A Lucky Life

California Principal Reflects on Her 50 Years of Work
Originally published in the summer 2011 edition of The Leader

James Dierke, president of the United Administrators of San Francisco, AFSA Local 3, recognized Marion Grady in April for her 50 years of education service. Grady was awarded at the AFSA Midwestern and Southern Regional Leadership Conference in New Orleans.

Marion Grady is the type of person who defines experiences rather than letting them define her. She sees opportunities at every turn, which may explain why she likes working with challenging students.

“Their artistic quality is not artificial, not like someone forced them to take piano lessons for a few years,” said Grady. “I believe they are so much smarter than adults. I want to show them that.”

Grady said she enjoys working with students who have been labeled as challenging because she can find ways to relate to their situations and backgrounds.

Growing up, Grady had wanted to be an artist. However, the effects of the Great Depression had left a strong impression on her father, and when she expressed this to him, he looked at her and exclaimed, “But you’ll starve!”

To quell her father’s fears, Grady pursued teaching, a career she said she never wanted to do. After a few years, however, Grady grew to like teaching and found she could incorporate her love of arts and crafts into her classroom.

“There was always an opportunity to do something with the visual arts,” she said. “Students don’t have the experiences that we fell into. I like teaching arts and crafts, but in reality I have a toolbox with a Phillips screwdriver under my desk.”

Grady said in the 1960s she was one of 25 teachers in California who was recognized as an outstanding English teacher. At the time, the superintendent was enthusiastic about reaching out to every student and saw Grady’s teaching and supervisory abilities as an opportunity to open a new school. Subsequently, Grady was put in charge of opening and supervising a high school of the arts for students with challenges. Grady said opening the school was a highlight in her career.

The success of the arts school helped promote Grady to the position of principal, and she took a position at an overcrowded school badly in need of repairs. Grady said she found ways to get what she needed, and ultimately she was able to guide the school through a major renovation.

“I liked every position except being a principal, at first,” she said. “There was a lot of crying that first year.”

The role of a principal is both a rewarding and frustrating one, she said, in part because the principal is pulled in so many directions at once. “I think principals have a tremendously difficult job,” Grady said. “I still think it’s not fully understood.”

At the AFSA Midwestern and Southern Regional Leadership Conference in New Orleans in April, James Dierke, the president of the United Administrators of San Francisco (UASF) AFSA local 3, recognized Grady for her 50 years of work in education.

Grady said that she is not ready to leave education, for she is not yet finished. Although her retinas detached more than five years ago, she has not let her blindness stop her from fulfilling her calling as an educator.

“I do what I do because I love it. I’m frequently in the school on the weekends,” she said. “I am very, very lucky.”

Grady said when she is asked what her future professional goals are, she usually laughs and says she doesn’t really know.

“I call it a career, but it’s really a life.”