by Susan Gvozdas -

Anne Arundel County has become one of six counties and cities nationwide that have agreed to hire former military personnel as teachers two years before their military service ends.

The decision, announced this month, makes the county the second jurisdiction in Maryland, after Prince George’s County, to agree to such advance hiring.

Program officials say it could attract more military personnel to teach in Maryland, Anne Arundel in particular, because it gives them an opportunity to tailor their course work to the certification needs of a school district. It also gives them a specific goal to work toward.

“It gives them a light at the end of the tunnel,” said Robert Henry, the Maryland coordinator for Troops to Teachers.

Maryland has been part of the federal Troops to Teachers program for seven years, attracting 120 former military personnel into teaching jobs. Since Prince George’s reached its agreement last year, Henry said, the Troops to Teachers program has referred about 30 soldiers.

Began in 1994

The program, which began in 1994, has placed 11,000 former troops in teaching positions nationwide. It promises career counseling and provides a database of job vacancies for soldiers who are retiring or separating from the service after at least six years, along with their spouses. It is funded by the U.S. Department of Education and administered by the Department of Defense.

Florie Bozella, the county school system’s human resources director, was not aware of any teachers hired directly from the Troops to Teachers program. But Henry said soldiers don’t always share that information with the districts hiring them. He was on vacation and couldn’t say how many have been hired in Anne Arundel.

Expanding the program to hire soldiers earlier is one more way that the school system can fill its teaching ranks, county schools officials said. Each year, Maryland has about 7,000 vacancies and 2,100 graduates from state teaching programs. Anne Arundel hired about 700 teachers for the 2007-2008 school year and expects this year’s numbers to be about the same.

“I just thought, ‘Where could we look where we haven’t looked before?'” Bozzella said.

Higher profile
This agreement with Troops to Teachers elevates the profile of Anne Arundel County, said Bob Mosier, a spokesman for the county school system. By paying $5,000, the county gets a one-page advertisement in Corporate Gray, the military retirement handbook produced and distributed annually to retiring military personnel. The county also gets to post its vacancies on the national Troops to Teachers Web site.

The county is home to the Naval Academy, Fort Meade and the National Security Agency, which should help it recruit military personnel who are leaving or have left the military, Bozzella said.

As of June 6, the county employed 152 teachers with some type of military experience, Bozzella said. It is unclear how many of them were hired directly as a result of the Troops to Teachers program.

David Eheman, for example, did not come through Troops to Teachers. He retired from the Navy in 1990 as a commander, while he was associate chairman of the math department at the Naval Academy. After working for the federal government, he became a teacher at Old Mill Middle School South in Millersville in 2003.

Despite his master’s degree in operations research, he needed to take six courses to get his education teaching certificate.

Eheman, 63, said military personnel have a lot to offer students hungry for information about how their studies apply to real-world jobs. The skills transfer nicely, he said.

“As an officer, you’re almost always teaching someone,” Eheman said.

The stereotype that former soldiers will run a classroom like a military operation is inaccurate, Eheman said. He does, however, believe that children behave differently with male teachers.

“I dont get a lot of the sass and talk-back from the students,” said Eheman who teaches pre-algebra and algebra to seventh-graders.

Male teachers are sought after, and the Troops to Teachers program helps fill that need. Eighty-two percent of the teachers in the program are male, according to a 2005 survey by the National Center for Education Information. Men made up 18 percent of all kindergarten-through-12th-grade teachers that year.

The Troops to Teachers program also meets another diversity need: 37 percent of its teachers are people of color, compared with 15 percent overall.

Teachers from the program tend to fill the positions in highest demand – math, science and special education – according to the center.