is a great thing & frankly, we need many more alternative paths to teaching certification/credentialing.

Anonymous said...

It is truly amazing what some people believe. Troops to Teachers don't magically show up in a classroom directly from the rice patty or desert. They follow the same pathway hundreds of thousands of teachers have before them. Through universities, colleges, alternative pathways that never differ or offers special consideration. What they bring is a lifetime, career, or tour of soft skills rarely found in their more traditionally trained teachers. Integrity, loyalty, promptness, reliability, honesty, and even subject matter competance. They show up 365/24/7 not because they have too but because they want to. It is no wonder that studies have shown that administrators prefer career changers, Veterans, and more mature teaching candidates 9 to 1. If you ever question this...just as a student of a Veteran or google Old Dominion.

Anonymous said...

I suppose I'm just a hopeless patriot, but I am honored to teach alongside veterans - whether they saw action or not.

We have at least two at my middle school site, one rather liberal Viet Nam vet (who was drafted and fought in a pivotal battle over there), he's a great teacher with a great passion for the students.

Another, a female who served in the Navy for two decades, is a woman of color teaching math. Both came to teaching as an afterthought, but it is certainly our GAIN.

They enrich our faculty with their prescence and are role models for tweeners who can learn much from their experiences and their decisions to lend their service to our country, whether voluntarily or through the old draft.

These two happen to be team partners as teachers of 7th grade science/math, respectively.


Anonymous said...

Wow. I think the key you hit on is Leadership. Too many university programs fail to preach the importance of leadership in education. For that matter, too much of society fails to hold a high regard for leadership.

I am convinced that the key to a successful classroom is having strong leadership. After my dad retired, he took education classes and is now a teacher. Something he mentioned to me while he was tasking those classes is this:

"Every group of people will have a leader. In a classroom, we have the choice of being the leader, or allowing a teenager to be in control."

I know for sure which one I choose.

I worked with an army veteran this year and know firsthand how easy it was to work with him. He had a half a year of experience before working with me and the amount of professional growth that I saw in him throughout the school year was amazing.

NYC Educator said...

Hi Darren,

I apologize for misrepresenting your POV on the Carnival, but if you go back you'll find I've corrected it.

Darren said...

Thank you, but there's no need for an apology. Having hosted a Carnival once myself, I know how much work is involved and how you don't have time to read each post in as much detail as you otherwise would.

I do, however, greatly appreciate the correction.

Anonymous said...

Military men in schools! Interesting.

I think you will find it interesting to note that in most schools in India, wives of army officers often work at schools. Most of them till their husbands become colonels after which they take up station duties.

As for army officers, several choose to join administration duties at school (i.e. non academic supervision e.g. estate management/finance) etc, unless of course they'd been in the army education corps.

Unfortunately salaries of army men is quite low. Several, even if they'd like to teach (where it is even lower) go elsewhere to earn money when the kids at in college/nest has emptied.

Given the shortage of teacers in general- I feel any profession, and definitely the army, sending its force to teaching would be useful.


Mich said...

I may be a little idealistic here, but another similarity occurred to me as I was reading your post: military folks have already internalized the ideals of service and sacrifice, both of which seem to me to be necessary in teaching.

Anonymous said...

This is one of the best posts I have read regarding the similarities between the military and education.

Having served for 21 years, education is a natural transition. I'm not a teacher yet, but "task, condition, standard" was one of the first things I thought of when discussing lesson plans and such. I can't count how many I prepared while in professional education (NCOES) schools.

Additionally, I taught German at DLI and the same things were present there that are present in any civilian school in the nation.

As soldiers grow and mature, they are forced to get up and train other soldiers in various areas. A sergeant is a trainer. That's the nature of their mission. If you can't train, you shouldn't be a sergeant.

I say that to say this: Every trainer in the military had to have a "lesson plan" prepared and it included all the elements necessary in a school lesson plan, just titled differently.

Leadership is so important. Try getting anywhere from 12 to 120 and more men and women to accomplish something without forcing and threatening them to do it. Get them to do it because they WANT to, not because they HAVE to. That's the challenge.

I fully support Troops to Teachers and encourage every soldier I know to go into teaching after they get out.

Hugh O'Donnell said...

Darren, that was a great post. When I first learned ITIP (Hunter), I thought, "This is how the army does it!" And I thought the army had exposed me to the most effective instruction I'd ever had, whether for filing papers,combat training, or learning to train other troops.

Before I became a teacher, I was a reservist with the 104th Div (Tng) Timberwolves here in the wild west. My job at summer camp during the Viet Nam build up in the 60s was to put newbie reservists through nine weeks of basic in two weeks. (It was a tough two weeks, but we got 'er done.)

Too bad some readers missed your point in that you are talking about instructional strategies and leadership, not politics.