The Military Service Member and Veteran’s Guide to Teacher Certification and Education Degrees

teacher in classroom

The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement.

A surprising number of veterans go on to become teachers. Maybe it’s just part of the same drive for public service that leads certain people to join the military in the first place. Maybe it’s the culture of training that exists in every service, a drive to instill knowledge and capability. Maybe it’s the sense of responsibility that comes with defending your country.

Or maybe it’s a desire to build, after seeing the destruction and human costs of combat.

That was the view of Private First Class Ed Tipper, one of the members of E Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, the unit immortalized in the book and miniseries “Band of Brothers.”

“Is it accidental that so many ex-paratroopers from E company became teachers? Perhaps for some men a period of violence and destruction at one time attracts them to look for something creative as a balance in another part of life.”

Whatever the reason, it’s a trend that continues even today. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2019 more than 107,000 military veterans were working as schoolteachers.

The military doesn’t really have any specific jobs that prepare you for teaching. But on the other hand, as you’ll see, almost any position in any branch of the service gives you a solid footing to go on to a civilian career in education. And your active duty and veteran’s benefits can cover the cost of the degree you need to get there.

Explore Your Military Training and Degree Options

The Transition to Teaching Comes Natural for Former Service Members

eager classroom of learners raised handsMany military roles include teaching as a basic part of the job. Once you get promoted past about the rank of E4, you can count on spending many hours of your day training subordinates. It’s a basic part of military culture: to deal with the inevitability of casualties, cross-training exists for every position. Every member of a unit has to be able to fill in for any other position, on a moment’s notice.

Because the military is all about organization, much of this instruction is formalized, just like it is in any school in the country. You’ll learn from and use textbooks, handouts, whiteboards, and every other tool of the teaching trade. There are flash cards, apps, and study guides. You’ll take and give tests, go through or conduct oral examinations, and demonstrate and evaluate knowledge through practical examination.

Every service has dedicated instructors teaching in schools and training camps; some, like the Marines, have a dedicated Military Occupational Specialty for these jobs.

And there is always something new to learn or to teach.

All this constant training is bound to bring out your inner teacher. And if you love it, you will already be off to a great start for a teaching career in the civilian world.

Submariner Qualification Requirements Turn the Entire Crew into Teachers

us navy submarineSubmariners are a breed apart in the military.

Completely isolated from the civilian world or even other ships for months on end, the silent service has developed a unique culture within the Navy. And that culture has been built around education.

Although every ship’s company, fireteam, or aircraft crew in the military depend on one another during operations, a nuclear sub is one place where there is absolutely no room for error. That’s often literal: quarters are so cramped you just can’t have anyone who doesn’t know exactly what they are doing.

So, the first thing every new crew member, from officers on down to the lowliest E1, is required to do on a sub is qualifying the boat.

Quals, as they are commonly known, can take a year. The process involves learning every system in every nook and cranny of the boat. After studying the system, the new crew person is quizzed by an experienced crew member, who will sign off on their knowledge if it’s up to grade.

That makes every member of the crew a potential teacher at some point. And the high percentage of new assignments who earn their dolphins is proof that the system works. And it gives every person on the ship a taste of what it takes to teach.

Teaching Is One of the Most Respected Professions in the Civilian World

happy teaching smiling in classroomGrade school teaching is regularly ranked in public polling data as one of the most respected professions in the United States. As of 2020, according to Gallup, only doctors and nurses rate higher.

To be sure, it’s a position that requires trust. You are guiding the future of the country with every lesson. Since you have already demonstrated that you are the sort of person who is willing to put country first, that’s a good fit for any veteran.

It’s tough work, however, and often thankless. But maybe that, too, makes it a good fit for veterans!

Teachers work with both kids and adults at every level of education and in every subject. Because it is so important, it is a profession governed by strict state-level licensing requirements. It’s those licensing requirements that dictate the college education you will need to pursue to land a job in the field.

Teacher Salaries Offer a Solid Living in Any Part of the Country

Let’s get the salary stuff out of the way first. No, you’re not going to become rich as an educator in America. But you can be quite comfortable, and in many school districts you can count on excellent health and retirement benefits.

