Returning Home: Berkeley County Special Education Teacher Lifts Up Students With Disabilities
As part of our “Returning Home” series, education reporter Liz McCormick sat down with Berkeley County resident and educator Elizabeth Anne Greer Mobley.
Mobley moved from Maryland to Martinsburg with her family when she was 14. The now 30-year-old mother of three is passionate about improving special education for K-12 students in West Virginia.
Today, she’s the Parent Engagement Resource Center Coordinator for Berkeley County Schools, but there was a time when she took her talents and expertise outside the Mountain State.
We talk with Mobley about what brought her back home.
The transcript below is from the original broadcast. It has been lightly edited for clarity.
Listen to the extended version of the interview for more of the conversation.
McCormick: What ultimately brought you to leave West Virginia?
Mobley: After attending Shepherd University and getting my [undergraduate] degree, I graduated in the spring of 2013, [and] I was a special education teacher at a middle school in Berkeley County. I was a teacher for children who were a part of our IEP special education system, and they had Autism, other health impairments, which we call OHI, and then some were classified as having behavioral and emotional disorders.
I wasn't planning to leave [West Virginia], but a friend reached out to me and asked me to send my resume to him. And he was like, ‘We have positions open in Virginia. Why don't you just come and give it a chance?’ And I was like, I love where I work. I don't want to do that. And he was like, ‘But you want to start a family, and unfortunately, financially, this might be a better option for you.’
I applied, I interviewed, and I got the job and for financial reasons and wanting to buy a home, my husband and I decided, maybe that was the right choice to make at that time.
McCormick: So, Elizabeth, how long did you end up living outside of West Virginia and working in Loudoun County, Virginia?
Mobley: So we made the decision to not move from West Virginia. We wanted to stay close to my family, but what I decided to do was commute every day.
I constantly looked for opportunities to move though, because I became a teacher there, there were teacher grant programs for down payments on homes. There were a lot of programs that were available to people in my type of situation. But still financially, we couldn’t afford that.
So I sacrificed a lot of sleep and a lot of time making that decision to drive back and forth.
McCormick: Special education is an area that is in a critical shortage in West Virginia and across the nation. Why was that a field that you felt compelled to get into?
Mobley: My youngest sister – there's four of us, and I'm the eldest – the third girl has Down syndrome. Watching and going through school with her, I had one of those beautifully intense experiences where I witnessed everything my parents went through with her both medically and with her experience in the education system. And I always knew that, that was a population of underserved people that I wanted to be involved with.
My whole life, I was standing up for my little sister when people were trying to bully her or bully me and my other siblings, because we had a sister with special needs. And I just could not stand the fact that there weren't more people standing up for those that are differently abled. And that was my first piquing interest. But I thought I was going to be a lawyer, so at Shepherd I studied political science.
But right after I graduated, it just hit me that no, that's not what I was put here to do. I was put here to serve and serve the differently abled and support their families. And so I got my master's in special education. And it's just been like, the most beautiful decision I've ever made. Because now I'm a mom of a kid with special needs, who has an IEP in West Virginia.
McCormick: What was the impetus that made you think, ‘I really want to bring my work and my passion for special education back to West Virginia?’
Mobley: I was stewing in my commute, there and back, and the more I was driving back and forth, the more I realized that I'm quality. I love these children. I treat them with such care and respect, and they are deserving of as much opportunity and adult stakeholders and persons who care about their individualized successes and growth.
So if I care that much, why am I taking all this care to another state and giving it to children whom my child won’t interact with? And so it dawned on me that it's not fair to my community that I'm choosing the money. I had a talk with myself, and I was choosing money over the opportunity to improve the area that I live in.
McCormick: What were some of the challenges that you faced coming back to West Virginia? I know you mentioned there were some financial differences based on when you worked in Loudoun County versus coming back to Berkeley County. But were there any other challenges?
Mobley: So, I have my master's degree, and going from teaching in Loudoun County back to Berkeley County, I lost more than $25,000 in yearly salary, which for some people in West Virginia, that is their yearly salary. For me that made a difference between us being able to buy a house, so adjusting to that huge, new deficit [was challenging], and in addition, I'm a person of color.
Berkeley County is very diverse, and we're growing exponentially in the diversity in this area, but there are only a few handful of educators who are people of color who are considered a part of that BIPOC educator community. BIPOC, meaning Black and indigenous people of color, so if you fall anywhere in that realm. I identify as Black. So to go into the buildings where I work and be one of, or maybe the only one, or one of two, one of three, you know, Black or persons of color educators, that was a bit challenging. But it was also challenging for my students who are not students of color, because I could have very well been their first, or one of their first experiences with a person of color as their educator.
It was challenging because even with the rate in which [Berkeley County is] growing in diversity, a lot of the parents still did not have a lot of interactions or engagements with people of color. And that was challenging for me learning how to navigate this system as not only having to educate my students, but also gently educate their parents and families on what it is to have this cultural competency and diversity and community in the education system.
I have found that I have had to navigate very delicately. And sometimes that hurts and other times, it's like, I'm digging my heels in, because I know I'm making a positive impact.
McCormick: Three years ago, you were working in Loudoun County, Virginia. You were getting paid more there, and there are other states that may have more opportunity for you and your family. Why come back to West Virginia, and do you want to stay?
Mobley: My husband and I have talked about it many times, and because he's working in this community, and I work in his community, we know that there are at least two of us who are trying to give back. I plan to stay. We at this point in time don't see ourselves anywhere else. We're licensed foster and adoptive parents, too, and so any way that we can give back and love on this area that we now call home, we do. And it was the best decision that I have made.
My life is in this work, and West Virginia is a state of high need in so many different areas. Disability support services are one of them. I know I am only one person, but if I can use my education and talents to help cultivate a culture of love and acceptance and responsibility to be change makers, especially within this world of special needs and special education, the differently abled and disability support services, that's what I'm going to do. For as long as God allows me, I'm going to do it, and I'm going to do it starting here.