Troops to Teachers: “The Program Works. I’m Living Proof!”
By Erin Roberts, DANTES Communications Division
Carolyn Sutton is a retired Navy IT/communications sailor, a Troops to Teachers (TTT) participant, a retired special-needs teacher in Florida and Alabama, a Troops to Teachers recruiter, an entrepreneur and an active career coach serving the community of Pensacola, FL.
After serving sixteen years in the U.S. Navy, from 1980-1996, Sutton took the early incentive to retire and spend more time with her family. She thought she’d do twenty years of military service, but after 16 years, a long deployment and 2 teenage daughters, her ideas changed. “I felt they needed me at home… and I put a plan in place to finish my degree,” recalls Sutton. When asked if she knew what she wanted to do when she got out of the service, she quickly responded, “I absolutely did not… when I got out I was still working on my very first degree. I thought I wanted to work for the FBI or the CIA.”
Many folks change course and Sutton is no exception. She has 2 college degrees; one in criminal justice and one in special education. After retiring from the Navy, she finished her first degree and worked for the Department of Juvenile Justice for three years until attending a job fair at Naval Air Station Pensacola. She first heard about the Troops to Teachers program at a Transition Assistance Program (TAP) seminar, but put the teaching idea on hold for a few years until attending the job fair. After talking to the TTT counselor, she realized, “It was just a no-brainer. The feelings were still there. I wanted to teach,” said Sutton.
Her first impression of the TTT program was skeptical, she said, “I thought that I was going to have to sign my life away. I was going to have to almost owe the military so much because they were going to assist me with getting my Florida certification… and so I did table it.” But after the Pensacola job fair, Sutton went back to school with the help of Troops to Teachers, “That’s the sweet part about TTT, depending on where you are with your education, you may not need to do as much as you think to get certified.”
Sutton qualified for financial assistance, both the stipend and the bonus, obligating her to three years of teaching in a high needs area of teaching. The funding totaled about $10,000 and she taught 1 year at Pensacola High School and then 2 years in Fairhope, AL; teaching special education at both locations.
After her three-year teaching obligation, Sutton came back to Florida and taught where she wanted, “Once you get going in those areas that are so needed, you tend to stay there. That becomes your baby and that’s what happened with me. I wanted to go to schools that were struggling. I wanted to go to schools that were in lower economic areas… Once you see the need, you can’t back out and that’s where I stayed until I retired last year.”
Sutton is on her second retirement and she never passes an opportunity to proudly tell her Troops to Teachers story. She is currently a Northwest Florida TTT recruiter, “I want everyone to know how the Troops to Teachers program worked for me and I mean it really worked for me. I also do motivational speaking and I never miss an opportunity to tell young sailors about the program because it worked. I’m living proof. I’m not just a recruiter. I’m living proof... I had the opportunity to serve in a needed area and also laid the foundation to go into entrepreneurship.”
Sutton credits much of her success in life with education, “Education is empowerment … I gained my leadership skills, my discipline, and my sense of teamwork and camaraderie from the military, but when I went on to college that’s where I got, in my opinion, the real power, education is power… and I don’t want anyone to think anything differently… I owe a lot of where I am to the wise decision I made to go back to college to earn my degree.”
Now, she says she’s on the third leg of her race and it’s looking good, “I always wanted to leave something behind and if I left nothing else in my little legacy it would be that I had reached every area of professionalism and self-development… I would say to anyone have your plan, have your vision and go for it. Know your resources. Troops to Teachers was truly a resource for me in getting where I am now.”
What about the challenges of TTT? Sutton says that there really weren’t any challenges for her. She didn’t have any because she says she educated herself and had a well-laid plan, but she does see challenges with helping others who she speaks with now. She says that many have a pre-conceived notion that they’re going to have to give too much back and don’t want the constraints of being in one area, “… which I told you they don’t have to do and they don’t know that no matter how long they’ve been out of the military, Troops to Teachers is still here passing on information on how to get certified to teach in your area… Troops to Teachers is in every single state in the United States.” Sutton says her challenge as a recruiter is running across people who don’t want to take the opportunity to find out all the nuggets of information involved. TTT will help with where to go from where you are now and that’s different with everyone. Every single teacher she knows who is serving as a second career, has a different story.
Carolyn Sutton is one of those people who exude confidence, enthusiasm and a drive for opportunity. She believes in the Troops to Teachers program and closes with one message for service members and veterans, “Just register now. Every time I do an informational booth I run across someone who wants the stipend or bonus but didn’t sign up in time to meet the requirements… I tell everyone just register now. If you change your mind and don’t want to teach later, you haven’t lost anything. Sign up now and you are always signed up.” … and when you realize that you really do want to teach, by signing up now that bonus and stipend may still be available to you.