A few weeks back, I happened to mention that I taught for the Air Force.
I also mentioned that although I did not have a degree at the time, I was hired to teach in a night school that normally hired college-trained teachers.
Naturally, it wasn’t long before someone who read that column asked me where I had learned, not just how to teach, but how to teach well enough to be hired for a civilian teaching position.
It never occurred to me before, but the answer is worth hearing. And so are a couple of related matters.
Let’s begin with Herman Goering.
Good old fatty Goering, who ran the German Luftwaffe for Adolf Hitler during World War II.
Goering, who was in a position to know, once said that the reason Germany lost World War II was because the United States Air Force was able to start from almost nothing, and in an incredibly short time, train hundreds of thousands of men and women to fly and maintain aircraft, thereby overwhelming the Luftwaffe.
He said it not long before he used that cyanide tooth of his.
Now, I must say that I don’t entirely agree with Herman’s assessment of why Germany lost the war. I would say that Adolph Hitler’s lack of foresight, caused by his belief that it would be a short war, led to a few small errors — like not taking advantage of his lead in jet aircraft development, and failing to push his nuclear weapons program.
Those tiny oversights, along with a few other small mistakes, like invading Russia instead of England, and declaring war on us after Pearl Harbor, without which we would not have gotten involved in Europe because were busy fighting in the Pacific, might have had something to do with Hitler’s downfall.
But Herman had a point.
What our military forces did during World War II, taking 10 million civilians and turning them into the best trained fighting machine in the world is an often overlooked accomplishment.
And we still do it today. Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines.
I know. I was part of it. And let me tell you, what goes on in military technical schools is an amazing sight to behold.
Take the first tech school I ever attended: GIS, General Instructor School, at Sampson Air Force Base in upstate New York. What an eye-opener GIS was!
Especially for someone who ended up teaching in civilian life, something I never thought I would do.
I now have a master’s degree in education. In addition to 22 years of civilian teaching at the secondary level, I also taught for 12 years at the graduate level. On top of that, I spent seven years teaching other people how to teach.
But get this: I can honestly say that as far as practical teaching techniques are concerned, I never learned anything in all those college courses I took that they hadn’t already taught me at GIS — in just eight weeks.
GIS may have been only eight weeks long, but if you made the cut, you could teach. Believe me, you could teach!
We ate, drank, slept, read, wrote, talked and breathed teaching — eight hours a day, five days a week, for eight weeks. And on weekends, we crammed day and night, working harder than we did during the week.
To be honest with you, it was fun. It was fun because that course was so amazingly well planned and run that you could feel yourself growing in ability literally minute by minute.
GIS compressed the practical wisdom of more than 30 semester hours of education courses into just eight frantic weeks.
I said practical wisdom, now.
When we graduated, of theory we knew little or nothing. Of teaching, though, we knew a bundle!
That’s the way the military does it. They don’t waste time telling you things that are nice to know. They teach you what you have to be able to do to get the job done. And then later, while you’re doing it, they add in the rest. A great system!
And there’s a lot more to military training than just an incredibly efficient method of filling the space between a pair of ears. The military doesn’t run on the theory that anyone can be anything he wants to be. There’s a very careful selection process.
This may sound inefficient when I first tell you about it, but in the long run, it saves millions of dollars, and who knows how many manhours.
Just listen to what the Air Force does to find out who will be successful in any given field.
Everyone coming in is given a series of tests which determine his or her aptitudes in a variety of areas. Then, when a new tech school is opened, 300 unselected men or women are put through it.
Some fail. Some don’t.
The results are correlated with the aptitudes shown on their tests. That data is used to set up the entry requirements for the tech school in a way which ensures that someone who enters the school will successfully complete it.
Think of how great that would be in civilian life. Before someone began schooling to be — say — a doctor, he would have to have the aptitudes necessary to be a good one.
We wouldn’t end up with someone like the well-known author Michael Crichton, who went all the way through premed, med school, and internship, only to find that he had to hang his head out the window and projectile vomit every time he drew blood, which convinced him, despite all that medical education, to become a writer.
And there’s more to military education. So much more. In civilian schools, for example, we test students at the end of each unit and then go on to the next unit.
But what do we do if a student fails Unit 3, and he needs to understand Unit 3 to get anything out of Unit 4? Answer: Nothing. We just add up his tests and give him a grade at the end of the course.
In the military, if you don’t pass a unit, you wash back a week and go through it again, thereby ensuring that when you finish a course, you can do the whole job, not just part of it.
There’s a lot more I could tell you, but I always limit these columns to a thousand words.
I’ll tell you what, though, don’t take my word for it, go look at an Air Force tech school. I swear you’ll be amazed!