One Vet's Rewarding Journey to Teaching Special Ed Kids

Some days are long, and lessons don't go according to plan—but every day is a special sort of success.
May 12, 2015·
Tasbeeh Herwees is a journalist and writer from Los Angeles. She has written for Good Magazine, The Majalla, TruthDig, L.A. Currents, and others.

Bob Florio moved around a lot as a kid, changing cities and schools so often that he never really got to put down roots in any place or feel settled at any school.

“I would say that my educational experience was odd,” Florio says of his often-disrupted early years. “It wasn’t that great.”

When pressed to remember some of his own teachers, Florio has some trouble recalling most of them—except for one.

“I had one teacher in particular who just, instead of letting me slide by, instead of just letting me accept mediocrity and pass, he always pushed me,” says Florio. “I respected that, and I worked harder because of that.”

Florio still thinks about that teacher often and credits the educator with instilling the desire to teach. After high school, while taking his general education courses at a community college in New York, Florio found himself working at St. Colman’s, a group home for young boys who were dealing with developmental disabilities, substance abuse problems, and other special needs.

“That’s where I started to realize that I wanted to be in education,” says Florio.

Florio earned his degree in special education at the University of South Florida. He joined the Air National Guard, where he signed up for Troops to Teachers. The federal program provides army veterans with the resources they need to begin a career in education. It's one of many programs the government has implemented in an attempt to reduce the high unemployment rates among veterans. Only two years ago, unemployment rates were as high as 10 percent. Recently, however, the Obama administration’s efforts have pushed that number to 5.3 percent—a seven-year low.

“Troops to Teachers helped me [find] a school to work at that would be a good fit for my personality, my ideals, and my education,” says Florio. “They actually helped me with some funding to move out here.”

That’s where he is now—in Colorado, working as the special education department chair at the High Tech Early Colleges, where he teaches special ed and English as a second language.

“Some days get long,” says Florio. “Some days you don’t have as much success as you’d like to have. But what keeps you coming back is just being able to work with the kids and interact with them.”