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There and Back Again

Donnie Dicus Uncategorized

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How I left Teaching and Why I Came Back and Stay

Tomorrow, I get to meet my 11th group of students. I have been doing this profession for ten years now and I am still excited for every new group like it’s my first time all over again. People often make comments about how hard my job is and how they can never do it. Many times I am asked why I even continue doing it.

To answer this question, it might help to give some back story. I taught second grade for 8 years in Tucson, Arizona during one of the worst economic recessions in American history. Over the course of those eight years, I observed my salary shrink and shrink. Sure, I was getting minimal raises every year. However, the increase in the cost of insurance and other benefits made the raise a wash. In my eighth year of teaching, I was taking home less money than I was during my first year teaching. Even though I had a part time job, I was burying myself in debt to maintain a job that I loved. Because of that, I made an important decision. After eight years, I quit teaching.

Once I quit, I was quickly hired to work as a bartender at a swanky resort in Scottsdale, Arizona. Let me tell you, there is some money to be made there. One random Tuesday evening, I had a table of 6 people come in for happy hour and their tab was nearly $1,800 before tip. Thanks in large part to groups like this, I was able to work about 30-35 hours a week and make nearly double what I was making as a teacher in Tucson. (As a teacher, I was working 60-90 hours a week.) Another big plus was when I was able to clock out of my job around 11 at night and I was able to leave all of my work at work. Nothing came home with me. It felt great to sleep in a bit every day, leisurely read by the pool, go to the gym, and go to the bathroom when I wanted.

As months of this lifestyle wore on, I noticed a change in me. I was not enjoying the days as much any longer. I was beginning to get a bit bored at work. Once you learn how to make most cocktails and you can make them quickly, there is really no room to grow or challenge yourself. I began to doubt my decision and wonder if the point of my life was to make drinks for people who would forget me the next day. I became aware that my current life was lacking direction and purpose. I knew that I needed to do something more. After 13 months of living the high life, I made another fateful decision. I returned to teaching.

I am now beginning my third year after what I refer back to as my sabbatical. That sabbatical was the best thing for me. For one, it helped me get out of a huge amount of debt. Plus, it proved to me some questions that had always nagged at the back of my mind. Was teaching the career I wanted? Would I like to do anything else? That year, I learned that teaching is what I wanted to do and I was not happy doing anything else. With my sabbatical, I may have always had those doubts.

Now that I have been back for several years, I know what keeps me in the field. Teaching is challenging and rewarding. No day is like any other and every situation requires a different way to look at it. Thus, teaching never gets boring or mundane.

If I did my calculations correct, I have made nearly $350,000 in my ten years of teaching. However, I have also made at least 250 differences. Can you imagine anything more rewarding than that? It was fun slinging cocktails and glasses of wine but I wasn’t changing any lives at the bar!

Another reason I stay is because my students and my staff need me. Somehow, Arizona has found its pockets empty again and now it is very hard to hire qualified teachers. Many classrooms in my district are going to be empty this year because there aren’t any teachers applying for the positions. These students are going to be divided up into other classes. I have even heard stories about teachers getting rid of their desks to make room for more students. Our students deserve better. Our teachers deserve better. I stay to give my students the quality instruction they need. I stay to join with my colleagues to help carry burdens which may be too heavy as staffs dwindle. I stay to encourage other teachers to stay and to give our students a better future.

I stay because I am afraid that no one else will. I stay because I do not want our students to feel alone. I stay because I know I can make an impact. I stay because I know that I may make mistakes but I will not fail our students. I stay because I can. And like my good friend, Alaina Adams said, “those who can, should teach.” Why do you stay?


Donnie Dicus

Tucson, Arizona

My name is Donnie Dicus and I have been teaching in Arizona for 12 years. I came to Arizona from Southern Illinois to attend the University of Arizona in Tucson. I graduated in 2003 and began teaching second grade. I taught second grade in Tucson for 8 years before moving to Phoenix. I now teach third grade. I achieved National Board Certification in 2012 and I received my Master's Degree from Grand Canyon University in 2015. I achieved a National Board Certificate in Middle Childhood Generalist in 2012. I’ve been teaching mainstream and SEI 3rd grade classrooms in the Cartwright School District in Phoenix since 2013. I taught 2nd grade and was a math interventionist in Tucson in the Amphitheater School District. I’ve been a technology coach and have helped teachers apply technology to improve instruction. I facilitate coaching cohorts for teachers going through the National Board process and organize peer groups at my site to pair new teachers with experienced teachers. In 2010 I was nominated as a Rodel Semi-Finalist for Exemplary teaching in 2010 and featured as a Teacher Leader in February 2016 by the Arizona K12 Center. I have class pictures of every single student I have taught behind my desk on my wall. After 12 years, that is approximately 350 students. My students know that this is my Wall of Accomplishments. I am so proud of the difference I made in their lives. I became a teacher to make a difference and I strive to do so every day.

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Comments 4

  1. Danielle Brown

    Donnie the honesty in this post is inspiring. I appreciate how you reflected if teaching was for you during your “sabbatical”. I am glad that you were able to find the positivity during this time and help yourself, but I am equally glad that you returned to your classroom and realized that this is where you want to be. Thank you for being a strong teacher for both your students and teachers.

  2. Sandy Merz

    You and Alaina wrote super pieces on returning to teaching. I’m proud to call you both my brother and sister in the profession. I won’t say you’re going “back” to teaching because as former to National Teacher of the Year, Sarah Wesley Brown says, “You’re going forward into the classroom.” This is my 29th year in 8th grade, 30th if you count the year I was a student, and like most recent years there was zero nervousness. In fact the first day was basically another day, at least as far as nerves went. But on the other hand I’m motivated to push back against the notion that late career teachers have lost some of their edge (with all do respect to Hargraeves) and bust out with a career year.

  3. Jess Ledbetter

    PREACH!!!! My first year teaching shook me to the core and I took a similar “sabbatical,” working part-time as a Music Therapist in other teachers’ classrooms and part-time as a server in a fine dining establishment. The combo was great for my energy and pocket book over three years. I loved that the MT job was all fun and no drama or paperwork. And the server job was so financially solid that I paid for my $15K Masters in cash. But I always missed the classroom: the deep connections with students and families. I’ve been back full-time teaching now for six years, and I mean it when I tell people: “This is my dream job!”

  4. Kathy Wiebke

    I am constantly in awe of your commitment to your craft, your profession, and most importantly, your kids. I remember a post you made last year about your take home pay after a few hours of work. I remember being stunned…thinking who walks away from this kind of money?!?!

    I couldn’t agree more when you say our kids deserve better. They absolutely do. There is no reason that a country as rich as ours cannot provide a truly world class education beyond the sound bite. Thank you for your commitment to our profession and Arizona’s kids.

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