Slilma Tukey and Steve Platt Tukey: Cred. '17 Platt: Cred. '17
We asked Slilma Tukey (Cred. ’17) and Steve Platt (Cred. ’17),
both Air Force veterans beginning their teaching careers later in
life, to talk to us about why they joined the military, why
they’re making the change to teaching, and how their experiences
in the military affect their teaching practices.
Why did you choose an Air Force career?
SLILMA: It was something I always wanted to do. I’m from
Nicaragua and I remember when the U.S. Marines came when I was a
child and all the good they did. I was very grateful even at a
young age, and I wanted to do something to repay that.
STEVE: I would love to tell you I wanted to serve my nation when
I joined the Air Force at 18 years old, but I was just an
18-year-old boy who wanted to fly jets. Over time I came to
understand the gravity of what I was doing and to grow a much
greater appreciation for serving my country. So I’d say
thankfully my reasons matured to a much more community- and
What were your roles in the Air Force?
STEVE: I retired from the Air Force after 25 years. I flew F-16s,
which was what I always wanted to fly. And I went to war, which
is what I thought I wanted to do for my country. But after going
through wartime for many years, I understood the seriousness of
what I was doing, and the broad-based implication of a foreign
policy that rests on our projection of power. I began to
understand how my role was very much a part of where our nation
was going, and days like September 11 were very significant to me
based on what I was doing at the time.
SLILMA: I was in the Air Force Security Forces for six years.
Security Forces includes military police, heavy weapons, law
enforcement, airbase defense, and canine units. We’re responsible
for the security of military personnel and civilians inside
bases, military assets, and the perimeter of the base. We’re
overseas and also in the air with the heavy jets like C-5s and
C-130s. Security Forces is responsible for the security of those
areas. I did a little bit everything, both in-country and
overseas, in training scenarios and war scenarios, from a
bird’s-eye view to a boots-on-the-ground view. You get to really
appreciate your purpose in life and your job, and you get to see
how you’re really just one nut and bolt of this great machine
that can have devastating effects, but also can have incredibly
STEVE: We refer to Security Forces as defenders for a reason.
They’re the protectors for all of us. It’s a big deal because
we’d be hunkered down in our bases, deployed at different
locations, and they’re the folks who are out there looking out
for threats and keeping us safe while we prepare to fly our
missions. Defenders are really a big deal in the Air Force.
SLILMA: Likewise it was very comforting for us to know we had
eyes in the sky.
Why did you make the transition to a teaching
SLILMA: Oh, I always wanted to be a teacher. I just felt I had to
pay back something to the country that adopted me first. I was
able to fulfill that debt and now I’m doing something I always
wanted to do.
STEVE: I’m retired, so I don’t have to do anything—our country
does a really nice job of giving you your retirement after your
military career. It’s a very fair pay. But I had teachers in high
school, old folks who are about my age now, who had been there
and done that, and sort of guided me. I think they planted the
seed for the things that matured when I was ready for them,
things like national service, things like a community of
interests where we come together and try to mold the future.
Those are the kinds of ideas I wasn’t ready for at 18 years old,
but I heard them. So it’s a circle, a karmic wheel we’re
repaying, same for both of us. You come back around and you owe
the next generation for the life you’ve had. And I’ve had a
pretty darn awesome career and would like to give people insight
into what that means, and the seriousness of what that means.
SLILMA: In a way we’re both still serving, still doing something
that will benefit our country, and there’s a lot of pride in
STEVE: Oh yeah.
What has student teaching been like for you during your
SLILMA: I’m teaching kindergarten at a Spanish-immersion school
and I love it. I’m the oldest in my cohort, so it’s been a
different perspective, seeing all these amazing young
professionals. I could be their mother, but they take time to
work with me and teach me. In return I feel like I have sort of
an auntie or big sister role. It’s been a really good give and
take. In some ways it’s been similar to being back in the service
where you have that camaraderie and you know who has your back.
I’ve formed a network of friendships that I know are going to be
longstanding. It’s so exciting to find that where I didn’t expect
STEVE: My cohort members have been lovely as well. They help out
the old guy, which has been nice. I’m teaching high school
physics and biology and I’ve had some really memorable moments of
connecting with students. I had a mom leave a message on my
voicemail saying, “I don’t know what you’re doing in class but my
ninth-grader has never come home talking about a class, but he’s
says he’s kind of into yours, so keep doing whatever you’re
SLILMA: That’s exciting, to get that feedback.
STEVE: Yeah, it really is. I went, “I think this teaching thing
is going to work out all right.” It felt good.
How does your military experience help you as a
SLILMA: I’m definitely drawing on a lot of things I learned and
experienced. Persistence, definitely, and organization, and the
leadership perspective. And I guess, I don’t know about you
Steve, but you know the bad days…they’re not so bad. I’ve seen
STEVE: Oh yeah, you have context. Also, I was the boss when I
left the Air Force. I was a colonel and I had a couple of hundred
people working for me, so I can command a room. Classroom
management is not an issue for me. I can walk into the room and
attract the attention of my students and keep them
engaged. But I think that’s really a small part of what I
bring to the job. As a commander, you have great insight into
people’s lives—the wonderful things and the not-so-wonderful
things, and you see people operating under all these conditions.
And I think it sensitizes you. I know that what’s happening
outside the classroom can impact my students’ performances and
ability to engage with me. It allows me to have empathy for my
SLILMA: You’re right—I hadn’t thought about that. I’m in
kindergarten so it’s like herding cats, but still you can
definitely see what they bring from home.
Should other veterans consider teaching?
STEVE: Oh goodness yes. In the military you’re constantly
learning new skill sets, and the Air Force itself is evolving,
and that makes you flexible. So when you walk into a teaching
program as a veteran, you’re receptive to continuing to be a
student and learning. You have a storehouse of experience and
knowledge and empathies that are ready at your disposal to apply
to the new skills you’re learning.
Slilma: I agree. We’re constantly learning and growing—that’s the
military in a nutshell. I ran training programs for Security
Forces, I was a commander as well overseas, so there’s a lot that
you learn. With Security Forces you’re always on the front lines,
always teaching someone something—I could compare that to
classroom management, it’s just one-on-one, so the transition
into education is seamless, nice and easy.