Why would I choose to lose out on that much money--money that would serve my family and me well in the days to come?
Life or death
Though some think this is dramatic, the reality is that this was a life or death decision. I asked for a remote teaching position given my age and some underlying conditions, but I never received an answer and the responses I did receive inferred that a remote position would not be available. I provided many suggestions about how to do the job safely in the fall, but my ideas were mostly met with little response or support. Finally, when my time was being usurped by anxiety at the prospects of having to teach in an unsafe and educationally unsound situation, I decided to retire knowing that there was a short window for me to get my paperwork in without incurring another financial penalty.
Was this a rash decision? Bottom line is that I could have easily contracted COVID-19. Teaching is a stressful job under normal circumstances, and it is going to be more stressful during a pandemic. That kind of stress lowers your immune system. Further, children are active, and there's no way that I can imagine a teacher always staying six-feet away from students who need you for simple matters like zipping up a coat and more complex matters like helping them when they have an accident or throw up in the classroom. There's a chance that if I contracted the illness, I would be fine, but there's also a chance that I could die--I don't want to die, thus the expensive decision.
I am a big fan of optimal education. I believe that a good education empowers and enriches lives. I love to teach in meaningful, powerful ways. I listened to meeting after meeting about plans for the fall, and in every scenario, there was not discussion about deep and meaningful education. Instead the discussions focused on getting as many people into schools and following the minimum standards for safety. In my opinion, the discussions were more about warehousing children than true teaching or learning. I know myself. To return to a situation where I can't teach in rich and meaningful ways, would be very, very worrisome and frustrating. Children act up when they are in situations that don't foster meaningful, engaging, and empowering learning. They naturally react against artificial, limiting, and un-childlike situations. They would not see the decision makers as the people creating those unfriendly and difficult situations, but everyday they would look at me and blame me for the uncomfortable, unnatural situation they would be experiencing. That would be frustrating and stressful.
Logical decision making
Also, as I listened to discussion after discussion, I hear no logic. Instead I hear lots of tangental discussions. I likened it to a group of people building a new house--rather than starting with the house design, location, and foundation, the group perseverated on the faucets. If that were the case, the house would never be built. The discussions about the return-to-school seemed to be the same. Main factors were missing such as the threat of the pandemic and what children are really like. Instead discussions appeared to forget that a pandemic is raging and dismiss the fact that children are active, bright, playful learners, not robots.
Logical discussions, in my opinion, would include the following.
The main decision makers would make a choice for safest possible conditions to safeguard the lives of all people involved. After all, with the long view in mind, this is a short-term problem, and is it worth risking lives for an artificial, subpar educational decision, or is it better to save lives and boost good education too.
If I were a main decision maker, I would make the following decision:
Robust remote learning for all and emergency daycare for families that need it. I also believe that the nation should provide a hardy childcare stipend for every family that makes under $200,000 a year with children 12 and under. Emergency childcare could be staffed with those staff members who volunteer for that role--I suspect that a fair number of young, healthy staff would volunteer. Remote learning could be run by those who are willing to promote a vigorous online program that truly educates in meaningful ways. I believe this is a win-win solution.
Then I would expect the leaders and educators in each group to use their expertise to plan the nuts and bolts of the program. They're the experts when it comes to teaching and caring for children, and other than providing a list of wide parameters and expectations, I would not worry about the details, but expect a good report about how the wide parameters and expectations were met.
At all times, I would be working for win-win, financially advantageous solutions that safeguard lives and continue to inspire educators and students. I would look for ways to support families as well beginning with the emergency childcare option. I would rather not spend money on short term solutions where possible and invest that money into long term growth and development instead.
So I've made an expensive decision. I wrote down the figure that this decision cost me, and I'll revisit that figure in one year, five years, and ten years to see if I still think it's worth it. I suspect I will be satisfied as I hope to find other ways to make the money I lost, and I am cognizant of other decisions I've made in life that were good financial decisions reaping me some good benefits over time.
We can never know 100% if our decisions are the best decisions. On the other hand, it's much easier to know 100% if we make bad decisions. For example, what if I went back and did die or become disabled--that clearly would have been a terrible decision. There are other decisions we have to stay clear of that I call the "Do Not Go There" list that definitely are bad decisions--we have to avoid those choices.
I'm sure I'll continue to ruminate on this decision in the days to come, but I'm not going back on it. Onward.