Editor's note: This is the fourth story in a series featuring 2021 school retirees.
In 1987, Lisa Morrow started her teaching career at Flossmoor School District 161. She began as an aide for third grade at Serena Hills Elementary School before she got her own fourth grade class. She moved to Parker Junior High School soon after and today teaches sixth grade science.
In 1986, DeLores Mannes started her career in the Catholic school system. In 1992, she joined District 161, where she now serves as a sixth grade English Language Arts teacher, and found herself across the hall from Morrow.
“We had maybe 15 feet between our rooms,” Mannes said. “We have been in the same hallway together for years.”
A move quickly reduced their separation to 7 feet, and then they found themselves right next to each other. They became fast friends, and their careers have been intertwined ever since. So much so, in fact, that the longtime educators decided to retire together at the end of this year, even though their schedules did not exactly coincide. The idea of one of them remaining without the other just seemed unfathomable at this stage. Mannes said she would not know what to do without Morrow yelling “Dee, get over here” from her neighboring room.
They even booked back-to-back appointments with the Illinois Teachers’ Retirement System a few years ago when they started planning their move. Mannes intended to utilize roughly two years of sick time she banked to retire a little early. After her meeting, she stayed to wait for Morrow and somehow even joined her for the discussion before they were both told they could go at the end of this year.
But leaving is no easy task for either of them.
“It’s getting a little bit emotional,” Morrow said. “Hopefully, you’ve touched some lives.”
Mannes noted there are essentially two farewells this year after District 161 decided to return to hybrid learning for some families for the last quarter of the year. The change shuffled class lists.
“When I had to say goodbye to the remote kids, it was really hard,” Mannes said.
But Morrow said it is a blessing that the teachers did not have to end their careers without first seeing students back in their classrooms. And Mannes noted those students really want to be in school, which is a great feeling.
“You can see the excitement, even with a mask on,” Morrow added.
For Morrow, of Crown Point, Indiana, a career in teaching was a dream come true. As the school’s science department chairperson, she said maybe working as a park ranger or geologist could have scratched a similar itch, but even then she is not sure she would have been happy. Teaching is what she has wanted to do.
“I never really wanted to do anything else,” Morrow said. “I set up my stuffed animals and dolls and taught class. I could never see myself doing anything else. I am lucky.”
Mannes, of Tinley Park, said growing up Catholic, her faith taught her to pursue a vocation. For some time, she thought she would become a nun and teach. The former plan fell away with time but the latter desire remained.
“It’s just an innate quality that I had,” Mannes said. “I really believe teaching was my vocation, my calling.”
Mannes said she found something special in District 161, which is why she stayed for so long.
“When I came to Flossmoor, I found my home,” she said. “We are very blessed in Flossmoor.”
Mannes said she also found support from the parents, administrators, paraprofessionals, custodians and others who are essential to the schools.
“We could not do what we do without them,” she said.
Her favorite memories from over the years will be those small moments with students — when they debated the subject matter in class or gave her some friendly teasing. She said those moments are important because she always wanted to instill in her students the idea that school could be enjoyable.
“School is supposed to be fun,” she said. “It’s not just academics.”
Morrow added, “To enjoy learning, that’s the most important thing.”
Watching students connect with tough lessons was most rewarding to Mannes.
“When you see that kid that’s struggling finally get it, it’s amazing,” she said.
“When that lightbulb goes on,” Morrow added.
Careers with any longevity typically encounter some hardships, though, and Morrow and Mannes have faced a few. Morrow said an increase in testing over the years has been tough on the students, and “9 times out of 10” just verifies what the teachers already know.
“A lot of it is unnecessary,” she said.
While Mannes said she loves working under the current administration, she also survived a stretch of seven years when Parker had five different principals. Finding her footing was hard during that time.
“It’s hard because you lost that consistency,” she said.
Mannes and Morrow found strength in the bond they created, though.
“There are years I would not have survived without her,” Morrow said.
Mannes said they plan to continue spending time together in retirement. They are likely to come back and visit Flossmoor when they can. And while the COVID-19 pandemic put a damper on any big retirement bash, they are hoping by next year they can travel to Arizona together for baseball spring training. Mannes also has a European trip to France and Spain she put off twice that hopefully remains in her future. They noted it will be nice to travel any time they want, rather than only over the summers or school breaks.
The two will continue to serve their communities, too. They said they have had to pass on some volunteer opportunities over the years because of their schedules, but they are hoping to get more involved with their respective communities — at least a little.
“I don’t want a job, per se,” Mannes said with a smile.