“What do I do?”

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I am a first-generation college student and sole college graduate in my family. In 2018, it seems like we shouldn’t still have “Firsts,” but that’s another blog for another time.

As an educator, I’m very open with my students and others about my journey. There were times I had to complete my homework outside because we didn’t have electricity. I *still* sleep on floors because it’s synonymous with comfort and safety, especially when bullets have no name. I grew up on the west side of Chicago, in arguably the worst side of town.  I had fights in the neighborhood because I sat on our porch and read, seemingly acting like I was “better than everybody.”

Education has been, hands down, the one thing that has provided me with a sense of stability, opened doors for me, and has been a constant in my life.

Without it, I wouldn’t be where I am. Point blank. Period.

Yet, as much as having a high-quality education has been the cornerstone of who I am as an educator, activist, and life-long learner, I can’t say that my daughter is realizing that same dream.

If I’m honest with myself, I have to admit that my daughter isn’t receiving anything close to the education I did. She hasn’t been exposed to great teachers in a great school with a track record of success that spans decades. Her school isn’t ranking in the top schools in the state, nor is there a pipeline of excellence that she is being prepared for.

I struggle so much with this.

I often tell my students I’m the best teacher they will have. Sure, it’s subjective, but I love all my students like my own…

Or do I love them more?

I fight every day to give my students the education they deserve, while sending my daughter to a school that still isn’t up to par either. Sure, she doesn’t attend an inner-city school, her classmates aren’t grade levels behind, nor does her teacher have most of the behaviors I have dealt with, but as I write this, I contend that MY daughter is at a disadvantage too.

Do I leave the 99 to get the one?

What if the ONE is my daughter?

As a single mother, I can’t afford to homeschool and teach her what she needs to be competitive globally. Without working, I’m not able to pay for varsity dance, enrichment camps and mentoring programs that enhance her adolescent experience.  In these cases, she does have “more” than the students her mommy teaches.

But she doesn’t have “ME”.

Of course, no one will do you better than “you,” but my daughter has never experienced a teacher that has even come close - one with the passion, content knowledge, and love for educational equity that I have. What’s more unfortunate is that I haven’t taught in a school where I would even take my daughter to either.

I often questioned God and my purpose. I found myself pouring out in prayer last night, an inner cry engulfed in sadness.

“Lord, would you have me to forsake my own for the upliftment of others? How can I serve her in the same capacity that I give to the students I teach? Is this the path that I am supposed to take? What more can I do for her? Am I enough for her when I’m trying to fulfill my purpose in you?”

And when I got off my knees, when I stood up and began my day, I was reminded that this fight

isn’t for me alone That the answers may not come all at once. That I need others to make the changes necessary for all.

And even more so,  I realized my journey is not my daughter’s journey. My work is in educational equality and equity, for my students and for her. While my students may have me for 10 months, my daughter has me for a lifetime. That can and never will compare.

That revelation has changed my entire perspective. It has made this fight feel worth it and gave me fuel for the fight to come. I may be the only gladiator my students see, a fire may be ignited in the hours we spend together. Concurrently, there may be a fire ignited in my daughter from seeing her mother work so hard for others, for she does not belong to me. I am yet a steward for the greatness within her.

I don’t have to choose to leave the 99 for the 1.

Have any other mothers felt the same? Do you feel torn between your calling and your children, especially in education?

 

Marlena Little

Educator, visionary and leader.

Marlena Little grew up in the inner-city of Chicago in one of the worst neighborhoods of the city. Yet the contrast of her home and school life provided evidence to the statement, “it’s not where you’ve been but where you are going”. Having attended one of the best elementary and high-schools in the country, she was determined to live beyond the poverty and violence of her neighborhood, knowing education was the escape.

Marlena Little, a Memphian by choice, relocated to Memphis to fight for educational equity. As a teacher, it was important for Marlena’s students to see her as an example of that escape. As an administrator, Marlena challenged teachers and staff to illuminate education as the way out, yet as a visionary, Marlena has created paths of escape.

As Founder of Life Prep Academy Schools, Marlena Little has seamlessly merged her childhood with the standard of excellence imbedded in her educational experiences to provide students, regardless of any “label”, the limitless opportunities a high-quality education affords.  Her philosophical beliefs about education are the guiding principles of Life Prep.

In addition to her many roles, Marlena Little is also a mother and forever learner.  She is a Doctoral Candidate in Educational Leadership and has the pleasure of raising a nine-year-old daughter.