PUEBLO (AP) – It was during his days as a tenaciously effective Army drill sergeant that Karl Brandenburg first entertained the idea of moving from the barracks into the classroom.
“There was something fulfilling about teaching, coaching and mentoring raw recruits into well-disciplined, highly motivated young soldiers,” said Brandenburg, who now uses those leadership and training skills to shape the minds and character of students at Risley International Academy of Innovation.
Coming from a long line of those who served, Brandenburg said choosing a military career wasn’t a difficult decision.
“It’s what we do as Brandenburgs,” he said. “Many in my family have served in the Army and a few in the Navy, so to me it was a logical choice.”
A month after receiving his high school diploma in 1989, Brandenburg was inducted into the Army in Tucson, Arizona.
With the exception of a three-year stint as a drill sergeant, Brandenburg’s 22-plus years were spent in the infantry, the fighting backbone of the Army since its inception, during which time he saw combat.
“My military career took me all over the southern United States, Western and Southeastern Europe as well as the Middle East,” Brandenburg explained.
While putting in 16-hour days as a soldier, Brandenburg pursued a bachelor’s degree in history at Thomas Edison University, a college that caters to active adults wishing to further their education.
“I had always liked reading and studying war history as a kid, so for me, the history degree path was an easy one to take,” Brandenburg said. “One that I would use as the foundation of my job as a teacher.”
As Brandenburg prepared to retire from the Army and enter his second career, he reflected back on his time in the fighting forces and realized that the education he received there was equally as vital as the one at the collegiate level.
“Honestly, it was the best job I have ever had,” Brandenburg said of the military. “The people you meet and become friends with are brothers for life, regardless of the distance that separates you.
“But, most of all, I love the person I have become because of the Army. I am a hardened individual that is driven by a relentless work ethic.”
Brandenburg’s teaching career began on a substitute level, filling in at Pueblo City Schools (D60) and Pueblo County School District 70. It was a learning experience that whetted his appetite for full-time instruction and the opportunity to combine his core knowledge with an array of life experiences,
“I returned to Colorado State University-Pueblo to earn my second bachelor’s degree, this one in secondary education.
“After about 15 months of additional education and credentials in hand, I was hired by (then principal, now superintendent) Charlotte Macaluso in October 2013 to become a Risley Bear, and I haven’t looked back since.”
In his first year at Risley, Brandenburg taught sixth-graders before moving up to the seventh grade the following year.
“State testing was going to start in the social studies field,” he explained. “And since state testing is very important to schools and educator evaluations, I felt that I could make a difference for our kids, school, district and fellow teachers by teaching seventh grade.”
No matter the grade level, Brandenburg is a favorite of students for colorfully and engagingly bringing history and social studies to life.
Whether it’s the vast and mysterious tapestry of ancient Egypt, interpretation of maps or firsthand accounts of military life, Brandenburg approaches education with the same passion that helped forge “green” young recruits into life-ready men and women.
“I can honestly say that it is the second-best job I have ever had,” Brandenburg said. “To me, being an educator is a worthwhile and important job. It ensures that the youth of our country are educated objectively, so they may succeed in their future lives and contribute to a better America.”
The former infantryman brings to the classroom a cache of valuable tools and skills acquired over two decades in Army green.
Implements that make him a more well-rounded and effective educator.
“Teamwork, integrity, discipline, leadership, initiative and the ability to thrive in an ever-changing environment were a natural fit for me in the classroom,” he said. “In my classroom and with my peers, I have every opportunity to use those skills – the most important being perseverance and dedication.”
Brandenburg’s role as a teacher affords him another luxury: that of serving as a positive role model.
“A big benefit to teaching is mentoring kids and being there for them when they have no one else to talk to, or look up to.
“That way, they are provided with an additional layer of support in their lives and have a much better chance of becoming productive members of our society, rather than simply another statistic,” he said.
Dawn Johnson, principal of Risley, praised Brandenburg for his commitment to his young charges, the school and the district at large.
“Mr. Brandenburg is truly an asset, both in and outside of the classroom. His level of integrity and dedication to excellence in all that he does serves as an exceptional role model for our students.
“He has high expectations for the content he teaches and is also a great resource for information about the military service as our students explore their college/career options.”