Teachers, You Shouldn’t Have Had to Choose: But now that you have …

I am sorry.

It never should have come to this. But here we are in the first week of August. Some of you have already begun teaching and some of you will be going back in the next few weeks. Most of you by now have one made one of four decisions.

1. You chose to teach your students in person.

2. You chose to teach your students virtually.

3. You had no choice in the matter

4. You chose not to return this year.

I am currently a school administrator and former teacher so while I can empathize, I have no idea what must be going through your head right now. You are the one that had to make this choice, not me. In my opinion, those of you who were actually given a choice were faced with what is called Sophie’s Choice, based on the movie starring Meryl Streep. In other words, there is no good choice.

What’s done is done. You have either made your choice or you have been told what you are going to do. I could easily spend the remainder of the piece defending your right to choose and/or your right to not have to put your life on the line. But as I mentioned previously, you are most likely past this point now. So now what?


You Chose to Teach Your Students in Person

As I can imagine, you are nervous. You don’t know what to expect as you are heading into uncharted territories. Rest assured knowing you are not alone. You must lean on your colleagues for support and you must confide in your colleagues when you are scared. Don’t feel as if you are burdening them. Believe me, they are scared too, and confiding in them will reassure them knowing you are in this together. Jeff Polzer, professor of organizational behavior at Harvard, points out “Being vulnerable gets the static out of the way and lets us do the job together, without worrying or hesitating. It lets us work as one unit.”

Furthermore, you are essentially on the front lines. And while you may have had your doubts about choosing to teach your students in person, don’t second-guess yourself. You made the best decision you could with the information you had, and it is important that while you’re at school, you fully embrace your decision. Tell yourself you will adopt the Stockdale Paradox. As Jim Collins describes it in his book Good to Great, this requires that you “retain absolute faith that you can and will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties, AND at the same time confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.


You Chose to Teach Your Students Virtually

Maybe you have underlying health issues that put you more at risk of dying if you become infected with the coronavirus. Maybe you live with someone who can’t afford to catch the coronavirus. Or maybe, you simply don’t feel safe teaching your students in person. For whatever, I respect your decision. It was your decision to make (or it was decided for you). Either way, resolve yourself to the fact that you will be teaching your students virtually and then be the best damn virtual teacher you can be.

Don’t feel guilty because you have colleagues who chose to teach their students in person. They had a choice. It doesn’t make them braver, nobler or more selfless than you. That … was … their … choice. One of Brene’ Brown’s personal mantras she mentions in The Gift Of Imperfection is, “Don’t shrink. Don’t puff up. Stand on your sacred ground.” I think this applies here. If you’ve chosen to teach virtually—own it. But don’t criticize or question others who made a different choice. You take care of you. And your students, of course.


You Had No Choice in the Matter

Among the four scenarios, this may be the one that would have upset me the most. Not that the choice made for you was bad. Not that the choice made for you was good. As Jonah Berger pointed out in his new book, Catalyst: “People have the need for freedom and autonomy. To feel that their lives are within their personal control. That, rather than driven by randomness, or driven by the whims of others, they get to choose.”

But …

Since you had no choice in the matter, you can either contest the decision. Which is your right—in most cases. Or, you can proceed. Paradoxically, the one thing that might upset you the most, your lack of voice in the decision, may actually take a little of the pressure off you. You will have no reason to second-guess yourself because you had no say to begin with. This doesn’t mean that you give a half-ass effort. And I know you won’t. It just means you can place all of your energy on doing the best you can with the cards you’ve been dealt.


You Chose Not to Return This Year

Now, this is a tough one. Choosing to leave a profession, or at the least, take a year off, is one that can have financial implications. But I get it. You didn’t get into teaching for this and if you have the luxury and/or are legally allowed to take the year off. So, by all means, do so. I also know there are some of you who want to stay home with your children. Either because you can’t afford/find daycare or you feel better knowing your children are going to be with you during these unpredictable and scary times.

Here’s the thing. If you’ve made this decision—own it. And then make the best of it. If you are home with your children, make this a year to remember. A year they never forget. Or, if you are taking the year off or possibly leaving the profession altogether—pursue your passion with reckless abandon. Whether you are 25 or 55. I know it sounds crazy but maybe try something you’ve always wanted to do but didn’t have time for. Go back to school and further your education or maybe learn another trade or skill. Trust your gut. It is usually right. If you want to hear about someone who did this and was happy with the decision they made, click HERE. Robyn Jackson, the founder of Mindsteps and author of Never Work Harder Than Your Students, discusses what it was like leaving her job and pursuing her passion.


Parting Thoughts

While there is no right answer or correct way of handling this new predicament, I hope I was able to make you feel a bit better. I didn’t want to rant and rave. Trust me, it was difficult not to. I wanted to put out something that was helpful and maybe even a bit encouraging.

You shouldn’t have had to choose. But now that you have chosen or now that you have been told what is required of you, I wanted you to feel better about the road which lies ahead—wherever it may lead.

Good luck.



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