As the last students ran to meet their buses and the words "Merry Christmas" echoed in the halls, Chris Delaney closed the door to his high school biology class. For the last time.

He knew the next time he went to work he would not be a teacher, but a claims adjuster for an insurance company.

Delaney, 32, didn't quit because of the all-too-common malady know as "teacher burnout" but because he could no longer financially afford to be a teacher. In fact, he found teaching to be a rewarding profession in every other way. Delaney says he was "forced out" because he could not live on the $12,000 a year he was earning in the Manasas Park school system.

"I don't want anyone to feel sorry for me," Delaney said the morning after his farewells while he peered into a pot of spaghetti sauce bubbling on his kitchen stove. "Any parent should be willing to make sacrifices for their kids."

Delaney never has been afraid to change direction.

For seven years as a novice in the Franciscan Religious Order, Delaney was assigned to teach school in the Bedfort Stuyvesent section of Brooklyn. Later, he left the order and married, and he and his wife became parents of three sons. It was about that time the Delaney family moved from Brooklyn to rural Luray, Va., in search of a better life.

In Luray, Delaney found a job at the Atlas Machine and Iron Works where he worked while waiting for a job in the field he dearly loved -- teaching.

Three years ago the opportunity came when the small high school in Manassas Park had one of its rare openings. But that was after the Delaney marriage had crumbled and Chris Delaney found himself the sole support of his three children. He says that despite his love for teaching, it was a difficult decision to move from Luray to Manassas Park to take a lower-paying job.

"I even took a pay cut to come here to teach," Delaney said with a wry smile. "But I just love teaching, and for some reason the kids can relate to me."

Finally, after two years of trying to support a family on $12,000 annually, two years of paying a babysitter several hundred dollars a month, two years of fodd stamps and two years of subsized housing, Delaney decided it was time to throw in the towel.

"I said said to myself, 'Look Chris you can't afford the luxury of doing what you want to do anymore. These guys (sons Chris, 7, Brian, 5, and Gary, 3,) are too important.' They deserve better than this," Delaney said softly.

Manassas Park School Superintendent Robert Lewis did not try to persuade Delaney to stay.

"He has tremendous personal problems," Lewis says sympathetically. "We can only do so much for our teachers . . . there is such a small tax base in Manassas Park."

The financial situation in this small community is so bleak that the city pays its teachers the lowest wages in Northern Virginia. In Manassas Park, an educator with a Ph.D earns $14,000 -- almost $13,000 less than Fairfax County would pay for the same credentials.

Delaney says the constant worries about money and the struggle to stay afloat were overwhelming.

"I decided I was being a hypocrite," Delaney confessed in his thick Brooklyn accent. "I was going to school everyday and the kids there thought I was great because here was a guy with three kids trying to make it on his own. But all the time I wasn't able to provide for my own kids the way I wanted to."

Teachers and administrators agree that Delaney was extremely popular with students and faculty. The kids called him "Mr. D. and "Disco Delaney" -- after he agreed to be a disc jockey at school dances -- and his small apartment became a hangout for teen-agers.

"These kids down here are great. I tried to teach them about self-respect," Delaney said of the teen-agers from the mostly blue-collar community. ". . . a lot of the kids in Manassas Park didn't think they were as good as the kids in Manassas (City). I tried to tell them they are just as good as anyone."

While Delaney says he looks forward to a new career, he admits that when he walked out of Manassas Park High School two weeks ago it was amid tearful goodbyes and warm handshakes -- from students and teachers.

"He cares about kids," said Superintendent Lewis. "Education in general loses a tremendous amount when a teacher like Chris Delaney leaves."