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Page last updated at 03:15 GMT, Monday, 28 February 2011
Retired American soldiers new 'mission to teach'

Linwood Jenkins, Jeff Lloyd and Robert Carlos
Research in America shows schools get more 'bang for their buck' from ex-soldiers who become teachers

America's Troops to Teachers programme that helps former soldiers to become teachers has drawn praise for its educational successes at home and attracted attention from policy-makers abroad. BBC Panorama travelled to Virginia to meet the military men bringing their own brand of discipline into the classroom.

Outside the school gates of Huntington Middle School in Virginia, the crime and murder rate is almost double the American average.

In this east coast city of Newport News, gang culture dominates and teaching is far from easy.

"In this community getting shot is the norm," Huntington's principal Cleo Holloway bluntly explained.

"If you ask them do you know anybody that's ever been shot, I could almost guarantee you about 95% of my kids will raise their hands and say 'Yes'," she said of the 600 students between the ages of 10-13. Most are bussed to school each day from surrounding social housing "projects".

Predominantly African American, at least 90% of students qualify for free school meals, meaning they are among America's poorest.

In Newport News, as in other deprived inner city areas, the American dream is hard to reach.

But 18 years ago, the US government decided to try something new - a scheme that retrains America's military veterans as teachers.

"Troops to Teachers", the programme's official name, was launched after the first Gulf War. Since then, 15,000 ex-military have entered the profession and most of them have found their way into inner city schools like Huntington.

Big Society

In the UK, the Westminster government has plans to fund the ex-military to become teachers in state schools across England and hopes the rest of the UK will follow.

Panorama logo
Vivian White presents Panorama: Classroom Warriors
BBC One, Monday, 28 February
2030 GMT

On Monday, the government is set to announce a £1.5m boost to SkillForce, a charity that trains former service personnel to run training programmes in schools, particularly targeting disadvantaged young people - and further initiatives are promised.

Education Secretary Michael Gove described the plan, first outlined in last year's schools' White Paper, as an ideal example of the Coalition government's concept of Big Society.

"There is no better example, I think, of the spirit of service than those who are in our armed forces. If we can ensure that something of that spirit enthuses the rest of British life, then we're exemplifying one of the best virtues… for a Big Society."

At Huntington Middle School, former US Air Force Master Sergeant and Vietnam veteran Robert Carlos does not talk about "big society" as much as "big mission".

"People who are very disciplined themselves, they know the objective of a mission, and in this case the objective is to get these kids the best education we can get them."

No screaming, marching

Along with two other ex-military colleagues at Huntington, their new "mission" to educate these children is taken extremely seriously.

Retired US Army Major Linwood Jenkins' pupils do not even get to walk into the classroom until they have joined the queue and passed a mini-quiz in the corridor.

"I tell the kids you've got to know something to get in here. I'm demanding with them but I also try to make it fun."

Jeff Lloyd of Huntington Middle School
Without discipline you have chaos. And there's no learning in chaos
Jeff Lloyd, retired US Air Force Master Sergeant

The techniques being used to keep pupils focused on their lessons are a far cry from the military stereotype that most might conjure up.

There is no screaming or shouting at pupils and no marching them around the playground. At Huntington, voices seem to be very rarely raised.

Former US Air Force Master Sergeant Jeff Lloyd, now a social studies teacher, explained why: "I don't think I have to scream at you, I don't think I have to belittle you, I don't have to do any of those things to help you achieve self-discipline.

"In the military no-one is doing that either, that's not how you get men to do what you want them to do. You do that through relationships, and that's what I build here - relationships with students."

Principal Cleo Holloway requires enormous commitment from her teaching staff, an area where she said ex-military teachers excel.

Similar backgrounds

The academic research backs up Mrs Holloway's perception.

Professor Bill Owings of Old Dominion University in nearby Norfolk, Virginia, has studied the effectiveness of Troops to Teachers.

Sign of rules in school
The rules are clear in Huntington Middle School in Virginia

He said the message that principals hear from ex-military teachers is clear and very welcome.

"We're here to get the job done whether we have to come early, whether we have to stay late, whether we have to visit homes, whether we have to go into the community, we're going to do what we have to do to get the job done."

As a result, he added, "you certainly get more bang for your buck with the ex-military teachers".

Professor Owings' research reveals another reason why military veterans are proving so effective at restoring order to some of America's toughest and most challenging classrooms.

Their socio-economic backgrounds often mirror that of their pupils.

Jeff Lloyd is a case in point.

"The first nine years of my life, we had nothing, I mean absolutely zero. We were very poor, we came right down from the hood, so I've been there, I know these kids' lives.

"The more we can have the kids understand that someone who looks like them can be successful, the better off we can get inside of them and partner with them to be successful."

Huntington offers its pupils a dramatically different vision of life to that on the streets outside. It is a school where order, calmness and routine rule.

Discipline is ever-present.

"Without discipline you have chaos. And there's no learning in chaos," said Mr Lloyd.

And the icing on the cake for Huntington Middle School is that it is achieving success academically.

In the sixth grade where all three ex-military men teach, more than 80% of students passed their state-wide standardised tests.

Panorama: Classroom Warriors, BBC One, Monday, 28 February at 2030 GMT and then available in the UK on the BBC iPlayer.


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