Don’t forget the incalculable benefit of having your summers (mostly) free as a teacher!

The Bureau of Labor Statistics puts a lot of effort into tracking teacher salaries. They break down the profession into different categories and collect salary data on local, state, and national levels for each.

Nationally, the median salary for teachers in these categories in 2021 came out as:

Of course, these numbers can vary a lot depending on where in the country you are working, and whether you are employed at a public or private school. They are also affected by difference incentive and bonus programs—in many districts around the country, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) teachers are eligible for additional pay, as are those who can bring fluency in a second language to the table.

A Bachelor’s Degree with a Teacher Certification Component is Required to Become a Teacher

teacher presenting to adult studentsTo get into any of those jobs at all, you will need at a bare minimum to earn a Bachelor of Education (B.Ed.) that includes a specialized, state-approved Initial Teacher Preparation (ITP) program, also commonly referred to as a teacher certification programs.

While a bachelor’s degree that includes the teacher certification component is the most common pathway to becoming a certified teacher, it’s also not uncommon to earn state teaching credentials through a post-bachelor’s certificate program or master’s-level teacher certification program, usually a Master of Education (M.Ed.).

In all cases, these programs include coursework that is specifically designed to comply with state teacher training laws.

Teacher certification programs are usually specific to grade ranges that align with how specific states structure their licensing laws. That means you will routinely find them dedicated to early childhood, elementary, middle, or secondary grades.

Every teacher certification program above the elementary level would also include a subject-specific track, which could include everything from mathematics, general science, biology, or chemistry, to English, music, or drama. You will also find subject-specific teacher certification programs designed for K-12 licensure in many states allowing teachers to teach subjects like art, dance, music or foreign languages at the kindergarten and elementary levels too.

These teacher certification programs, in turn, correspond to different kinds of endorsements available on your basic teaching license. The endorsements you earn will determine what subjects and grade ranges you are allowed to teach regularly.

On top of your college training, to become a licensed teacher you’ll have to pass background checks and official certification exams – typically the widely recognized national Praxis exams or state equivalents.

Depending on the state, primary levels of teaching may have more general qualifications. Just as an elementary school teacher is expected to have a broad knowledge of many introductory subjects, the teacher certification track may simply be in Elementary Education or Pre-K Education.

The Courses Found in Teacher Certification Programs Always Cover Pedagogy and Other General Teaching Curriculum

The exact curriculum of your degree program will depend in part on the type of endorsement you are seeking. A future science teacher will expect to load up on physics and biology coursework; social studies means a lot of history classes.

But the teacher training coursework will be similar no matter what your specialty.

Child and Adolescent Development

Connecting with kids means understanding where they are at. Teacher certification training includes development, behavioral, and psychological instruction in understanding how children grow and how they learn at different developmental stages.

Multicultural Education

Teaching in America is teaching to diversity. The military is one of the most diverse institutions in American culture, drawing on individuals of all colors and creeds, so you already have a leg up when it comes to this coursework in tolerance and recognizing different cultural perspectives on education.

Teaching Technologies

Particularly in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s hard to emphasize enough how closely teaching is tied to high technology. You’ll be trained on everything from digital whiteboard systems to Zoom and other remote teaching technologies.

Assessment and Testing

Future teachers also learn about the techniques, advantages, and limitations of testing in assessing student performance. With standardized tests a common part of military life, you probably already have some opinions about it. In these courses, you’ll study the science and research.

Classroom Management

You might think after handling a platoon in the field that you’ll have no trouble with a classroom full of sixth-graders. But your plans are unlikely to survive first contact. So, you’ll want to stay awake for these courses in how to maintain order and foster a learning environment in class.

As useful as all that coursework is, the real proving grounds of teacher certification programs comes through student teaching. Good programs get you in the classroom early. First, you’ll observe, watching veteran teachers do their thing. Then, you will get the opportunity, under careful supervision, to teach certain lessons and modules yourself. And finally, you’ll take the reins and both teach a class and be evaluated on your performance in the real world.

It’s both exciting and intimidating but it’s a vital part of what makes American teachers the paragons of excellence they are today.

