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From the battlefield to the classroom: Veterans could ease North Texas teacher shortages

From the battlefield to the classroom: New law makes it easier for military members to become teache
From the battlefield to the classroom: New law makes it easier for military members to become teache 02:59

NORTH TEXAS ( - While students return to school, the same can't be said for some teachers.

The Texas Education Agency reports nearly 50,000 teachers left the profession last year. That's more than 13% of the state's teachers - the highest number on record for a single year.

There were enough new teachers hired to offset the loss, but about a quarter of those hires did not have Texas Teacher Certifications initially. A new state law will soon make it easier for military members to become teachers.  

It's the second day on the job for John Mckeel, a retired Marine turned teacher at Frazier Middle School in Mesquite.

"It's exciting, it's exciting," Mckeel said.

Mckeel was named for his father, Sgt. John Mckeel, one of 52 Americans taken prisoner during the Iran Hostage Crisis. He returned to his home in Balch Springs in 1981 after spending 444 days in captivity.

"I lived in a great shadow, a great bright shadow, if you will," Mckeel said of his father. "He had big shoes to fill.

An injury in 2007 ended the younger Mckeel's own service in the Marines. But VA benefits allowed him to pursue the college degrees he needed to become a teacher.

"I can't express how much of a blessing this career choice has been for me and how I didn't realize that I needed this," said Mckeel. "This has really given me not only purpose by satisfaction. It's really boosted my confidence. It's given me morale."

More military veterans could soon be making the jump from the front lines to the front of the classroom when a new state law takes effect next month.

Texas lawmakers passed a bill earlier this year allowing veterans and first responders to get a temporary teaching certificate and to substitute certain educational requirements with their time in service.

"Military personnel might be a great place to look for potential upcoming new teachers," said Zeph Capo, the president of the state's largest teacher's union, Texas AFT. "But dealing with kids and dealing with typical things in the military are not necessarily the same thing."

Capo has criticized the measure as a way of filling Texas classrooms with people unprepared for the job. Studies have shown the less prepared new teachers are, the less likely they are to stick around beyond the first few years.

"How bout providing those individuals actual support and knowledge about what they need to know to make sure that classroom is a great place for that former military person and those students that are in the room," Capo said.

Mckeen, who took the more traditional path to teaching, admits there are challenges transitioning out of the military.

"Geography. I am in Mesquite, Texas, and not Fallujah, Iraq, so that's probably the biggest difference right there," said Mckeen.

But veterans, he says, also come with leadership skills, personal discipline, and drive.

"That's what I hope to bring to my students," said Mckeen, "the charisma and enthusiasm."

The key, he says, will be providing new teachers with the support they need - something he's happy to have already found in his district. 

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