by Colleen Flaherty
Bill Dooling was in his first year of teaching in Boston when he enlisted in the Army in 1966.
“My parents were immigrants, and I figured I love my country and this country had been good to us. So when your country calls, you have an obligation to serve,” said Dooling.
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He was sent to Vietnam where he worked as an Army Security Officer analyzing electronic intelligence. After four years and a medical discharge, he returned to his first love — teaching high school social studies.
“If you go into the military, you’re motivated to serve the nation. It’s a similar thing for teachers. It’s a calling to want to serve the community at large.”
Now, the Pentagon and the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) — the agency that administers schools for military dependents — are making cuts that will hurt both educators and military families. The agencies have announced plans to furlough teachers and classroom aides up to five days and Education Support Professionals (ESPs) as many as 11 days in the next school year.
“As a retired teacher, I know it’s not in the best interest of a country to cut its teaching force. It’s especially difficult for military children. It’s good to have a teacher there who provides stability in their lives,” said Dooling. “It’s just one more stressor for families who already go through so much.”
There are more than 80,000 students who attend DoDEA schools worldwide. The Defense Department operates on-base schools for military children in eight states, and overseas the on-base schools that often provide the only education option for children of American military families.
“We’re trying to stop these furloughs,” said Gary Hritz, communications director of the Federal Education Association, which represents more than 6,000 educators in Europe, Asia and the United States.
“Department of Defense Education is a critical service. It is absolutely essential for the families on these bases. Not only that, there’s a precedent being set that the education of military children isn’t important enough because we can’t balance the books.”
According to a survey of military personnel by Blue Star Families, the education of their children is a top concern among military families. Another top concern is the negative effect of deployments on children, something Dooling said can be helped by a teacher.
Teachers on base are connecting with these kids. They’re familiar with issues unique to the military. Why would you cut teachers? It just seems like a poor choice. A disruption like this, especially at a young age, can be detrimental.
Dooling said the best thing for him and other educators is to do what comes naturally — advocate for students.
“Advocate and speak up. This is a huge sacrifice they’re asking from those who have already made such a significant sacrifice.”