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After eight years as a gunner’s mate in the U.S. Navy, Camille Perez came home to New Mexico to teach 3- and 4-year-olds. But if you think there’s no common ground between her two careers, you’d be wrong.
“Paperwork and organization,” the pre-K teacher at La Esquelita Pre-School in Bernalillo says without a moment’s hesitation. “In the Navy, I was forced to become very organized with all the paperwork, lack of sleep, extra hours. Pre-K has tons of paperwork, too, and you have to be very organized.”
Military service has long been a pipeline to teaching careers, and New Mexico Public Education Secretary (Designate) Kurt Steinhaus says that tradition must continue in order to meet a growing demand for great educators.
“On this Veteran’s Day 2021, I first want to thank every New Mexico veteran for their service and every veteran’s family for their sacrifices. But I also want to remind our veterans that the soft skills they honed in the military make them ideal candidates for successful teaching careers, and I invite them to consider that path to continued service,” Steinhaus said.
New Mexico’s chronic shortage of highly qualified teachers nearly doubled last year to 1,000 vacancies, according to researchers at New Mexico State University’s Southwest Outreach Academic Research Evaluation & Policy Center. Teacher preparation programs nationally report lower admission and graduation rates. In New Mexico, 979 students completed an educator preparation program during the 2020-21 academic year, a decrease of 51 program completions compared to the year before.
Steinhaus said young veterans who recently completed their service and are looking to kickstart their civilian lives should consider how they could use skills like clear communication, teamwork, leadership and self-discipline in the classroom.
“These young men and women already have a service orientation. If they want to continue serving by helping children learn and grow, the transition from military life to school life should be easy,” he said.
Through alternative licensing programs, service members can use any bachelor’s degree as a pathway into teaching. That worked for Perez, who had earned a psychology degree while in the Navy.
Perez did a lot of volunteer work with children while serving at naval bases around the world. In Guam, she coached Special Olympics athletes. In El Salvador, she provided activities for children living in an orphanage.
“I knew I really liked working with children, so when I came home, I thought I’d apply to be an educational assistant,” Perez said.
When the school district learned she already had a bachelor’s degree, she was encouraged to apply for a teaching position instead.
“We need many, many more veterans like Camille Perez — smart young men and women who want to continue serving their country and their communities but this time in the classroom,” Steinhaus said.
Visit the department’s Licensure Bureau for more information on how to become a teacher and check out the new employee job opportunities at the Public Education Department through the State Personnel Office portal.