From Bachelor’s to Doctorates – Degrees for Teachers Are Available at Every Level

teaching smiling at classTeacher certification programs exist both together with Bachelor of Education and Master of Education degrees, or as stand-alone certificate programs if you have already earned a degree. In most cases, degrees will line up with the endorsement track you choose. For example, you may pursue a bachelor’s degree in education with a concentration in math education to earn a mathematics endorsement.

These also work the other way around; some schools offer a bachelor’s in mathematics with a concentration in education. In either case, you’ll need the program to be recognized by the state as a teacher certification program for licensure.

Teachers must hold at least a bachelor’s degree to get started, most often a Bachelor of Education. Many, if not most, though, will eventually go on to higher levels of education.

School systems naturally put a strong emphasis on educational attainment among the teachers they rely on.

This is driven both by a love of learning and by school district and state policies. Most states require a certain amount of continuing education hours to maintain licensure. And many district teaching contracts offer pay incentives for earning advanced degrees. The clear winner for teachers is putting the two of those together.

Most teachers will go on to earn at least a master’s degree during their career. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, as of 2018 around 60 percent of public school teachers held a post-graduate degree. These programs can take anywhere from two to five years to earn, with more time devoted to specialized subjects and research and analysis than bachelor’s programs.

Finally, some educators eventually earn doctoral degrees. These represent another three to eight years of study. But they also take you to the absolute peak of the profession. Anyone aiming for administration positions or to teach at the college level will probably want to earn a doctorate.

Because you are holding down a job while pursuing advanced studies in education, you are likely to be a part-time student. Online programs make it easier, with student teaching rotations taking place at schools in your area.

Like your bachelor’s degree, these advanced degrees can be either in education, or in your subject-matter area. It’s up to you what level of expertise you want to develop.

What is Alternative Teacher Certification?

Military experience can also be a rare gateway to an alternative teaching license without going through a standard teacher certification program. In states that may be struggling to find teachers in high needs subjects like math and ESL, alternative licensing pathways exist that recognize expertise in combination with strong moral and professional character. Your military background offers that in spades.

If you happen to already have college degree in any field and are capable of teaching a high-needs subject in a state that needs teachers, you may be fast-tracked into the classroom before completing a state-approved teacher preparation program.

Veterans Going into Teaching Can Access More than Just Traditional VA Education Benefits

teacher talking with studentsTroops bound for teaching jobs have a particular challenge in finding the right college to attend. Not only do you need to find a military-supportive school where you can make the most of your benefits and get the kind of additional assistance you need in transition to a civilian life, but you also need one that delivers a state-approved teacher certification program.

Not every college offers every teacher certification track, either. Even those that do may have different areas where they really shine, and some tracks where they are just phoning it in.

So, you have a tough job ahead of you in picking the right military-supportive school to turn your benefits and experience into a teaching position.

Teachers have a particular challenge when it comes to college: they have to keep going. The need to keep up and keep learning through your whole career will never stop.

This ongoing educational challenge will require that you make the most of your veteran educational benefits. And that can mean going way beyond just the standard GI Bill®.

Standard GI Bill® Benefits Cover the Cost of Your Bachelor of Education with Teacher Certification

The standard level of benefits for the Post-9/11 GI Bill® at full eligibility covers 36 months of college, or just enough for a full four-year degree.

But you can extend that to 48 months of total benefits by participating in the Montgomery GI Bill® program. This is an older version of the GI Bill® that doesn’t offer quite as much as the Post-9/11 program. You also have to pay in $1,200 or more before you are discharged in order to participate.

Although you are supposed to pick just one or the other, recent court rulings have required the VA to allow you to use another 12 months of benefits from whichever program you are still eligible for after exhausting the first.

And fortunately, if your discharge date falls after January 1, 2013, those benefits never expire. So, you can keep tapping into them as long as your eligibility remains.

Yellow Ribbon Program Support Lets You Get Your Education at a Private School

It’s not impossible to become a teacher in a state different from where you earn your degree, but it’s not nearly as easy. If you plan to work somewhere far from where you live, or are interested in a teacher certification program that is run through a private university, then the Yellow Ribbon program may be your best friend.

