After 23 and a half years in the Navy, Stefan Smolski knew he wanted to retire. But he wanted to do something with the extra time in his life.
So he decided to become a teacher.
"It was one of those things," he said. "Sooner or later I had to do something in the afterlife, and it wasn't going to be military."
He spent two years getting his teaching certificate from Fairmont State University - he already had a bachelor's degree in biology - and has been teaching science at Oak Glenn High School in New Cumberland ever since.
The West Virginia Department of Education is hoping more people will begin to think like Smolski, so today it is hosting a kick-off Troops to Teachers event at Piedmont Elementary School where Smolski will be on hand to share his experiences.
Troops to Teachers is a federally funded program that encourages qualified military personnel to become teachers, especially in high-need areas, such as math, science, vocational education and special education.
Gov. Joe Manchin and West Virginia School Superintendent Steve Paine will also be there to help promote the program in West Virginia.
"Anyone who has retired from the military and who is looking for a second career, this is it," said Liza Cordeiro, spokeswoman for the state Department of Education.
The program is one more way the Department of Education is attempting to fight a teacher shortage in areas like math and science.
For Smolski, 57, teaching has been a great opportunity he would highly recommend, but only to certain people.
"It's like the military," he said. "The military is not for everyone. Teaching is not for everyone. You've got to want to help people, not get frustrated; you've got to have a thick skin."
And like the military, teaching can be an extremely rewarding career.
"I did two tours as a flight instructor, and I enjoyed it," Smolski said. "They're (students are) being recognized for their gallantry and bravery in battle. It makes you feel real good."
In the same way, when students are successful in school, teaching can make for a gratifying career.
"They come back and seek you out and thank you," he said. "That's very rewarding."
On the other hand, the job can be frustrating, Smolski said.
"When you're not successful - you offer help, provide help and you just don't succeed," he said of one of the downfalls of the job.
Because Smolski was in the Navy and because he has a 26-year-old son, Adam, who will be deployed to Iraq in the fall, he can also relate to students whose parents are in the military.
Most of his pupils, however, do not feel the need to come up and talk to him.
"They handled it very well," he said of past students who had parents in the military. "They don't want to talk too much. They mentioned they were concerned, but didn't talk too much about it."
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