The Teacher You Left Behind

Lisa Moberg Education, Life in the Classroom, Social Issues, Teacher Leadership

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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

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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Comments 8

  1. Danielle Brown

    Lisa! What a powerful call to action! A call for preservice teachers to engage in meaningful experiences with various populations. Also a call to current educators to control the things we can control ( I LOVE MY STARBUCKS RUNS!) :) I appreciate the positive spend on this, and I love & have said myself we should celebrate those who stay.


    “Quitting in education hurts the most valuable element of our job, the children.”

    As we take the paths that are meant for us let us remember that this is the case! Reflect with this in mind.

  2. Donnie Lee

    I love the idea you propose about the teachers that are left behind. I’ve learned in the last few years that it is easier for me to help the teachers that are there because there will be more work for “those left behind” if they quit. I must say that I am infuriated though by the reality that your blog illustrates. I think it is so insulting that education professionals with college degrees must decide between a career they love and the opportunity to have a Starbuck’s or a nice meal from time to time. I can see why teachers want to live the field after a few years. It is one thing to know that teachers are underpaid in college but it is completely different once we enter the reality of our field. “I’ve had a stressful day! Why can’t I afford a glass of wine to help me decompress?!” Your last line is what really makes the hair on my neck stand up. “Quitting only hurts the children..” That is completely correct but teachers should never use that excuse on one another. How many times do administrators, legislators, or parents use that against teachers to beat us to do what they want without any compensation? Everyone knows that teachers will do whatever it takes because of the kids. We sound like demanding, uncaring monsters when we ask for better compensation. There is so much guilt that comes with that statement and sometimes its the guilt of not being able to rise above it that drives us out of the field.

  3. kbuffett

    What a fantastic post! This is the perspective that I think is lacking in many of these conversations. The way that teachers are compensated is an absolute injustice – with that being said, I cannot fully blame some teachers from stepping away from the field.

    So, how do we get teachers in the classroom and make sure that they stay there? As you mentioned, college students who are interested in going into teaching need to enter the profession with a comprehensive and complete understanding of what they will be subjected to once they are all in (including salary and expectations, depending on where they want to work). That’s why I think shadowing teachers as a prospective teacher is invaluable. A teacher’s day does not begin and end with the bell. As someone who grew up in public schools, I know that being a teacher is one of the most stressful jobs there is – as more and more regulations, salary-related freezes, and standardized testing is dumped on educators, there has to be something that keeps them afloat: passion.

    It makes me very proud that there are teachers like you out there who still have that passion. Please continue to make a positive impact on the community and children you serve.

  4. Jen Robinson

    Wow! Thank you for sharing Lisa. Yes, education is the real “Survivor” experience. I love your honesty to teachers – 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.

  5. Mike Vargas

    And I quote ” suck it up buttercup”. You know when I first started teaching it was a badge of honor to work long hours and you were just expected to put in the work. I loved, loved, loved this post. I think we are seeing too many teachers now who are coming in with totally unrealistic expectations. They never really spent time around kids and are woefully unprepared. When I first started teaching most of my buddies I started with had all coached parks and rec, worked at the YMC, volunteered with youth groups etc… In other words they knew a little about working with kids before they majored in education. Today that is no longer the case. And FYI I hate quitter too.

  6. Jess Ledbetter

    So good! One of the things that bugs me the most is when fabulous teachers leave and write some kind of Op-Ed post about why they left–like their few final paragraphs are going to make a difference. Those who want to change education must stay. And we shouldn’t be celebrating those who don’t.

  7. Treva Jenkins

    Very powerful Lisa! We want to be sympathetic and we are, but your post tells the “other side” with a fresh, honest, raw perspective (peeling back those layers). It’s what we all feel and think when one of our on leaves the profession and we are all left to pick up the pieces. I especially love your last paragraph: “Make the decision to be a teacher very carefully…Be honest with yourself. Do the profession a favor and only stay if it’s your priority. We need keepers!”. As a mentor teacher, I am constantly have those difficult and challenging conversations with my new teachers. As Dr. Robinson said, “quitting in education hurts the most valuable element of our job, the children.”

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