Burlington Township resident Al Jackson officially retired from the Air Force in June 2000. He landed a job as a full-time teacher that very same month.

Jackson became interested in the profession when he attended a parent-teacher conference for his fourth-grade son and noticed there were very few men on the teaching staff.

So, while serving his country, Jackson was already working to receive his certification in the education field. And he didn't skip a beat, thanks to help from Troops to Teachers, a national program administered through the state to support the transition of veterans and active members of the military to careers in teaching.

"Not only does it help with smoothing the transition process, but, because there are mentors there, it helps with having someone to talk to who has like experiences," Jackson told New Jersey 101.5.

Jackson himself soon became a mentor for military personnel looking to take a similar path.

On hiatus since 2016, the Troops to Teachers program relaunched in October, with $1 million for the state Department of Education to support and promote the program over the next five years.

Nationally, the program has assisted over 20,000 veterans since its initial launch in 1993. The New Jersey office has counseled approximately 1,800 veterans.

“Military service members have a unique set of skills to offer to the classroom,” said Education Commissioner Lamont O. Repollet in a news release. “It’s our hope that the return of this program will encourage more military members to continue their service in a classroom setting, where they can inspire and educate young people.”

Jackson has been teaching at the same building — Wilbur Watts Intermediate School in Burlington City — for 18 years now. He was named the district's intermediate teacher of the year in 2006, and was also a nominee for the county's Teacher of the Year award.

Jackson said the Troops to Teachers program is invaluable for someone looking to switch from a military uniform to a civilian classroom, where they can bring with them a "world of experience."

"We have worked with people of multiple cultures from having traveled around the world," Jackson said. "We can integrate that information into the classroom. We can connect with students from different backgrounds because we have lived their lifestyles."

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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.

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