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Former Mobility Airmen continue service as teachers

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. James Hodgman
  • 60th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – He has grey hair, wears grey glasses and an inviting smile covers his face. In the Air Force he was an instructor pilot teaching Airmen how to fly aircraft valued at millions of dollars. His job now is focused on much younger Airmen.

After serving more than three decades in the Air Force, Mark Kleinman retired as a lieutenant colonel in September 2012 and decided to become a teacher. His workplace is filled with children, many with big dreams of becoming an architect, astronaut or doctor.  

“I became a teacher to work with children, to help them achieve and prepare for the future,” he said. “This means helping them persevere when things seem difficult, which is a necessary life skill. I want to use my experience and knowledge to bring real life examples into their learning. I feel it’s time to give back some of the good fortune I’ve had in my life and teaching is my way of doing that.”

Kleinman, a native of Bohemia, New York, retired from the Air Force Reserves after 33 years of service with his final assignment as an assistant operations officer for the 70th Air Refueling Squadron here. During his military career, he flew the C-141 Starlifter, T-38 Talon and the KC-10 Extender, serving as an instructor pilot for all three airframes.

He earned his teaching credential in September 2015 through Troops to Teachers, a Department of Defense program designed to assist former service members in becoming certified teachers. Kleinman has taught math, computer programing and robotics at Golden West Middle School in Fairfield, California, and started teaching at Travis Elementary School, one of nine schools in the Travis Unified School District and one of two on Travis AFB, in August 2016.

“I enjoy teaching people, especially if they have difficulty getting a concept,” he said. “It’s rewarding when they get that ‘aha’ moment and begin understanding something they may have struggled with.”

When kids understand things they believe in themselves, which is critical, Kleinman added.

“I asked the children on the first day, ‘How many of you think you can’t do math?’ So many hands went up," said Kleinman. "I asked them to put ‘yet’ on the end of that sentence. Because if you say ‘I can’t do something yet,’ then the possibility exists in your mind that one day, you’ll get there. It also helps establish a growth mindset. It’s a big thing for math and life. It applies to everything.”

Across the hall from Kleinman’s classroom is Room B-5, where Nonato Icatar, a retired Air Force technical sergeant from the Philippines, who also earned his teaching credential through Troops to Teachers, teaches 5th grade students.

His classroom is decorated with motivating messages and artwork. The next day’s classroom schedule is on the board.

Icatar began teaching at TES in August 2016 after a decade teaching math, English language arts, science and more to elementary and middle school students in Vallejo, California.

He said he knew he wanted to be a teacher when he retired in April 2005 after his final assignment with the then 60th Services Squadron at Travis AFB.

“I was an (Airman) Leadership School instructor and I enjoyed being in the classroom,” he said. “There are differences when teaching children and Airmen, but I enjoy it. It’s challenging, but I don’t think of it as work. It’s something I want to do.”

Airman Leadership School is the first level of professional military education for enlisted Airmen and prepares senior airmen to serve as first line supervisors. Icatar served as a PME instructor at Misawa Air Base, Japan, and Travis

He said, as a teacher, he now looks forward to Mondays.

“I look forward to Mondays now because I’ll be back in the classroom teaching the kids,” he said. “When I was in the Air Force I hated Mondays and looked forward to Fridays. The students are so energetic and excited to learn. That excitement energizes me.”

Helping children achieve their greatest potential and instilling confidence in them is one of the best things about being a teacher, said Icatar.

“Some students may say, ‘I’m not good at something like writing,’ and the next thing you know they’re writing a five-paragraph essay, and they can’t stop,” he said. “Others start panicking prior to giving a presentation, and they’re shocked how well they do sometimes. They get this big smile on their faces and you can’t erase that smile for an entire week.”

“That’s where I get my gratification,” Icatar added. “Instilling that confidence in the children is so important. That’s why I teach.”

Instilling confidence is a must, said Klienman, as well as enhancing understanding and providing examples where children see how classroom concepts apply to life outside of school.

“A big focus this year will be helping enhance the kids’ math skills and knowledge,” he said. “Many children struggle with understanding the order of operations and working with word problems, while some kids think they don’t need math.”

“I’ll ask them, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’” said Kleinman.

Some children say they want to be doctors.  

“I explain that if you’re going to be a doctor, you’re going to use math to figure out many things such as the proper dosage of medication for someone who weighs 150 pounds and someone else who weighs 200 pounds,” said Kleinman. “Doctors must also learn organic chemistry and there’s a lot of math in that.”

Kleinman recalled teaching a lesson on fractions when one of his students asked ‘When am I going to use fractions?’

“She said she wanted to be a baker so I used an example of baking a cake,” he said. “If you’re going to bake a cake you’re going to need a half of something, a quarter of something else and how big of a bowl do you need for all that? You can figure that out with fractions.”

It’s critical for children to learn as much as they can because they’ll likely be more successful in life, added Icatar.

“It’s so important to foster a love of learning early and to build upon that year to year,” he said. “Once a student has two positive consecutive school years, you have a student for life.”