Every year on Veterans Day, we show our gratitude to the men and women who have served our country in uniform. We reach out to a loved one who has served, we thank a soldier in the airport, or we honor them through a variety of free meals. As generous and kind as these offers of appreciation are, it’s time that we show our gratitude to veterans in a new way, that we give them a place of belonging when they return home, a new mission: teaching our children in our schools.
Veteran unemployment rates are rising. For those who do find jobs, they are often undervalued, with a recent study showing that only 17 percent of employers consider veterans as valuable assets in the workplace. What’s even more alarming is the effect this situation is having on their well-being. According to the 2019 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Report, there have been over 6,000 veteran suicides every year from 2008 to 2017, resulting in a suicide rate that is one and a half times that of civilians. Our service members are returning home without a sense of belonging in their communities and without mission-driven careers. This tragedy is a national emergency, and part of its solution could help to solve another one of our nation’s most urgent issues—the sad state of our education system.
America’s schools are failing our children. The 2019 Nation’s Report Card suggests that student achievement has stayed disturbingly low for years, demonstrating the need for vast improvement throughout our country. The wide opportunity gap between students from different socioeconomic backgrounds proves once again that the zip code in which they live has an unjustly large effect on their futures. Once seen as the cornerstone of our society, the American education system is producing high school graduates who are dangerously unprepared for college and the workplace. They lack the necessary skills and knowledge to participate as responsible citizens in a democracy, contributing to the increased political polarization and decreased American pride found in our country. And as school shootings have plagued our country in recent years, parents have shown little confidence in their children being safe in schools. Our education system needs teachers who can address these concerns threatening our nation. We need veterans in the classroom.
Veterans hold a variety of unmatched skills that makes them the kind of excellent educators our school districts across the country need. As teacher shortages and turnover rates hinder the education system nationally, there is a growing need for teachers who display a level of grit and perseverance that our veterans have proven to possess. Moreover, as our country and schools become more diverse in the years to come, and as more research shows that students of color benefit from teachers of color, it is imperative to find educators who represent a wide range of backgrounds—as veterans do. Add in the experience they have in leading and collaborating with others and in being committed to a mission that is bigger than themselves, and it is easy to see why prominent organizations such as Teach For America and schools like Success Academy have made hiring veterans a priority.
The benefits to schools would be immediate and continuous, but just as importantly, the veterans would benefit, too. The classroom can be the place of belonging that these men and women, who have sacrificed so much for our country, need when they retire from the military. It can create a new sense of purpose in their communities as they struggle to transition back to civilian life. For a veteran standing in front of a classroom, with the eyes of our nation’s children on them, they will have a new mission: providing the high-quality education that all children in America deserve.