When a Teacher or Counselor Leaves…

by Hilda Johnston*

Hilda Johnson

From an adult student’s perspective, when a teacher or counselor leaves her position, it has a huge impact. The teacher or counselor has the power to bring out the best in their students. When this happens, a bond is formed between that teacher and the student. The teacher may be the reason why that student comes to class on a regular basis.


When the time has come for the teacher or counselor to move on, you will find that some students accept the change with a heartfelt, “Thank you.” Then, there are the students who have a hard time accepting this change. A student who does not fully understand why the teacher or counselor is leaving may take it personally. It is helpful if the teacher can explain why she is leaving so that the students know it is not somehow because of them.

Confronting the loss of a teacher or counselor may even result in a student leaving the program. The student asks, “What will I do without you to help me?” This is where that wonderful teacher should take the student aside and ask him to re-main in the program and to give himself and the new teacher or counselor a chance.

None of us likes change. We don’t like to come out of our comfort zones. But at times, life requires us to do so, and most of the time it is for the best. We move on; we step up.

Hilda Johnston, formerly a student at the Read/Write/Now program in Springfield, MA, is working to get her GED so that she can go to college. She is the mother of three and grandmother of five. She enjoys being back in school, and she encourages others to get a good education and to give the best of themselves in life. She says, “What you put in, you get out. And it will all be worth it in the long run.”

Writing and Discussion Questions

  • Have you had a teacher who left your program? What was that like?
  • What do you know about the working conditions at your program?
  • How do you think working conditions affect “learning conditions”?
  • How would you respond to the students (see cartoon on page 34) who said, “If you can’t give us what we need, we won’t come back”? Write a letter to them.
  • What would you need from your teacher to make it easier for you if s/he moves on? Write about it.

*Reprinted with permission from The Change Agent, Issue 25, Taking Action to Stay in School, September 2007

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11 Responses to “When a Teacher or Counselor Leaves…”

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  5. Syetan says:

    I personally use this with graeds 3 or 4 and up. When they can read well. High school students could certainly use it, too, especially as a good review of grammar, because it will start easier and get appropriately hard enough by the end of the year.As for the KJV, it will use a LOT of KJV, but because this covers a history of the English language, we wanted Bible verses that use more modern English as well. Also, at the beginning of the year, when not enough grammar is known, we use simpler versions, such as the NIrV. As the students learn more, more difficult versions can be used.By the way, I love using the KJV in pronoun study. Knowing what the thee’s and thou’s mean and knowing their case helps SO much in understanding both the Bible and the way we use English today. The KJV’s use of these so-called ancient words makes it much more specific and understandable.I hope this helps!Hugs,~Anne

  6. Teacher says:

    I think it’s more than just DESE- I think we need to make this case to the legislature as well. We need to remember to advocate for ourselves during Adult Literacy Day at the State House and other campaigns. Better working conditions and more stability for us mean a higher-quality education for our students.

  7. I've Seen It Happen says:

    This happens too many times in Adult Education. The money that the state saves by keeping adult ed salaries so low, it loses in the long run. When a teacher leaves, it means months of confusion for students, interviews, and extra work for administrative staff and usually the loss of that teacher’s knowledge of the population at that school. It takes years to build up an awareness of who your students are and what they need. When a teacher leaves, all that awareness disappears with them.

    It’s a shame that the DESE can’t see how much is being lost by focusing only on the number of seats in the classroom.

  8. One thing a departing teacher can emphasize is how change enhances learning. If a student has been in a particular teacher’s class for a long time, the personal bond is indeed very important in the student’s learning process. However, forming a new bond and experiencing another teacher’s approach can help the student to build on the strong foundation that the previous teacher helped to establish. The departing teacher should actually say that before he or she leaves. If a student sees a silver lining to the situation, she will be better equipped to learn in the new teacher’s class.

    Having returned to teaching in late 2008 after an almost 10-year hiatus, I’ve come to appreciate the importance of change — and of leaving and then coming back. It’s even better the second time around.

  9. I do not name names says:

    I assisted a good-bye party for one of our teachers a couple years ago. That was like a funeral. Students were crying and they couldn’t speak neither in English nor in their native languages. They were trying to express the feeling that in their lives many people have closed doors on them and this teacher was opening a huge gate for them… and now she was leaving.

    I hope we’ll be able to improve working conditions in the ABE field, so we’ll stop losing wonderful teachers and staff. In the meantime, if you have to leave, try to do what you can to make the experience less traumatic for your students. Our teacher told her students: “Keep working hard on your English and I’ll be your teacher again in a higher level”.

  10. Sad Adult Ed Teacher says:

    This is a great post. It’s important to consider and when/if I do need to leave my class, I will definitely take these things into consideration. Thank you for the fuel for thought Hilda.

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