Q&A With Retiring Teacher Lisa McCarthy


Helen Weiss

Lisa McCarthy is a math teacher at Rolla High School, and has been teaching for 31 years. She started teaching at Rolla in 2005. Before she left, ECHO asked her some questions in hopes of gaining a small piece of her wisdom.

Q: Why did you decide to become a teacher?

I really liked school. Originally, I wanted to be a band teacher, but my music teacher said, “Hey, maybe major in something else that you kind of like.” I took that to mean that she didn’t think I was quite good enough to be a music teacher. She also told me that if you major in music, that’s the only thing you’re gonna be able to do. She knew I liked math so she highly encouraged me to major in math, and then maybe get a minor in music which is what I did. And, ironically, my first teaching job was in St. Louis, teaching band. I got hired on as a permanent sub to be a band teacher at a middle school. I really liked it. [In college,] I knew that my earning potential, with a math degree from UMR, could be significant, that I could work for industry. But then after talking to some of my college roommates who were doing internships, and I’d asked them what kinds of things they did with their engineering internships, it did not sound like something that I was going to find interesting – not enough human interaction. So, I decided, my sophomore year of college, that I wanted to get a teaching degree

Q: What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishment?

Teaching the same subject for 31 years. So many people who get into education get away from teaching and they take on administrative roles or find different career paths within the education system. It’s not rare, but it’s kind of unique to stay the whole 31 years teaching.

Q: What advice do you have for new teachers?

You can tell within those first five years that this is something you like. If you do not enjoy being at the board and intermingling with the kids and teaching lessons, get out of education; we don’t need teachers to stick in there for 30 years if they do not enjoy teaching. If you like it, stay with it. But, your heart needs to be in it. The day you quit trying to get your students to do your assignments is the day you gave up on them, so don’t let that happen. If you’re a teacher, and you find that you have quit pushing the kids, you quit doing challenging lessons, you quit trying to get them to learn something new, it means you gave up on those kids

Q: What advice do you have for students?

Always take the most challenging class in any department that you can be successful in. That might be different for everyone, somebody might max out at geometry, but they took the hardest class that they could take and still passed. I fully believe you need to educate yourself as much as you can to become a lifelong learner. So much of building a strong community is to have a good education system, and if we’ve got students who don’t care about their education, then that weakens the whole community. Keep moving forward using that brain. It’s like a muscle, if you don’t exercise it, if you don’t keep challenging yourself and trying to learn new things, then someday you’re going to want to learn something new, but you won’t be able to because you never created those networks inside your brain to be able to learn something new.

Q: What has been your most memorable moment as a teacher?

I’ve had many wardrobe malfunctions, while at school. The most significant one wasn’t during class, so there weren’t any kids in the hall, but I was walking from my room to the other side of the building. And in this particular building where I was teaching there was a little ramp and I was wearing a pencil skirt and high heels, and I slipped and fell. Then when I stood up my skirt was on the ground. And so I’m standing in the hallway, in my high heels and my pantyhose and no skirt. So I grabbed my skirt and it completely ripped the whole seam out. So I took that skirt and I wrapped it around my body, and walked to the home economics teacher’s room, and I knocked at the door. She has a class of junior high students there. I said, ‘Hey, my skirt ripped out. Can you help me?’ She sits me down at her desk and brings me a dish towel to lay over my lap. She takes my skirt, sews my skirt up, and then brings it back to me. The kids are still sitting there in her classroom taking a test; they don’t know what’s going on. I put that skirt underneath her desk. The kids don’t know it, and then I zip that thing up and go back to class. So that’s probably my most memorable thing that happened to me while being a teacher.

Q: What has been the hardest thing of being a teacher?

Going to student funerals. Too many kids to count. Over the years, and 31 years of teaching, I’ve lost a lot of students to car accidents, suicide, dying of cancer. It’s just gut-wrenching to lose a student that way. That’s the hardest thing.

Q: After retiring, what are your plans?

My husband is also retired, and I’d like to do some more spur-of-the-moment trips with him. We love going to Lake Norfork in Arkansas…maybe do more fishing and boating type things. I have a ton of things around the house that need to be done, like major projects. I’m hoping to be able to get some of those things that are piling up done and then once that’s over, I don’t know. I’m young enough that if I want to get another job, I could.

Q: What will you miss the most about your job?

I’m gonna miss the students and the teachers. Again, I love the interaction. It is just very, very rewarding to have a group of students who are eager to learn, and ask a lot of questions – those students who are inquisitive and trying to get the very most out of the day. I’m going to miss that. For me, it’s not the paper grading. That, I won’t miss. I’m gonna miss coaching, I coach the academic team, I’m gonna miss that a lot. That’s very rewarding, and those kids are a fun group of kids and so incredibly intelligent. It just amazes me what they’ve retained. I’m going to miss being up at the board. It’s like my own little stage, you know, kind of like being an actor.  I’ve got my audience here of students, and just the interaction with them.

Rolla High School thanks Mrs. McCarthy for all she has done for the school and all of the students. She will be greatly missed.