New program brings teaching opportunities to vets

Brian Thompson was an army paratrooper for three and half years, seeing combat in Afghanistan. Now he teaches at Washington D.C.'s Cardoza High.
CBS News

(CBS News) WASHINGTON - In December, the unemployment rate was 7.8 percent. For vets returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, the rate was 10.8 percent. But a new initiative is aiming to lower that number by placing veterans in the classroom.

Tenth-grade history teacher Brian Thompson brings a little something extra to the classroom, especially when the subject matter turns to war.

"I felt that way when I was in Afghanistan - we looked at each other as brothers," he told students.

Thompson teaches at Washington D.C.'s Cardoza High. Now he's the role model for a new push by the non-profit Teach for America to get more veterans into the teaching profession.

"The question [students] usually ask is: 'Mr. Thompson have you shot anyone'?" said Thompson.

Thompson was an army paratrooper for three and half years, seeing combat in Afghanistan.

"As a veteran, that passion to serve your country really never leaves you," said Thompson. He acknowledged what he is doing is another way to be in service.

Unemployment rates for veterans returning from Iraq or Afghanistan are a full three points higher than the national average. Former Army Staff Sgt. Shawn Murphy is heading up Teach for America's effort to recruit more vets.

"We value the similar competencies as far as leadership, commitment to service, ability to motivate and influence folks, organizational skills," he said.

Cardoza High is an inner-city school with inner-city problems. Foreign terrain, perhaps, for a white kid from the San Francisco suburbs, but not for this combat veteran.

"One of my favorite students was killed in gun violence," said Thompson.

That student was 18-year-old Lucki Parnell. She was just about to graduate when she was shot sitting outside her home two years ago.

"It was tough because you know what it's like with your military experience, but I never imagined that I'd have to face that again as a teacher," said Thompson.

A newcomer to the classroom, it was his years on the battlefield that allowed him to give his students what few other teachers could -- exactly what they needed.

"I'm there to listen," said Thompson, "and let them know, 'Hey, I've lost friends, too,' in similar ways I tell all my fellow vets you are bringing such a skill set to this job and you need to share those experiences, share those skills with the students of this country and help this generation do great things."

There are a total of a hundred teachers with military experience in Teach for America's program now. The goal is to make that 300 a year by 2015.

  • Jim Axelrod
    Jim Axelrod On Twitter»

    Jim Axelrod is the chief investigative correspondent and senior national correspondent for CBS News, reporting for "CBS This Morning," "CBS Evening News," "CBS Sunday Morning" and other CBS News broadcasts.