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Man goes from drill sergeant to Oklahoma City math teacher

Army veteran John Hill, 49, a math teacher in the Oklahoma City Public Schools, is one of about 280 full-time teachers in Oklahoma through the Troops to Teachers program.
BY LEIGHANNE MANWARREN Modified: July 28, 2013 at 10:00 pm •  Published: July 28, 2013

John Hill always wanted to teach math. It was the U.S. Army that prepared him for the classroom.

Hill remembers the welcome he received his first day at Star Spencer High School in November 2009. He was the fifth teacher those students had that year.

“I had a student tell me, the first day, that they didn't have to listen to me because I wouldn't be there in a week and they were going to get rid of me,” Hill said. “I told the kid, ‘I will be here when you graduate.'”

The student graduated last spring.

“I was on the stage when he graduated,” Hill said. “When he walked by he gave me a thumbs-up, saying, ‘You know, you did, you stuck it out with me.'”

Hill, 49, joined the Army in 1988 as a way to try to finish his degree after dropping out of college. He spent more than four years on active duty. Then he joined the Army Reserve for what he thought would be a few years; he ended up spending 19 years there as a drill sergeant.

“I had dropped out of college and couldn't decide what I wanted to do. I know that sounds horrible, but that is the truth,” he said. “I couldn't decide what I was going to do and I wasn't going anywhere in life, and the military offered me that opportunity to settle down, get my mind straight and get on a right path.”

A retired Army first sergeant, Hill began his teaching career in 1996 while he still was a drill sergeant.

He was a paraprofessional in an Oklahoma City Public School alternative middle school in the school's military component.

After graduating from the University of Oklahoma in 2008 with a bachelor's degree in math, Hill was trying to figure out how to earn his alternative teaching certification.

That's when he stumbled across the Troops to Teachers program.

Hill became a math teacher with Advanced Academics, an online school, teaching students on a one-on-one basis.

That job inspired him to go back into the classroom — this time to teach math.

“I really missed the face-to-face interaction with the kids, being in the classroom with the kids, and I decided I was going to go back to a classroom,” Hill said. “One of my former co-workers was at Star Spencer and she called me, and she told me ‘Hey, we have a math position open here. You should come out here and apply.'”

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