by Wendy K. Kleinman -

The three years John Roberson spent as an Army drill sergeant were not enough to satisfy his itch to teach.

“I often thought, ‘Well, if I enjoy this, being an instructor, I might enjoy being a schoolteacher at some point in my life,’” the retired sergeant major said.

So after tours of duty in Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia, the California-born Roberson came to Oklahoma for a second career.

He entered the Troops to Teachers program in Boley in 1995, and is now a fifth-grade teacher at Crooked Oak Public Schools, where he’s worked since 2004.

Roberson said he returned to Oklahoma because of his experiences while stationed at Fort Sill in Lawton.

The Troops to Teachers program operates nationally and helps expedite the process for retired troops who want to transfer their leadership skills to a classroom.

Assistant state superintendent Ramona Paul said superintendents and principals like the participants because they are disciplined and responsible.
“That’s not to discredit regular teachers, but they are exceptionally goal-oriented,” she said.

How students benefit
The program helps attract minority and male teachers, state program director Shelby Satterfield said.

About 280 Troops to Teachers have taught in Oklahoma since the program began in 1994, Satterfield said. The Crooked Oak School District has four of them.

Retired Air Force Master Sgt. Linda Jackson, a second-grade teacher in the small Oklahoma City district, said her military experience gives her an edge in the classroom. For one, the boys pay more attention.

“They have a lot more respect for you because you had a position that they think is an honorable position,” she said.

Her experiences help her relate to students whose parents speak little or no English.

Jackson said when she was stationed in Italy, she relied on her daughter to help her translate because children pick up a new language faster — much the way some children here translate for their parents.

Students benefit in other ways, too. Retired Marine Maj. Joe Rhoten, a social studies teacher and coach, is able to make lessons more tangible because he has been to some of the places he teaches his geography students.

Spouses also participate
Spouses to Teachers began in Oklahoma in late February.

The program will pay up to $600 for certification costs for military spouses, whose spouses can still be on active duty, Satterfield said.