Dissertation Diatribe Number 1

Several years ago when I was working at the American School of Bombay as the Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Staff Development, I decided that I didn’t know enough about how technology impacted learning. We had launched an ambitious one to one laptop program at the same time that we were newly implementing all three of the International Baccalaureate Programs. In many ways, we had no idea what we were doing. We muddled along and with the help of several teachers who kept asking, “But what about the learning?,  I was inspired to start a doctoral program in Educational Technology. The program was a hybrid program requiring five, five-day, face to face meetings per year. The rest was done via synchronous class sessions using TappedIn. I completed the first two years of my coursework during my last two years in India.

In 2004, we moved to Kaua’i so I could complete the final year of the program and finish my dissertation. We also wanted to be closer to our family on the mainland and something about Kaua’i really appealed to us after 9 years of living in Asia.  Maybe it was the peaceful, simple lifestyle. My friends at the time scoffed at the notion that I wouldn’t be working in a school. They gave me six months to go crazy. It only took three. By October, I had been lured in to a sweet little independent school with a beautiful mission and a lovely bunch of students, parents and teachers. Initially hired to redesign the curriculum at the elementary level, I was asked about six months later to become principal. I finished my comprehensive exams and tossed around ideas for my dissertation.

Fast forward five years later. The dissertation was attacked in fits and starts on nights when I would be raked with anxiety about the money I was wasting on tuition. Other times, I would devote an entire winter or spring break to it. I changed topics three times, advisors once. I tried forming study groups with other students from my Cadre. I watched as Cadre 10, 11 and 12 students graduated before me. I felt like a failure. This was a new feeling for me. I am one of those overachieving, neurotic, peppy people that never quits until I reach my goals.

So last November, after months of soul-searching, I handed in my resignation letter effective the end of the school year. This was tough. I loved my job as an elementary school principal. I loved the kids, the parents and the teachers. I loved everything about it.   But my need to finish my dissertation was greater than that love. I realized that having something hanging over my head that I could not attend to properly was draining me mentally, physically and spiritually.  It was making me resentful, frustrated and cranky. I could not concentrate on anything. I was a little slow on the uptake but I finally realized I was trying to do too much at once. I wanted to be the perfect principal, perfect mom, perfect wife, perfect friend, perfect housekeeper, perfect daughter, perfect sibling and perfect dissertation writer. I also didn’t want to let anyone down. But enough was enough. I couldn’t do it all and it was killing my soul. Did I let people down? Yes. Was that okay? Yes.

Today is August 9, 2010. The day I should have reported back to school for my 22nd year working in education. Instead I dropped my daughter off at school, went for a run/walk on the beach with two friends who have been sorely neglected and had a Skype meeting with my dissertation advisor. I made appointments with the dentist and eye doctor. I revised Chapter 1 and made a huge dent in Chapter 2. I picked up my daughter and her friends from school. I helped with homework. I wrote a little more. I made dinner. I wrote a little more. It felt really, really good.

Did I miss school? Not today.  Will I finish my dissertation? Stay tuned.

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