When Is It Time To Go?

Christy Merchant

Today is my first day in a new job, new grade levels, new district, and new town.  I sit at my desk and wonder if I’m cut out for this after leaving a position in a district that I knew forwards and backwards.  My previous staff was shocked when I shared my departure.  I felt it was imminent and they were blindsided.  Their response caused me to question myself.  How do we know when it is time to go?

Over the last 7 years, I have loved a school community through a global pandemic, major construction project, murder of a student, National Blue Ribbon award, death of a staff member, and many weddings and new babies.  Our enrollment boomed and grew by nearly 40% after the pandemic and our staff grew their skills as we trained all teachers as reading specialists according to the IDOE (based on the science of reading research).  I had 2 of my own children graduate from the high school in the same school district and married my professional and personal lives together in that place.  You knew where my devotion lived based on my closet alone!

But 2023-2024 was different.  No matter my love for the place and people, my time was closing to make an impact there and staying may lead to slowing down their progress.  What a tough pill to swallow!  How did I know?  Each day I write a quick reflection of the day before leaving my office.  Just a quick note most days but sometimes, longer passages with stories, some humorous and some devastating.  I also record who I reached out to for support and the benefits I feel afterwards.  This has been a pattern for me for nearly a decade in leadership, a tip shared by a mentor years ago.  At spring break, I sat quietly and read through some of the entries for this year.  The trend was shocking.  I had soured.  No way around it.  My entries had turned from hopeful and focused on the joy of the day to negative and filled with frustration.  Blame can be laid where it may but blame didn’t change my attitude or situation.  I spent time that break working on myself, trying to reset my thinking.  After returning to school for a few weeks, I reflected again.  Still sour.

I reached out to a trusted colleague and shared my reflections with him.  He confirmed my negative tone lately and I felt like I’d been kicked in the chest.  Did my staff feel it?  Our students?  The community we love and serve?  I knew quickly, a reset would require more than some me time at break.  After lengthy discussions with my husband and teenage children at home, we all agreed a new environment might help.  I also reflected with a few additional colleagues and their remarks encouraged me to consider not just a new job, but stretching into new grade levels and communities, too.

I jumped into the job hunt and quickly found myself interviewing in multiple districts.  I received a job offer and had 3 days to decide.  My gut turned.  My heart cried.  My head spun.  I love my school.  Why am I leaving?  Then I’d pull out my journal and remind myself of the sourness.  My school deserved a leader focused on the joy of learning again.  I think I accepted the new job partially for myself but mostly for my school family.  They deserve more than I was able to give at this moment.

So here I am.  Day 1 of a new job, new grade levels, new district, and new town.  I’ve gone from knowing everyone and all the answers to knowing nothing.  My to-do list is blank and so is my new daily journal.  I have comfort in knowing the new principal at my previous school is already working feverishly to prepare for the fall.  She is bright, cheerful, excited, and humbled by her new role.  She will move mountains and that’s what every school deserves from their leader!  I am ready to tackle new challenges here and be the leader my new school deserves, too.  I am excited in my unease.  I can’t wait to look at this new journal in March and reflect again.  Who knows, maybe stories with teenagers are funnier and more endearing than those with kindergarteners.