Veterans in the Classroom: Serving Our Country At Home and Abroad

Veterans have so many of the qualities that make strong teachers.


Monday, November 12, 2012

Shaun Murphy is the manager of Veterans recruitment, overseeing Teach For America’s You Served for America, Now Teach For America initiative.  He was a 2009 Teach For America corps member in Delaware.  

Today is a day of remembrance. Every Veterans Day we celebrate the service of the men and women of the armed forces. As a veteran myself, I can attest to the fact that for us, service is a life-long endeavor.  It doesn’t end when your tour of duty does. As a former Staff Sergeant in the United States Army and an alumnus of Teach For America, I want to particularly recognize Veterans who continue their service to our country as educators across the United States.  

Teach For America and the communities we serve understand first-hand the value of Veterans and the impact we can have in classrooms.  So many of the qualities that make strong teachers in low-income classrooms are the same as those instilled through military service: discipline, resiliency, cultural sensitivity, and high expectations, to name a few.  The same authority, control and perseverance that make them heroes on the battlefield also make Veterans effective leaders in the classroom. And Veterans can uniquely relate to the challenges that students of military families face.


A middle-aged male teacher with a goatee and a white t-shirt sits on a desk in the middle of a middle-school class of smiling boys, posed for a group photo.


Photo courtesy of Shaun Murphy

I’m proud to say that since 2009 the number of veterans serving as corps members has quadrupled. Last year nearly 100 Veterans joined the teacher corps.

I was introduced to Teach For America by a good friend of mine, Andrea L. Dozier, a 2007 alumnus.  She was a corps member in New York and she loved being an educator so much that I couldn’t pay her to stop talking about her fourth grade class, the movement and the impact she was having on her scholars.  She said to me, “You need to do Teach For America. You’re a military dude, they’d love you!”  

I heard her but I had to dig a little deeper to really feel her.  I had to step back and reflect because initially I was selling myself short. I didn’t think they’d want a “military dude” teaching. But then I thought about my role as a non-commissioned officer and the fact that I provided purpose, direction and motivation to troops for eight years. All I knew was how to teach and influence people.  

That’s when it hit me that the difference would be leading from the front of a classroom, instead of a platoon.  In 2009, I enlisted as an educator and joined the ranks of Teach For America’s movement.  

For me, our mission to ensure that kids growing up in poverty get an excellent education compels me to do this work. Growing up in a low-income community and personally experiencing some of the same challenges as my students motivates me. Helping my sixth grade scholar, who came to my class reading on a fourth grade level, finish the school year reading at grade level drives me to this day. And recruiting more Veterans to become corps members so we can end education inequity even sooner drives me.  

Last week, we officially launched the “You Served for America, now Teach For America” initiative aimed at bringing men and women who are currently serving, those who are transitioning out of service, and Veterans into Teach For America’s community. I’m working hard every day to increase the number of Veterans in the classroom.

To my fellow servicemen and women: Our children need you.  The classroom gives us a landing zone that appeals to our desire to do work that is meaningful and puts us in a position to impact lives.  It speaks to our commitment to service, and affords us the opportunity to lead again from the front of a classroom.  There are scores of young scholars across the country in need of someone to provide purpose, direction and motivation in their lives. They are looking for you!

One question sticks out in my mind: “If not you then who, and if not now then when.”  Who better than us to take on this national challenge. . .and win?  



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