As a swarm of students darted through the narrow hallways of Sunnyside High School in Sunnyside, Wash., math teacher and 20-year Navy veteran, Spencer Martin, kept watch from a classroom doorway.
Amongst the shouts of hellos from students, came the voice of a senior that hadn't uttered a word to Martin since telling him, "I hate you," during her freshmen year.
Now, days before graduation, the student handed Martin her senior picture with the following message scrawled on the back, "Thank you for all the times you pushed me to do my work. I feel as if you're the reason I'm leaving this school and beginning my future."
That message was the first time the veteran teacher and Troops to Teachers alum realized the impact an educator can have on the lives' of their students.
"(It was then) I think I really saw the significance of my impact - teachers are the front-line troops," Martin said. "We spend a considerable amount of time with students and help shape their futures, not only with teaching but also with the examples that we set by the way we conduct ourselves. In some instances, we are the only support group that our students have."
Martin had never planned on becoming a teacher until he was approached by a university representative two years before his planned military retirement. It was then that the former service member heard about the Troops to Teacher program.
"(The university representative) and the Navy College Office helped me with my decision," he said. "I had been teaching Sailors for a while and I enjoyed (it), so I figured I would give it a shot."
With financial assistance from Troops to Teachers, Martin earned his certification, and designed Sunnyside's career and technical education curriculum, which also helped earn him the 2015 Educational Service District Regional Teacher of the Year award.
Martin said that he would definitely recommend the Troops to Teacher program to separating service members and added one of the many reasons why veterans make good teachers is because they're mission oriented.
"We are not afraid to put in the hours necessary for our students' success, (and) we can also show the application of our classes to real-world situations," he said.
Veterans who are interested in pursuing a career in teaching can receive up to a $10,000 bonus for teaching for three or more years in an underserved or eligible school. In addition to the monetary bonus available, the program can assist veterans with choosing a teacher preparation program, job search, as well as provide veterans support through their first three years teaching.
Washington state Troops to Teacher coordinator and retired Navy Rear Adm. Doug Asbjornsen said he is convinced that some of the best teachers are veterans.
"So much of teaching is engaging with people through life stories and experiences - veterans have that," Asbjornsen said. "They're disciplined, mission centered and pretty serious about doing a good job. I have 21 years of school administration experience and I've just had huge success in hiring veterans."
By Lauren Finnegan, Washington Troops to Teachers
Photo: Student Margarita Romero, right, explains her robotic system to Sunnyside High School STEM teacher, Spencer Martin, left, Sept. 11.