I actually know an enlisted guy who did the same thing; turned down lucrative post-retirement career opportunities to pursue a career as a high school history teacher. - S.L.
Hanging Up My Army Uniform to be a High School Teacher
By Paul Yingling
December 2, 2011
I’m a colonel in the U.S. Army, and next summer I will retire to teach high school social studies. My friends think I’m crazy, and they may have a point.
Colonel is the last rank before general’s stars, and it comes with significant perks. My pay is triple the national average teacher’s salary. Military budgets have doubled over the past decade, while school districts have slashed funding, increased class sizes, cut programs and laid off teachers. The social status accorded to the military is wonderful, while teachers are routinely pilloried by politicians and pundits for student outcomes that are often driven by events and conditions far beyond the schoolhouse door.
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Another high school teacher, Aristotle, believed that people form communities not just to preserve life but to pursue the good life. The iconic, life-preserving figures of the post-9/11 era — soldiers, police officers, firefighters — certainly deserve the adulation they receive. However, security is merely instrumental; peace and freedom make a good life possible but not inevitable. Especially in a democracy, we ought to respect most those who foster the character traits that make self-government attainable — parents and teachers, coaches and ministers, poets and protesters. When I hear the Army motto, “This We’ll Defend,” it’s them I have in mind.
I’ve served five combat tours in Desert Storm, the Balkans and Iraq, and I’ve had cause to reflect on what it means to live well. It has little to do with money or social status or proximity to power. Instead, amid the clamor of a youth baseball practice, I’m part of a conversation on character that echoes in eternity. The opportunity to engage in that conversation more often is why I want to teach.
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Paul Yingling is a colonel in the U.S. Army and a professor of security studies at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies.
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