I took my first leave during the 2001-2002 school year, after five years of working at my school district. Before teaching, I hadn't worked at any job longer than a year. My usual plan was to work as an office temp, save up my money and then go traveling. That worked well until I met my husband, a fan of stability, and it worked out that I was ready to settle down a bit. However, after five years of teaching, I was ready for a break. No plan, no goals, just free time.
The following week, my father fell, so on September 18th I was on my way to Los Angeles to help. That's what I mostly remember about my first leave of absence, going to LA a lot to be with my Dad. I'm sure I did lots of stuff, I went to Paris for a week with my family and I know that I acted as a substitute teacher for my district, but at the end of the leave it felt like it had flown by and it wasn't clear what I had accomplished.
My next leave came after another five years of teaching (a pattern?) during the 2007-2008 school year. And because of the lessons of that first year, I realized that I needed to have more of a plan to counteract that feeling of loss at the end of the leave. I wanted to be able to look back and be sure about what I had done. So I wrote a whole page of goals, but decided to choose three important ones. That way, at the end of the year, if I had done nothing else, I could look back and make sure that I had accomplished three important things.
Ironically, I can only remember two of the three goals I chose:
1. Write a novel during November for nanowrimo.
2. Live somewhere else for a month.
And I did those things. I wrote my first novel in November 2007, a piece of realistic fiction that I haven't let anyone yet read. And then that winter, we went and spent a month living in a very small town in northeast Iowa on a backwater of the Mississippi. It was a cabin as nice as our house and we often saw bald eagles in the trees at the river's edge.
I did other things. I worked again as a substitute teacher and went to Spain for eleven days. But at the end of the year, no matter what I had done, I knew I had accomplished some of my goals.
And now after five more years of teaching, I am again on a leave of absence. The current leave is always the best leave!