From Black Hawk Helicopters to a Middle School classroom
Teachers College alum John McNally is bringing a world of experience to his middle school students. A 2009 graduate from the Social Studies program, McNally now teaches 6th and 7th grade history at Horace Mann Middle School in Riverdale. Recently featured along with his wife and father-in-law in Time magazine’s story “The New Greatest Generation,” McNally is one of a number of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who are bringing their leadership skills home, and, in his case, into the classroom.
Prior to pursuing his degree and starting his teaching career in New York, his eight years of service in the U.S. Army took him all over the world and through a myriad of experiences he says made him a stronger leader and problem solver who is much more open to change and new experiences.
After attending West Point and graduating with a commission as a 2nd lieutenant, McNally chose Army Aviation, flying Black Hawk helicopters, and eventually reached the rank of captain. During his time in the military he was stationed in Alabama, Germany, Hawaii, and completed two combat tours in Iraq for a total of 26 months.
In May of 2008, McNally left the Army and started his studies at Teachers College soon after. “I chose TC because I knew that I wanted to teach and I wanted to attend the most challenging, enriching program possible. In addition, the reception that I received as an applicant from the Social Studies department was overwhelmingly welcoming.”
The transition from the Army was quite surreal for McNally. “After being in a military environment for 12 years and transitioning to a TC classroom within 6 weeks, it was culture shock to say the least. In the Army, I was the most liberal person around; after my first week at TC, I suddenly became the most conservative person in the room.”
McNally’s draw to education began while he was a platoon leader in the Army. “Although flying a Black Hawk helicopter was exciting, I quickly realized that my passion was with training and developing my soldiers. While on a deployment to Iraq, one reoccurring issue for my soldiers was their lack of financial literacy. I took it upon myself to provide classes on basic personal finance to help them with their situations. The classes turned out to be useful to my soldiers and rewarding for me.”
This experience of being in a leadership role and teaching his soldiers inspired McNally to make a career out of education. After deciding to leave the Army, McNally wanted the opportunity to mentor and teach students every day. Since he had always had an interest in history and personal finance, he thought teaching high school history was the right move.
After not being in the classroom for eight years, McNally’s first summer session at TC was an academically rigorous nine-credit course load. He pulled quite a few all-nighters trying to figure out how to write a lesson plan. He credits his wife, Liz, with always being there for support, “available to proof read my papers at literally any time of the day.” In addition, McNally found the students at TC very friendly and inspiring, many of whom he still keeps in touch with, sharing ideas and offering an ear when needed.
Now in his third year of teaching, McNally says he is still learning every day. “I hope to instill in my current students a strong curiosity and desire to learn every day. I also hope to teach them the skills necessary to be successful both in academia and in life outside the classroom.”
In his spare time, McNally loves to travel with his wife and 14-month-old son, James. “We try to get out and see the world as much as possible. We have a goal of visiting all of the National Parks at some point. We’ve reached 16 of the 58, so have plenty more traveling yet to do!”