NewsLocal News / February 21, 2014

Soldier-To-Teaching Program Passes House

Jacob Rund - TheStatehouseFile.com
Soldier-To-Teaching Program Passes House

The transition to civilian life can be difficult for military veterans.

After being subject to a strict schedule in almost every aspect of their lives, they finally have the opportunity to make decisions for themselves – a freedom that can be invigorating but also daunting.

And one of the major choices many veterans must face immediately after leaving the service is which career path to pursue.

Senate Bill 331, authored by state Sen. Susan Glick, R-LaGrange, aims to help.

The bipartisan legislation passed through the Indiana House of Representatives on Thursday and would give veterans an incentive to choose education as a profession.

“We’re trying to make it a little simpler for the transition for these veterans to get their degree and be able to go into teaching,” said the bill’s House sponsor, Rep. Dennis Zent, R-Angola.

The bill, backed by the Indiana State Teachers Association and State Superintendent Glenda Ritz requires public universities to award educational credit to veterans for courses they took while in the service. It also requires state institutions to award educational credit to current military members taking courses from other schools.

Kellard Townsend, a soldier-turned-teacher at North Central High School, said the program is a good idea.

“No soldier like to redo things,” he said. “I think it’s good that there is an incentive there.”

Townsend, a former Army lieutenant, began his military career in the ROTC and chose to pursue teaching because he had already completed some introductory courses.  During his stint in the Army, he was exposed to different types of instructors and was given some leadership opportunities.

Townsend said that these experiences make for a good teacher. He also said that because of their time spent in the military, soldiers tend to be “a little more worldly.”

After his time in the Army, Townsend attended Indiana University and graduated with a degree in American Studies.

Zent echoed Townsend’s views. “We get veterans, typically a mature person, you know. Everybody has their people that maybe are outliers, but by in large pretty mature people come back interested in something. If we can facilitate that and get them on a track, I think it would be an ideal person to be a teacher,” he said.

“They don’t just have a small view, they’ve usually been some place and done some things. I think it would be hugely beneficial for the students that they are going to be teaching later on also,” Zent said.

When asked why he sponsored the bill, Zent proudly raised his black and gold U.S. Army necktie to signify his former service.

Zent, a dual veteran, spent time in both the Army and the U.S. Air Force and understands all too well the transition period to civilian life.

“When you get separated from the service, you come back and about the only thing you want to do is be with your family and get your life going,” he said. “I think during your time in service, you’ve acquired some education, you can get them online, you can take courses… some of these are history courses. You should be able to take those credits with you.”

The surge of Baby Boomers retiring from the teaching profession was the main reason legislators chose education as the bill’s focal point.

“Baby Boomers, which I’m one, are getting to the point, we’re going to see that in the teaching profession, they’re going to start retiring. Huge numbers. When they are retiring, how are we going to backfill on that?” Zent said.

While addressing the members of the House on Thursday, Rep. Karlee Macer, D-Indianapolis, shared statistics regarding the amount of veterans enrolled in Indiana public universities.  Indiana University currently has 500 veterans, Ball State has 449, and Purdue has 279.

Rep. John Bartlett, D-Indianapolis, also spoke to the House and expressed his support for the legislation. “I think that we can sit in places such as this, not worrying about bombs being dropped, someone attacking us, because the jobs that are men and women do in our military. I am not a veteran, but I can never show enough appreciation for our veterans of this great state and this great country,” he said.

The bill now moves back to the Senate where lawmakers will consider the changes made by the House.

Jacob Rund is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College Journalism students.