This is the time of year when many teachers are facing huge decisions about their careers. And while that can feel like a burden, I think we should start by acknowledging that having choices and options is a privilege, because not every teacher has a say in these issues. I know many of you aren’t sure if you’re even going to have a job next year because your teaching position has been cut.

Your decision might be whether to look for another teaching job, or find a different career altogether. Others of you are wondering:

  • Should you stay home with your kids, or save up for another year first?
  • Should you try to get a job in another school?
  • Should you ask your principal if you can take that open spot in another grade level?
  • Should you apply for that position as an instructional coach or an administrator?

In many ways, these are deeply personal questions that no one can advise you on. There are so many factors to consider and only you know them all, and understand the relative importance of them all.

So, rather than give you advice about what to do, I’m going to teach you my system for making these kinds of big decisions. I’ve changed schools five times and grade levels three times, and relocated to other parts of the country for work twice. And I always felt confident about the choices I made because I created a system that helped me think through every aspect of the decision and weigh the options not just on an intellectual, rational, logical level, but also on an emotional and heart level.

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A simple system for weighing your options

The process is simple: just make a weighted pros and cons list. You can download this one I made, or just use a blank piece of paper.

You need four columns in your list: pros of staying, cons of staying, pros of changing, and cons of changing. Make your columns, and then list out all the possible reasons that might go in each section.

Write it all down, anything that pops into your head, no matter how silly. Your sentimental reasons are valid. No perk or potential problem is too small to include. Put it on the list. You can do most of this in one sitting, but you may think of things later that you want to go back and add.

Once you feel confident that you’ve listed out all the pros and cons for each choice, you’re then going to weight them on a scale of 1 to 5 in terms of importance.

For example, if a pro is that this new job would cut a lot of time off your commute, that’s probably worth the full 5 points, so write 5 next to it in the chart. If there’s a con that the new school has a parking lot really far away from your classroom, that might be worth just 1 point.

Go with your gut instincts as you’re doing this, and don’t try to talk yourself up or down when you’re assigning points. If something feels on first thought that it’s a 3, give it a 3.

After you’ve assigned a point value to everything on the list, you’re ready to tally up each column, and subtract the cons from the pros. So if you have 35 points under pros for staying and 15 points under cons for staying, the total score for staying is 20. Do the same math for the option of changing your current teaching position.

Whichever option has more net points is your final decision.

Download the pros/cons list

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How you’ll know if you’ve arrived at the right choice

Now, here’s the really powerful part about making a weighted pros/cons list and why it’s been a fool-proof strategy for me every time I have a big decision with no clear right or wrong answer:

When you’re writing the pros and cons out and deciding how much to weight them, you’re going to find yourself instinctively wanting to be more lenient with one choice over another.

You’ll find yourself penalizing one argument more harshly and wanting to overlook or rate down problems with the other.

This is your intuition speaking: this is your inner wisdom surfacing, and what you truly feel in your heart of hearts. This is the right choice.

You will complete this list and either feel excited about the result that is clearly the best choice, OR you’ll find yourself wanting a redo. You’ll say Hmm, this was really close, let me look at the point values I gave here. I think actually this reason is more important than I thought, and it should be weighted more heavily. You’ll notice yourself wanting to skew the results the other way.

If so, listen to that intuition and follow it.

What if other people need to make the decision with me?

The above process explains how this works when the decision is basically in your hands and the final choice is up to you. If this is a decision that your family members and loved ones need to be involved with, you can either include their opinions and the effects on them within your own list, or make the list based purely on your own feelings, and show it to your significant other afterward. She or he may want to add to the list, or make his or her own which you can then compare and talk through. You can download the weighted pros/cons list and print out as many copies as you need.

A final piece of advice as your weigh out your options

People tend to regret the things they didn’t do more than they regret the things they did do.

If you don’t make a change in your life, you will always wonder “what if.” You’re less likely to wonder “what if” when you choose to keep things the same, because you already know what that reality is like.

Often when I talk to teachers who are weighing out their options, they know that “what if” will haunt them if they don’t take a leap of faith and create change in their lives. They’re really wanting to do something different, and 9 times out of 10, they truly believe the change will be the right decision, but change is scary.

They’re looking for someone else to say, “You’re not crazy for uprooting your life or taking on something new. It really is all going to work out for you. You should do this.” They want someone to affirm what they already know deep inside. They want someone to help them push back the fear and make sure the decision is the right one.

That’s why working through all of the issues through a weighted pros/cons list is so powerful. It does not deny the fear or the reasons for fear, but neither does it allow you to make a decision based solely on that fear. It will help you make the decision based on a well-reasoned analysis that affirms your intuition.

“May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.” -Nelson Mandela Click To Tweet

This post is based on the latest episode of my weekly podcast, Angela Watson’s Truth for Teachers. A podcast is like a free talk radio show you can listen to online, or download and take with you wherever you go. I release a new 15-20 minute episode each Sunday and feature it here on the blog to help you get energized and motivated for the week ahead.

Truth for Teachers podcast: a weekly 10 minute talk radio show you can download and take with you wherever you go! A new episode is released each Sunday to get you energized and motivated for the week ahead.

See blog posts/transcripts for all episodes

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