Teaching Assistance in TTT’s Big Sky Country
3/27/2018 12:00:00 AM

Helping TTT Participants in Big Sky Country

In 2017, ten states received grants to support the Troops to Teachers program with helping military members transition successfully and find employment in the classroom as teachers. Montana is one of three states to form a consortium to expand outreach and services to additional states. Its' consortium includes seven other states: Idaho, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. While the Montana State University has a long history of providing assistance to those veterans who want to become teachers, this new grant expands the formally known Lewis and Clark Region, to include the state of Washington. This increases the program’s outreach opportunity to include an additional 600,000 military and veterans.

According to Byron McKinney, participant services coordinator, Montana TTT, "We are currently serving almost 1900 veterans, to include currently serving active duty, Reserve and Guard members. During this grant year, 63 participants have gained teaching positions with 37 teachers (59%) being placed in positions of high needs (schools and/or subjects)." McKinney says the two critically important services the office provides are counseling/advising and job placement assistance. When asked what the hardest part about the transition process from the military to the classroom is, McKinney says, "The hardest part is understanding that teaching is a professional occupation. There are licensing requirements that have to be completed to meet state statutes for certification. Regardless how much education one has, there are certain hurdles that have to be overcome to meet these certification requirements.  Many participants do not expect or realize the number of hurdles they must go through." 

The Montana office and offices throughout the consortium strive to provide TTT participants with a clear understanding of what they need to do in order to gain a teaching license.  The Montana office also works with the other states to mediate some of these hurdles, so the process is not too cumbersome and so their TTT participants can begin teaching as soon as possible. Le Gaub, Montana’s TTT grant program manager, says that veterans can help themselves make the transition process to the classroom easier by planning ahead, "The time to think about their next career is not as they are transitioning out of the service, but rather 2-3 years prior to leaving.  They need to figure out what they want to teach and to what grade levels." Once a member or veteran figures this out, they should contact a TTT representative in their state and set up an action plan, so they can begin teaching shortly after leaving the service. Planning ahead can really make a participant's transition time shorter and the process smoother. 

Biggest Challenges

The biggest challenge for the Montana grant office when helping veterans pursue employment as teachers is the fact that many veterans are "place bound" when they leave the service.  They know where they are going and they are limited to openings in that area.  As a result, they may have to wait for an opening that is within a reasonable commuting distance in order to apply.  Gaub says that many locations within our states are rural and thus there are not as many openings as one may find in more urban or densely populated areas.

Knowing the challenges one may face, a veteran can prepare for transition by doing these three things:

1. Prepare early.  Know what you want to teach and find out what it's going to take to get there.

2. Talk to teachers, ask questions and determine if teaching is what you really want to do.  Visit multiple classrooms of different grades and ages. Find out if teaching a different age group than originally thought may be something for you.  Don't close your mind to other possibilities.

3. Volunteer in the school system, especially if they are already in the community where they want to teach.  This allows the veteran to network and become a known quantity. Networking can be extremely valuable.

Success Story

Meredith Dod, Montana’s TTT grant program coordinator, says that Matt Bakken is one of their participant success stories. Bakken is a Bozeman, Montana high school graduate, a Marine Corps veteran from 2001-2005, and a Technology Education graduate of Montana State University. Dod says, “Upon graduation, Bakken was hired at Big Sky School District #72 to teach Tech Ed for a small, K-12 school with about 350 students. Normally the Tech Ed teacher is responsible for teaching students anything from the old vocational wood shop and welding to computer design (CAD). However, Matt was hired with much more in mind.” Bakken was also asked to completely rewrite the technology plan for the entire K-12 curriculum and create the high school's technology vision for the future.  He formed a committee and through his work with Friends of Big Sky Education (FOBSE), an organization dedicated "to enhance and support the education of Big Sky students and the community", they worked on everything from fund raising to grant writing.  Together they were awarded a 3-year grant through the Yellowstone Club Community Foundation (YCCF) to purchase computers, wireless laptops and tablet PCs for his students. Smartboards and other digital instruction aides were also provided for the teachers, so that students could literally learn "anytime, anywhere". 

Bakken also incorporated such courses as 2D and 3D modeling, web design, robotics and film to school curriculum, and he is the football coach and Athletic Director as well. In his classes, Bakken has taught his students how to write, film, and produce their own newscasts. He teaches Intro to Tech Ed at the middle school level and is also the school's yearbook advisor.  Because he teaches courses where he does a lot of creative work and has one-on-one sessions with students, he has the chance to meet his students on a more personal level.  "Previous students always stop in during holidays or vacations to see me and to see what we are doing", Bakken says.  He also feels that it is "deeply rewarding to watch my students transition through our time together (in the classroom)". As Bakken begins his 5th year of teaching, he smiles as he explains his next phase of planning and community engagement.  He is once again working with local architects and construction firms to design a comprehensive shop, so the school can offer traditional tech-ed courses, as well as have more room for 3D printing capabilities and computer design.This will enable District #72 to satisfy requirements of the school standards for design technology, and it will also broaden the courses taught within the K-12 public school system in Big Sky, Montana, so that students can graduate with the skills necessary to move into the community and beyond.

More Information about Grants

For more information about TTT services provided by the Montana grant office, call: 406-994-4173, or email: Byron McKinney, participant services coordinator at byron.mckinney1@montana.edu 

Other states that received a grant and provide assistance to service members and veterans include:

•             Michigan

•             Missouri

•             New York

•             North Carolina

•             Ohio

•             Oklahoma

•             Pennsylvania

•             Texas

•             Virginia

As mentioned, three of these states formed a consortium to expand outreach and services to an additional ten states:

•             Missouri is working with Kansas and Iowa

•             Oklahoma is working with Colorado

•             Montana is working with Idaho, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming

You can find all state TTT office’s contact information by clicking on the state map on the TTT website, http://www.proudtoserveagain.com/.

Written by: Erin Roberts, DANTES Public Affairs ~ She is a retired Air Force Master Sergeant (E-7) who served 21 years as a broadcast journalist, technical training instructor and public affairs specialist. She continues to travel when opportunity allows and still enjoys talking to people and taking video and photos.

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