Troops turned teachers tackle challenge
The Arizona Republic
Jun. 2, 2006
Science teacher Gene Noel handed out straws and instructed his eighth-grade
students to breathe through them with their mouths while viewing a three-minute
video on tobacco's effect on the body.
This, the Peoria resident said, demonstrates a smoker's shortness of breath
after smoking one to three packs of cigarettes a day.
Noel, a Vietnam veteran, is back in the trenches. This time he is a teacher at a
Phoenix school serving low-income students, having left a 24-year Air Force
career handling weapon systems. Noel is one of the more than 8,400 former
military personnel who since 1994 have switched to jobs at deprived schools
under the Troops to Teachers program. The federal program helps cover teacher
certification costs and pays bonuses to those who teach in schools with a high
percentage of disadvantaged students.
"I retired on a Friday and the next Monday I walked right into a classroom,"
said Noel, 51, who embarked on his second career in 2000 and now teaches in the
predominantly Hispanic Kings Ridge School, near 67th Avenue and Lower Buckeye
"This is where the action is, the trenches of education," he said.
Noel, who is working on his doctorate in education, also teaches language arts
and tutors in English and writing. And, after no teacher volunteered for the
job, he took on the teaching of life skills, cooking and sewing as a home
economics elective. He also helps teachers use technology effectively in the
classroom and is one of three curriculum coordinators for the school.
"It's absolutely worth it," said Noel, who took a 50 percent pay cut when he
retired as a master sergeant at Luke Air Force Base to teach. "Money is not the
motivation. It's my fulfillment of a dream, where I can make a difference in the
community and make a difference in the lives of kids."
Noel inspires his students to look beyond just getting out of school and to
shoot for college or consider the military as an option.
Noel said he uses both his Army sons as examples to the class. Shawn is
scheduled for his second deployment to Iraq in July, and Daniel, Noel an X-ray
technician at John C. Lincoln Hospital, is in the Army Reserve.
Noel said Daniel's military training prepared him for his job.
Citlalli Hernandez, 14, said Noel is strict but is patient when explaining
things to the class.
"He's a good teacher," she said. "I've learned a lot from him."
Noel said his military background enables him to handle challenges in the
classroom that would boggle a novice teacher.
"What I brought to the job was organization, leadership and classroom
discipline," he said.
A 2005 publication from the National Center for Education Information indicated
that Troops teachers view problems such as testing requirements, extra duties,
discipline and class size as less serious than teachers in general. And Troops
teachers, more than public school teachers, believe all children can learn at
the highest levels of achievement.
"I wish I could get more Troops to Teachers because of their discipline, their
focus on pedagogy, how to teach kids," Principal Jaime Rivera said.
Rivera praised Noel as an effective, enthusiastic teacher to whom both students
and teachers turn. Noel's qualities got him nominated last year to represent the
district as Arizona's Teacher of the Year.
"He aspires to do everything better every year," Rivera said.