As announced in a recent press release, the Troops to Teachers Virginia Center (TTTVC) at the William & Mary School of Education has secured $760,000 in federal pandemic relief funding through the Elementary and Secondary School Relief Fund (ESSER).

Awarded by the Virginia Department of Education in January 2023, the funding marks a commitment by the Commonwealth to TTTVC’s mission of providing support for military veterans and service members transitioning to careers in education. Funding opportunities are currently available for a variety of needs, and funds will be awarded to eligible applicants on a rolling basis through September 2024.

Karen Hogue, interim director of the Troops to Teachers Virginia Center, highlighted the natural fit of military personnel in the classroom, emphasizing their demonstrated leadership skills and commitment to public service. As Virginia grapples with a persistent shortage of educators, the Troops to Teachers program provides a wealth of resources for veterans seeking fulfilling second careers in education, opening doors for service members and improving outcomes for students.

Former Army Officer Tony De Cesare’s experience underscores the Troops to Teachers Virginia Center’s commitment to supporting veterans in their pursuit of fulfilling careers in education. De Cesare, having taught overseas before joining the military, recently became certified in English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL), finding a seamless transition into the world of teaching. He shared insights into how his military experience prepared him for his role as an educator.

“Being able to multitask, juggle numerous priorities, and respond in real-time to fluid demands all made teaching feel like a great fit,” De Cesare explained. “Being able to act as the calm center in the midst of occasionally stressful classroom situations makes a huge difference, and kids gravitate towards that solidity and presence. It definitely helps.”

A key objective of the Troops to Teachers (TTT) program is improving student achievement by addressing the nationwide lack of teacher diversity. For example, while 80% of public school teachers nationwide are white females, 83% of TTT participants are male, and 43% are minorities. TTT also prioritizes K-12 schools serving low-income families and those in critical subjects such as math, science, special education, foreign language, and career-technical education.

De Cesare also expressed gratitude towards the center’s staff, including Hogue and Military Veteran Liaison Specialist, Ed Gawlik, for the invaluable support he received during the transition. “Ed was amazing. I got to speak to them many times, and we talked very candidly about goals, experiences, and avenues I hadn’t thought about. They were absolutely amazing, and I can’t thank them enough for being interested in me and pushing along my progress toward becoming a licensed teacher.”

Reflecting on his experience, De Cesare encourages fellow veterans to explore the Troops to Teachers program. “Just reach out to the program and talk about where you’re coming from and why you may be interested in teaching. You are in good hands – they will value your experience and skill sets, helping you understand the process. It feels awesome to make the journey with people you can trust at your side –  sounds familiar from the military, right?”

Former Navy Lieutenant Laurie Blakeman, who received tuition reimbursement for her student teaching hours and invaluable guidance along the way, echoes the same sentiments. Her experience with the center stands as a testament to the program’s unwavering commitment to support veterans even through unexpected challenges.

“What I really valued about Troops to Teachers is the way they guided me through obstacles because I’ve had a non-linear job trajectory. It took persistence and diligence, but they worked with the Virginia Department of Education to set me on a path towards licensure,” said Blakeman. “Now I’m completing a doctorate in math education leadership. So, I’m incredibly, incredibly grateful for Karen and Troops to Teachers because they don’t give up on you.”

The TTTVC not only provided tuition reimbursement but actively created a clear path to making licensure accessible for Blakeman through student teaching hours combined with her previous experience. “They were able to advocate for me and get results I couldn’t get as an individual,” she explained.

Laurie Blakeman
Laurie Blakeman

Blakeman made history as the first female graduate from the U.S. Naval Academy to earn a double major. Her passion for education is rooted in personal experiences. As a first-generation college graduate, Laurie’s family did not initially support her pursuit of higher education because of her gender. Recalling her early educational journey, Blakeman shared a poignant moment when a teacher recognized her giftedness in mathematics during summer school, challenging the narrative of deficiency.

“That’s what drives me as an educator,” Blakeman said, particularly emphasizing the importance of reaching low-income students or those who might be overlooked based on test scores. “There were people in my life who saw something in me and did something about it, and I want to be that influence on a broader level for others.”

Laurie’s dedication extends to addressing inequalities in education. She highlighted a stark statistic: 70% of low socioeconomic students attend a college below what they are qualified for based on GPA and other factors. Laurie emphasized the significance of leadership in education, drawing parallels between the skills acquired at the Naval Academy and her ability to have an impact as an educator.

“I really can’t say enough good things about Troops to Teachers. They just stepped up for me, advocated for me, and saw value in my experience,” Blakeman expressed gratefully.

As the Troops to Teachers Virginia Center continues to open doors and create opportunities, it remains dedicated to assisting individuals like De Cesare and Blakeman in making a meaningful impact on Virginia’s educational landscape. The ESSER funds currently available provide financial assistance for required tests and fees, tuition support, signing bonuses in high-needs school divisions, and reimbursement for other costs associated with licensure. In addition to financial support, the center also offers individualized counseling, transition planning, assistance with navigating state teacher licensure requirements, connection with hiring officials, ongoing support and mentorship, and valuable networking opportunities.

The TTTVC welcomes inquiries and applicants and encourages veterans and service members to reach out as soon as possible. Join the Troops to Teachers program and become part of a community that values and leverages the diverse experiences of veterans in shaping the future of education. For more information about the Troops to Teachers Virginia Center and the impactful stories of veterans-turned-educators, please visit the website or contact the center at or (757) 221-3415.