Bill Byrd Wins First Troops To Teachers Award

By Jennifer Mullen

When Bill Byrd served in the Marines and, later, as a Navy lieutenant, he answered ultimately to the commander in chief. But last October, Byrd, now a teacher in Alabama, answered to another impressive chief – the first lady.

Byrd, who received a master’s degree in education in 1997 through Old Dominion’s Military Career Transition Program (MCTP), was one of three soldiers-turned-teachers selected for the first Troops to Teachers’ Excellence in Teaching awards, which were presented by none other than Laura Bush.

He accepted the honor during a ceremony at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. “You can tell she is a teacher by the way she spoke and the way she interacted with people,” he said.

A teacher at Riverton Middle School in Huntsville, Ala., Byrd instructs seventh- and eighth-graders in science, social studies and math, as well as in the finer points of respect and discipline. His methods may be strict, but he is regarded as one of the school’s best teachers by students and parents alike.

“I’m very fair, very consistent, and I push [my students] hard,” he said.

Indeed, his style is similar to that found in the military. If a student doesn’t do his homework, Byrd and the youngster will step into the hallway and call the student’s mother. If students are caught chewing gum – also a no-no – they must write 60 definitions from their math book.

“I make a lot of calls at the beginning of the year. I don’t make many at the end of the year,” he observed.

But if Riverton’s 2002 Teacher of the Year is strict, he’s also caring. He calls to check on those who are sick, and if a student’s grades drop, he calls the parents. In the five years Byrd has taught at Riverton, there has been a 10-point jump in seventh-grade SAT scores and a 50 percent increase in the number of students qualifying for advanced algebra in eighth grade.

Byrd wanted to be a teacher from his early years. Needing to pay his way through college, he joined the Marines out of high school. After serving four years, he attended the University of Alabama and received a bachelor’s degree in history and economics. Deciding that teaching wouldn’t support him, his new wife, Cindy, and a family, Byrd joined the Navy and served until his retirement in 1997.

It was in the final years of his service that Byrd, stationed in Norfolk, learned about the MCTP program, which trains retiring military personnel to become teachers. “Most of my instructors were former military members,” he said, noting that the dual experience made their teaching better.

Byrd and his wife later returned to Alabama, where the MCTP program helped him land a job at Riverton – along with fellow Old Dominion MCTP alumna Morgin Ricks (M.S.Ed.’99).

“Public school teachers do not get a lot of big recognition,” Byrd noted, “so I was very surprised about the award. But there are a lot of good people in this program.”