As the 2009-2010 school year comes to a close, I want to announce my good news. This has been in the works since about October, but I didn't want to write about it until now because...I don't know, maybe I didn't want to jinx it.
I am taking a year-long sabbatical from teaching to paint starting in just a few days.
I can't even begin to tell you how joyful I am about this. It's all happening.
Let's back up, though. One morning last fall I was at my desk at school, feeling low and missing my summertime painting life. Going back to school is always a bit heartbreaking for me. Try as I might to paint during the school year, I rarely get a chance to do it for more than an hour or two at a time. I'm one of those painters who needs stretches of at least five consecutive hours to feel like I'm accomplishing anything. It's just the way I work. I completed the following watercolors during the past nine months, thanks to snow days and school lulls such as parent-teacher conference nights (during which time I see about five parents over nearly seven hours).
...but I always think about the pictures I don't get to paint due to the demands of the school year.
Anyway, I was cleaning out a desk drawer when I found a copy of my contract. Bitter, I flipped to the part that describes maternity leave to see how much time off a teacher at my school gets when she has a baby. When I was single, I secretly envied colleagues who were able to leave the profession at least temporarily for reproductive purposes while I continued to toil in the educational vineyard--no, educational coal mine--without a break, even if it was to force bowling ball-sized creatures through their bodies. I've got to admit that it sounded like a refreshing change of pace.
Jeff and I are unable to have children. I haven't written about this on my blog before, as it's such a private matter, but I knew this going into our relationship. I mourned the fact that I would not get to be a mother, but even in the first few days of knowing Jeff, I knew that he was simply the one for me, and I couldn't imagine my life with anyone else. People who have read this blog at all know how much I love him and how happy we are together. It's truly a beautiful life.
But back to my story. Breeders, I thought darkly, locating the maternity leave section. Always getting the breaks, while I... Beneath the maternity/sick leave sections was something I had never noticed before (because who really reads their 84-page contract cover to cover?). It was something called Professional Growth Leave, and in a nutshell it said that a teacher who had taught in the district for five consecutive years could take a year off to pursue professional activities related to his or her profession. This would be without pay, without insurance, and without anything but the promise that after the year was over, the teacher could come back and teach. I discussed this with Jeff, who was all for it. He is truly my champion. I jumped through the necessary hoops, a lengthy process that culminated in me getting the OK from the school board and helping my principal find a replacement for me (Carmen, who is young, adorable, and raring to go).
At the request of my principal, I kept this exciting development a secret from my students until March. That was difficult, but he did not want my future absence to disrupt the enrollment process for next year's classes, and I saw his point. When I did tell them, I received the hoped-for gasps and exclamations of "but we'll MISS YOU" along with a lot of well-wishes. My students have always been wonderfully supportive of my artwork and seem genuinely happy for me. They also expect me to pop in and check on them from time to time, and they wanted my assurance that there will indeed be a Fine Arts Festival next year. You will have one, kids.
Naturally, when all of this happened, faculty tongues reportedly began wagging regarding this leave of mine. Apparently hardly anyone takes Professional Growth Leave--I assume that, like me, no one really knew it existed. I am one of two or three people who have ever taken it, according to my superintendent. "I think we had a guidance counselor go off to live in some kinda commune about a decade ago," he told me, trailing off. It also involves a hefty financial hit that most teachers are unable to take. Before I met Jeff, I couldn't have done this even if wanted to, and I have thanked him every day for making this happen for me. Nevertheless, I am sure that some of my colleagues must think that this leave is a crafty, cushy way for me to have a baby along with a year of some occasional, so-what painting. I have never explained to them that we can't have kids--frankly, it's nobody's business, and I wish people could simply take me at my word when I say I want to paint. Maybe they can't imagine that a person would want to sit and arrange pigment suspended in water on paper all day, every day.
But I want to do that, and it's going to be glorious.