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Troops to Teachers

Army veteran finds his second calling in the classroom

Troops to Teachers Program Specialist

Published: 02:05PM April 12th, 2018

Troops to Teachers

Mike Winkler, right, a retired lieutenant colonel and a current Beachwood Elementary School teacher, examines the results of his students’ erosion experiment during a science lab March 9.

A huge smile appears on the face of Beachwood Elementary School student Gabby Olter as she talks about two topics that rarely bring a smile to anyone’s face – long division and double digit multiplication.

For Gabby, that smile comes courtesy of hard work coupled with some help from fifth grade teacher and retired Lt. Col. Mike Winkler.

“I will be honest, last year I was awful at long division but this year Mr. Winkler has helped me a lot, and I’m actually very good at it now,” Gabby said. “(This year) has probably been one of my favorite school years.”

Winkler, who has been teaching for the past 10 years, retired out of Madigan Army Medical Center in 2004 and immediately transitioned into a civilian career there.

Although he said he enjoyed his time at Madigan, he felt that he needed to follow his second calling — to be a teacher.

“I simply made the decision that I needed to pursue that second calling,” Winkler said. “Therefore, I resigned from my job at Madigan and enrolled at Saint Martin’s University (in the) fall of 2005.”

While Winkler was apprehensive about going back to college in his forties, he said it didn’t take long for him to recognize that the military had equipped him with the necessary skills to be successful in the classroom.

“Within a couple of days, I realized that my military experience with time management and prioritization had me well prepared,” Winkler said. “Military service members, with our many different assignments, bring a level of confidence that we can do new jobs, meet new people and create new teams. A classroom is a small community, and we bring the experience of building teamwork.”

Paula Gayson, Beachwood Elementary principal, said she likes to hire military teachers as much as possible because of their discipline and the high expectations they have for both themselves and their kids, and, she said, Winkler is no exception.

“First and foremost, instructionally in the classroom he’s superb,” she said. “At any given time, Mike can tell you exactly what the data is showing for each student … (and) how to use the data to modify instruction … to get them where they need to be. He has consistently some of the highest scores in the district in growth and achievement, and he just does an awesome job for us.”

Winkler credits both his popularity among students and their subsequent academic success in his class to one guiding principle — all children want to learn.

“Students truly want to learn and our job is to help them be successful at it,” Winkler said. “Through that learning process, they know that they will receive a lot of assistance, support and scaffolding to help them. When they see themselves being successful, they want to learn more and to experience that success again.”

That perfectly describes Gabby who is now confident in her math skills as she prepares to move on to the sixth grade. Before she leaves Beachwood however, she had one message for Winkler.

“Thank you for all of your help and support,” Gabby said to her teacher.

For service members thinking about making a transition into the classroom, contact Troops to Teachers-Washington at