Yellow Ribbon is a partnership between the VA and individual schools. The school agrees to accept a certain number of vets to the program and to kick in a set amount of money to support their tuition costs that come in over and above the GI Bill® limits for out-of-state or private tuition. Then the VA matches that amount.

This gives you a shot at earning your endorsements from top-rated private schools or public universities closer to where you plan to teach, all with no additional costs.

Military-supportive Schools May Support You Throughout Your Teaching Career

group of students walking on campusThe continuing education requirements that come with being a teacher can often be filled by pursuing additional degrees throughout your working life.

At some point in your teaching career, it’s pretty likely your GI Bill® benefits will run dry. Or maybe you haven’t qualified for the full range of those benefits due to shortened service or other limitations.

In those cases, a military-supportive university is going to become even more important. You will want to check into any extra support they offer to vets through discounted tuition rates, or dedicated scholarships for service members.

The Forever GI Bill® Extends Your Benefits in Science and Technical Fields

teaching robotics classAnother way you can stretch those 36 months is through a new provision of the Forever GI Bill®: the Edith Nourse Rogers STEM Scholarship.

Not a traditional scholarship, this option instead allows eligible vets to extend their GI Bill® benefits for an additional six months of schooling. That’s designed to allow those pursuing tough STEM degrees a little extra time to work through challenging courses.

But there’s another part of the Nourse Rogers STEM Scholarship that is specifically there for teachers: if you have already earned a post-secondary degree in a STEM field, you can also use those six months to cover your training toward a teaching certification.

Getting Credit for Military Service Shortens Your Time in School

Another way to maximize your military educational benefits for the long haul is to get as many credits as you can before you leave the service. Reserving your GI Bill® benefits for post-graduate studies can really boost their value, since graduate school is typically more expensive.

Teaching can be a competitive field in some parts of the country. According to NCES, around 85,000 bachelor’s degrees in education were conferred in 2020. Picking a military friendly college that grants credit for the military training and experience you already have can get you through the program and out into the job market faster.

You can get a jump start by taking college classes on your own while still on active duty. The Military Tuition Assistance program offered by the Department of Defense will pay up to $250 per credit and up to $4,500 per year toward any college studies you pursue while still in the service. It’s a great way to get prerequisites out of the way, or even earn an associate degree that will eventually transfer to a four-year college and count toward your bachelor’s.

You may also be able to count some of your military training or experience as college credits. DANTES, the Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Educational Support, is available to every service member. That’s how you access the College Level Examination Program, or CLEP, which allows you to take standardized tests that some schools will award college credit toward.

Troops to Teachers Offers a Guided Path to Teaching Where You Are Needed Most

teacher in front of high school classDANTES is also your gateway to the popular Troops to Teachers program. Established in 1993 specifically to help vets transition into K-12 teaching jobs in at-need districts, TTT offers counseling, referral services, and financial assistance to help you get certified.

Through a bureaucratic SNAFU, the legal authorization of TTT failed to pass in 2020, and the program languished until December of 2021. The official reauthorization was not formally signed until March of 2022, and no specific funding level for the program was determined.

The upshot is that this great program is back on the table, but no one can tell you exactly what benefits it will offer you or what the processes will look like. Keep an eye on the VA website for updates!

Veterans Have More to Offer as Teachers Than Just Knowledge

Teaching is about more than just passing knowledge along to students. Teachers are also models. Surrounded by kids whose views of the world are still forming and whose brains are being shaped by everything they see, the people standing up in front of the classroom are absolutely going to become a part of who they grow up to be—for better or worse.

With veterans, that’s almost always for the better. With an attitude and personal qualities forged by time in the service, veteran teachers offer a daily demonstration to classes of what it means to be:

These are the kinds of qualities that help make teachers so well-respected in the United States. And they are exactly what you can offer with the right degree and training behind you.

2021 US Bureau of Labor Statistics salary and employment figures for Kindergarten and Elementary School Teachers, High School Teachers, Adult Basic and Secondary Education and ESL Teachers, Middle School Teachers, Postsecondary Teachers, and Special Education Teachers reflect national data, not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed July 2022.