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Veterans Day Interview with Teacher, Military Vet Eric Combs

TeachHUB Interview



2006 Ohio Teacher of the Year Eric Combs combines his military background with a passion for education.

After retiring from a 20-year career in the US Air Force, Combs instructed Air Force Junior ROTC and got his teaching license through a Troops to Teachers program. He taught Social Studies in an at-risk high school program that helps students adapt to high school life and improve their academic skills.

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Currently an administrator in Ohio, Combs is a 4-time Who’s Who Among American Teachers honoree, in addition to being named Teacher of the Year and winning several other awards.

Combs shares his unusual journey to becoming an award-winning teacher in this exclusive TeachHUB interview.  


How has your military background shaped how you teach?


I was a tactical instructor in the Air Force and much of the professional military education courses (PME) involve Covey, Senge, Juran, Deming, Baldridge and other organizational management behavior models seen and used today. After 20 years, I had received the same, if not more, training than most instructors in process management, Quality Improvement, Leadership, Counseling, Logistics and Services.

The difference is, in my world in the military, a D doesn't cut it. Setting high expectations can be achieved, and most often you will find your students rise to that occasion.


Both in your military and teaching career, you've been highly decorated. What makes you stand out from the crowd?


I guess tenacity and a willingness to learn. I was also very fortunate to have an excellent principal and lead teachers who mentored me. There's probably quite a bit of luck in there too! There are an awful lot of teachers out there who never get recognized and that is part of our culture that needs to change.


What do you think have been the keys to your teaching success?


I think keeping your passion and focus on the students is the critical component to effective teaching. Everything you do should be subordinane to the fact they they (our students) are the only reason we exist.


Your Time to Teach method stresses behavior management to maximize instructional time. What is the first/most important step teachers can take to achieve this goal?


QTIP - Quit Taking it Personal.

While teaching is a profession of the heart, we must not compromise our duty and position to emotions. Too many people wake up and go to work ready to take offense. We should be ready to take the initiative. Don't take the drama bait that is so often tossed out by an angry parent or uncaring student.


What is your most memorable teaching moment?


When one of my students, who had terminal cancer, told me that there are no excuses for not learning. She would tell the other students that even if you're dying, you still have no excuse.

What a powerful message that if you truly want it, you can learn. Epictetus says it best, "only the educated are truly free"


FromHaving traveled the world and experienced international conflict abroad must be an asset to teaching social studies. What story did you tell most to your students?


I often talk about how much there is to learn from others. Other countries, cutlures and people. I had the honor of working with some of the world's most elite soldiers and that experience taught me that when we have a common goal, nothing is impossible.

I took home some valuable lessons from so many places. For example, in Korea the most honored profession is teaching. In Germany, the expectation to get into college is extremely intense and competitive. In Kuwait, I got to witness women experiencing rights for the very first time (they earned the right to vote, drive and hold leadership positions after the Gulf War).


You're currently an administrator. What do you miss most about being in the classroom?


The constant challenge to engage students, to inspire and excite their suspicions.


Sum up your teaching philosophy in a single sentence.


Never stop learning, because when you do you are done teaching.


Recognize veterans you know - in or out of the teaching profession - in the comments section!

You can learn more about Eric on his website. Eric is also available for in-service professional development training. To book him for your next Professional Development day, request a quote or call Jen at 800-298-8156.