The Teacher You Left Behind

Hi, it’s me.  Lisa.  The teacher you left behind.  I’m picking up the pieces of what you’ve started, what you’ve not started and should have, and the relationships you abandoned.  Yep, can you hear the frustration in my words?  I think I have every right to be frustrated.  I deal with the kids who ask, “Why did my teacher quit?  Why didn’t they come back?”  I see the hurt in their eyes and the weariness in their actions as they come to school to find another substitute teacher in the classroom and yet another set of procedures and expectations to follow.  I pick up your extra responsibilities in clubs and tutoring because you didn’t have the stamina to keep going.

I used to be a part of a school that would give “Bon Voyage” certificates and a round of applause to teachers who were leaving after that school year.  I have to hand it to them—they stayed for the long haul, throughout the school year, but seriously, why… why are they getting applause for leaving??  What about the teachers they left behind?  We are left to hire new teachers to fill their spots and train/support the teachers for the next few years.  We are left to pick up the pieces of creating cohesive teams and forming strong bonds.   Maybe these are the ones who should be celebrated and honored.

What about the rest of the teachers starting to flee the scene of education?  “It’s too hard… not enough pay… not enough respect.”  I hear these phrases every day, and I completely understand.  I feel the same way, but those are excuses.  It’s time to stop the excuses, create a vision, and stick to your plan.  Here are some tips from someone who has overcome these issues:

If the job’s too hard, ask for help.  Believe me, you won’t be fired!!

  • Find a mentor and consistently meet for purposeful conversations and planning
  • Talk with an inspirational teammate on campus to keep you on track
  • Get real with your principal (they aren’t the bad guys!)
  • Focus on 1 hour at a time, 1 day at a time.  Don’t stress about the past or the future.

If the job’s not paying enough, look at your lifestyle expenses.  Come on, you knew in college that teachers don’t get paid enough.  It shouldn’t be a big surprise when you get your first paycheck!

  • Adjust your lifestyle to match that paycheck (no Starbucks, restaurants, or new clothes for a while)
  • Cut down the debt
  • Pick up some after-school tutoring, sports, or clubs for extra pay

If the job’s not giving you enough respect, suck it up.  (As long as you’re not abused in any way.)

  • Help out your local PTA, PTO, etc. with parent involvement events (with a cheerful heart).  It goes a long way with your parent community.
  • If you treat your office manager and maintenance people with an overabundance of kindness and respect, you will be welcomed in the school family.
  • Respect is a 2-way street.  Smile, listen, give.

Don’t get me wrong- I am fully supportive of those teachers who need to quit to have babies, mend marriages, physically and mentally heal, and support ailing family members.  Kudos to those teachers who find another role in education and challenge themselves!!

To the legislators who are trying to find ways to “lure” educators to our teacher-less schools- maybe it’s time to reward the teachers who stay.  Instead of paying new teachers $1,000 for signing contracts with Title 1 schools, the loyal teachers should be provided a bonus for their faithful service.

To the excited education students in college, make the decision to be a teacher very carefully.  Shadow a teacher at a Title 1 school for an entire day for an entire week.  Don’t leave at noon or at the final bell!  See what a full teacher’s day actually looks like (usually a minimum of 10 hours).  Look at the net pay that educators receive at the districts you hope to be hired in.  Be a volunteer in an inner-city children’s program to see if you have the mental and physical stamina to endure the expectations.  Don’t choose education because it’s an “easy degree to achieve.”  It’s not the degree you have to worry about, it’s the intense pressure of the job.  Only the strong will survive.  Do you have what it takes?  Be honest with yourself.  Do the profession a favor and only stay if it’s your priority.  We need keepers!

Education is the real “Survivor” experience.  It is sink or swim.  If you’re sinking, do something about it and don’t quit.  Quitting in education hurts the most valuable element of our job, the children.


Lisa Moberg

Lisa Moberg

El Mirage, AZ

Adventure is my middle name. Although I have never sought it out, it somehow finds me, especially in teaching!! These past 16 years of my teaching career have been an exciting voyage in education, stretched between two different states, three school districts, and six grade levels (Kindergarten – 5th grade). After teaching in Washington State for six years, I moved to Arizona and have taught at a Title 1 school in the West Valley for ten years.

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