TRIAD Air Force Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps Senior Aerospace Science Instructor Col. Mark Talley is currently in his third year of teaching following a 30-year career in the Air Force and two years as a retiree traveling in an RV.
Talley’s dad was in the Air Force, cementing his future career in the Air Force.
However, he never foresaw eventually using that experience to teach students at Knob Noster, Warrensburg and La Monte high schools.
The courses Talley instructs involve a wide range of aspects including classroom teaching, physical training and uniform inspections.
Talley retired from the Air Force in 2015 and spent the next two years traveling in an RV with his wife.
“My wife, Beth, and I hopped in an RV and became full-time RV-ers for two years, so we truly were retired,” Talley said.
Talley said it was God who brought him and Beth to where they are now and to his current position in the AFJROTC program.
“One of the phrases I give to kids on those days where they’re being a bit more ornery is, ‘I came out of retirement to teach you?’” Talley said. “And yes, I did.”
What would surprise people most to learn about your job?
“After a 30-year Air Force career, that this is so different from what I did in the Air Force. Some of the questions that come up, since our JROTC program actually incorporates three schools, are about working with three schools, three school schedules and three communities.”
What’s the most common question you get about what you do?
“’After 30 years in the Air Force, why would you want to teach teenagers?’ My response is usually, ‘Why wouldn’t I?’ I enjoy being able to watch them grow. Our program is designed to be a leadership laboratory. Give them the chance to lead in a bit of a secured, controlled environment so they can learn what works for them and doesn’t work for them and maybe start enhancing their tools so when they get out of this controlled environment, they’ve already had practice, they know what works for them and what doesn’t.”
What is the most challenging aspect of your job?
“Keeping my energy level up to match the level of 130 teenagers. The second part is making sure that of the 130 teenagers and cadets, we are challenging each one in some way. Not everybody is at the same level. Not everybody has the same experiences or desires. So, it’s trying to understand what can push each of them a little bit more, since we’re trying to focus on their growth and growing them with our mission as building better citizens.”
What is the most rewarding aspect of your job or career?
“Everything I just said. Watching them grow as some of them had never lead anyone in their life. The hardest leading you’ll ever do is with your peers. Somebody younger or older than you, we’ll follow them. But leading someone that you’re friends with and telling them they’re not doing a good job, that is hard. Watching them do that and do it well is probably one of the most rewarding aspects of this job.”
Would 10-year-old you be surprised that you are in this position or field?
“That I would basically be a school teacher? Yes, I would be surprised. I was not the best student and I tended not to pay attention. I can’t tell you how many times I have to tell students, ‘Why aren’t you paying attention?’ and I think back to the 10-year-old Mark Talley and think, ‘Pretty close to what you used to do, isn’t it, Mark?’ So understanding that, I look for different ways to keep them engaged. Not necessarily entertain them, but look for different ways to help them learn. Everybody learns differently.”
What advice would you give someone starting a job similar to yours?
“I spent 30 years in the Air Force, but I had never instructed. If you’re walking into an instructing position and you’re a new instructor or teacher, don’t discount some of your courses and training or getting with a peer to understand how they manage a classroom. How do you figure out grades? How do you take curriculum that’s made for two years and fit them into one year? What do you do when you present a lesson and you see the eyes that say most of this class doesn’t understand what I just said? How do I adjust? I don’t have to reinvent the wheel, I can go to peers and use some of that instruction I received to be able to understand how to improve myself and how to do this job better.”