College of William and Mary Turns Veterans into Teachers

RICHMOND, Va.— After 22 years in the Army, it was time for Jimmy Kimbrough to change careers. He had been commissioned out of West Point, did a tour in Iraq and a year in Korea. The time was approaching for a career switch or retirement.

Kimbrough, 45, chose the former but still wanted that same fulfillment of helping others that his military service provided. Enter the world of teaching.

He got a dose of teaching at Fort Knox in Kentucky and through running the ROTC program at the College of William and Mary and Christopher Newport University.

“In the Army, I realized it’s not about me, it’s about others,” Kimbrough said. “I wanted a way to still help other people.”

With the help of a new hub hosted at William and Mary, Kimbrough has become a high school social studies teacher. The Troops to Teachers Virginia Center, which opened this spring, helps veterans and current service members who desire to become teachers through networking, counseling and mentorship.

The center helped Kimbrough, a Georgia native, navigate Virginia’s teacher licensing requirements, he said, calling program coordinator Kelley Clark a “drill sergeant” through the process, holding him accountable to deadlines with his best interest in mind.

Since the center’s inception in the spring, it’s served about 700 veterans while providing programs to 10 military installations and collaborating with state higher education institutions. The Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support, a U.S. Department of Defense agency, funds the center – one of 10 across the country – with a $400,000 grant announced in May.

“We see it as natural to combine education and a military background,” said Gail Hardinge, the principal investigator on the grant.

The national Troops to Teachers program started in 1993 and is now concentrated at 10 state centers. Virginia, with its large military population and need for teachers, made sense, Hardinge said.

“It deals with two big issues. It deals with veterans who need employment, and it deals with a massive teacher shortage,” she said.

Virginia has a 3.4 percent veteran unemployment rate, according to the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University, and 11 percent of the state’s adult population has served. The national veteran unemployment rate is 4.3 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

The state continues to face an exodus of teachers due mostly to an average salary – $50,834 – that’s less than the national average of $58,353.

The Troops to Teachers program is working to help both issues. Charlie Foster, a Marine Corps veteran and William and Mary alumnus, now serves as the liaison, going to military installations to recruit new teachers.

Interested veterans contact the center and are assisted — for free— through the process of becoming a teacher.
“They’ve done all of these things, but it’s still a tricky transition,” said Clark, the program coordinator.

Kimbrough’s first year of teaching wasn’t what he expected, he said, but he loves what he’s doing. He’s had his growing pains — learning the operations of the school and crafting lesson plans — but he’s able to have uncomfortable conversations with students and help them beyond the textbook.

“In some cases, it’s not as much about getting kids to understand the content material as it is some life lessons or maturity — the things you learn in the Army,” Kimbrough said.

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