On Independence

Sherre Graduation

A couple of weeks ago, my mother reminded me that even when I was a teenager, I insisted on taking care of myself.  I bought my own school supplies, kept my own schedule.  (She really started this story much earlier, with potty training, but I’ll spare you the first 14 years of her analysis).  The point is,  I’m most comfortable when my locus of control is clearly defined, and clearly mine.  I trust myself to meet my needs, and usually, to have some abundance left over to share with those I love.

Allow me to go sideways for a moment.

I promised myself when I went into teaching, into education, that I wouldn’t burn out.  I’d give 100%, always, or I’d walk away.   I reminded myself of this promise frequently.   To those who don’t know, teaching in urban schools should come with a similar enlistment agreement as working in the armed forces or the Peace Corp: you should re-evaluate every few years, and you should be honorably discharged at the end of your contract.  Those who take a beating and keep coming back — great.  Admiration all around.

I’ve been in front of students for 17 years — that’s academic content and school leadership.   20 years, if you count the community work I did before going into a classroom with walls.  Let’s just call it a lifetime.

Almost two years ago, I reached what looked like the pinnacle of my career.  I was happy as a school principal.  For about three weeks.  I had found myself in a situation that seemed to beam independence, but was in actuality, the most suffocating experience of my life.  I was at the mercy of everyone with an opinion: students, teachers, classified staff, my peers, the charter management organization, the district.  Each wanted me to make decisions that were best from their eyes; few believed that I might have my own wisdom to pull from.

With the grace of all that’s good, I remembered that promise to myself.  I considered leaving education then.  I almost did — but what if it was just that job?  To be sure, I spent a year working in South Los Angeles, for a boss I trust deeply, for an organization with a mission I believe in, for students who need adults who labor so that all things are possible.  It was good work.  It wasn’t enough.

I was my own problem.

Early this year, I came to realize that I missed my independence.  Don’t get me wrong, I made my own money, and the only debt I carry is the cost of my education.   But for years, every decision I made was in answer to What more can I give? To whom am I responsible? If not me, then who will?  When I got still and quiet with myself, the truth was palpable.  I was no longer giving with a joyful heart.  I needed to be my own again.   This career, with its student loans and 403b wasn’t right for me anymore.

Don’t get me wrong, I am proud of the seeds I planted; I have many loves borne of my work.  But they are mostly grown now, or in other, capable hands.  I had to exit.

So JT, bless him, took a job with insurance  and direct deposit.  I will always love him for this.   And though such a reversal of roles means that I will be leaning on him in a way I have rarely leaned on another, it is in this dependence that I am finally able to be my own.

My loves, my daily service to public education is complete.   If you look for me, I will be building my webpage for Sage & True, practicing yoga, keeping my home, or writing to you from here.

So light a sparkler for me tonight, because I’m celebrating 🙂