Contract for Experienced STEM Professionals to Teach in Virginia Schools

by James C. Sherlock

James Lane
Superintendent of Public Instruction

Every time the shortage of STEM teachers is taken seriously, as it was in William C. Lyons’ terrific article yesterday, the Departments of Education and local school boards come up with what they consider to be a cool name for a program to entice retired military officers, most of whom have engineering and other STEM degrees and are still relatively young, to teach STEM classes as a second career.

They get some takers.

Those officers have their military pensions to reduce the impact of low wages on their families. They already have the health insurance and other benefits they need, so that is not an attraction to teaching.

But teaching is very worthwhile and under the right conditions can be quite fulfilling. Sounds like a perfect match.

Yet I have three Navy friends who tried it for all the right reasons a couple of decades or more ago, and none of them lasted more than a year. If left to teach, they would have been fine.

But none of them ultimately could put up with the daily annoyances that passed for management and administration in the public schools. It was the meetings, committees, “training,” and what some considered less than professional environments and treatment that drove them away.

Now that everything is politicized — and it absolutely did not used to be — I can’t honestly imagine 50-year old-combat veterans thriving in that environment, or, frankly, even being recruited to teach in the most woke school districts today.

Not only military officers, but also career federal civil servants with whom Northern Virginia is thick.

When they consider a second career they expect to be treated like adults, not kids right out of school.

I suspect both military officers and career civil servants will burn out unless exempted from most of the time-wasting, spirit-deadening, make-work projects and political harangues that are considered “features” of the Virginia public schools by some of their their administrators and certainly by the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE). Some recent Ed school grads won’t put up with it, much less many experienced teachers and certainly STEM professionals asked to make teaching a second career.

If Virginia schools are serious about recruiting government employees, military and civilian, to teach STEM in the schools as second careers, they are going to have to design a program that lets them teach and minimizes their non-teaching assignments.

I have a suggestion.

Let them sign on as contractors for the specific task of STEM classroom teaching.

Don’t offer them employee benefits — pensions, health insurance, etc. — they don’t need, and put those truly major savings toward higher pay and reimbursing companies for recruiting, management and training costs.

Agencies will spring up all over the state to fill the need. Some existing government contractors will open a business line as well.

Principals would still write teacher evaluations for the contractors, but the observation would be limited to classroom skills and student results they are contracted to provide.

That program could work quickly to help fill STEM vacancies with exceptional teachers.

If that is considered unacceptable — certainly the unions will hate it — good luck finding teachers truly qualified in education and experience for those classrooms.