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From Army Veteran to Florida Educator: Timothy O'Flaherty's inspiring journey to become a certified teacher

May 1, 2023 | TeacherReady

Timothy O’Flaherty, TeacherReady Alumni

Army veteran educator Timothy O’Flaherty faced unexpected challenges when he moved to Florida with over 20 years of teaching experience. He previously taught Latin and Ancient Greek at a local boarding school in Massachusetts and expected an easy transition to a Florida classroom. However, he struggled to find a place to continue teaching, as there were fewer boarding schools in the state. Most Latin teaching positions were exclusive to the public school system, and Tim lacked the required a Florida Professional Teaching Certificate.

Realizing that obtaining this certificate was the key to gaining access to the Florida public school system, Tim researched the process and found it to be a challenging task. Despite having two bachelor’s and two master’s degrees and being enrolled in a Ph.D. program, Tim did not want to trudge through another four-year education degree program. As a middle-aged man with a family and a full plate of commitments, he sought a more efficient option that would not compromise the quality of his education. He thought, “Surely there has got to be a better way!”

Tim and TeacherReady Cross Paths

Tim discovered TeacherReady and enrolled in the spring, which gave him the flexibility and freedom to balance his other full-time obligations while completing online coursework, field experience and state certification exams. He was thrilled to find a program that ultimately helped him become a certified teacher without compromising his ability to manage his military, family and work obligations.

TeacherReady provided Tim with a new set of classroom tools that complemented his prior educational experience. The curriculum taught him about the diverse backgrounds and economic conditions of students, which was not always evident in affluent private school settings. “Maslov’s Hierarchy of Needs: food, love, safety and security, etc., were not specifically on my radar,” says Tim. But that all changed when he entered the public school system in Brevard County. He learned how extreme poverty could impact student learning environments. This knowledge changed his classroom management style, making him a more rounded educator.

One of Tim’s most significant takeaways from completing the program was that he should not assume anything and that diversity is not just an educational buzzword but a crucial aspect of teaching.

What Advice Does Tim Have for Future Students?

Tim says it’s essential for teachers to remember that each student’s situation that a teacher encounters in a classroom will be unique. And each teaching job they have in their life will look different.

After graduating from the TeacherReady program, Tim acknowledged that the certification process was not without its challenges. However, the program was still more efficient in getting him where he wanted to be as a teacher than if he had pursued other options.

Reflecting on His Time in the Classroom

When reflecting on his time in the classroom, Tim expressed a simple yet heartfelt answer when asked about what he loved the most: the kids.

Tim believes that at the end of the day, what matters is whether he made a difference in a young person’s life, and he likes to think that the answer is mostly yes. Tests, quizzes, or other assessments are forgotten, but the impact on students’ lives remains.

So, What is Next for Tim?

When our team asked Tim about his future career plans, he casually mentioned his trust in serendipity, which has often led him to unexpected and extraordinary opportunities. After serving 34 years in the Army and teaching for many years, Tim retired as a Lieutenant Colonel in June 2017 and took a break from teaching in 2019. However, he later became eligible to become a JROTC instructor and decided to apply for the position in late fall 2019. He saw it as a perfect opportunity to combine his teaching experience in Latin and his military expertise. The United States Army Cadet Command selected him to apply for JROTC positions throughout the United States in the early Spring of 2020.

As of May 2023, Tim’s life has come full circle, and he has returned to Massachusetts, where he was born and raised. He will be teaching at Methuen High School for at least ten years, serving as the Senior Army Instructor of the JROTC program with the 2nd Brigade, which covers New England, New Jersey and New York.

An Unexpected Pay-Off

In January, Tim attended Phase 2 of his initial classroom certification course for his new position, as he believed that learning never stops for a teacher. While at the course, one of the instructors asked to see Tim’s TeacherReady transcripts, which he provided as a PDF on the same day. As Tim recalls, “Voila!,” his four mandatory Pearson courses, which he had 18 months to complete for his new role as a Senior Army Instructor (SAI), were waived, and he was granted “equivalency” on the spot.

Tim was surprised to learn that the TeacherReady curriculum met Federal Educational Certification requirements, which he had not anticipated. He would have done the Pearson coursework if he had not received the equivalency. Nevertheless, the hard work he put in with TeacherReady paid off in unexpected ways.

Tim’s experience highlights what sets both the TeacherReady program and its students apart from others. TeacherReady recognizes and values the unique experiences and skill sets of each student and strives to meet them where they are. TeacherReady’s mission is to connect the dots between students’ everyday experiences and future goals, providing them with the necessary tools to succeed at an accelerated yet manageable pace, and allowing them to make a difference through their passion and purpose-filled work. People like Tim are just one example of this.