by Faustine Goldberg-Sigal, translated from the original French –

“Getting out of your comfort zone,” we’ve talked about it for years, we’ve thought about it, we’ve dreamed of it as a distant ideal to be achieved. We’ve viewed it with a mixture of romanticism, enthusiasm and apprehension. We told ourselves, “Yes, I would love to test this new pedagogy, but can I really afford it? I would like to learn this methodology, but do I have the time? I would like to master such and such a subject, but can I really use it?” I’m reminded of the scene in Friends where Rachel goes between despair and rage as she witnesses a telephone conversation between Ross and his current partner Julie. They exchange several “you who hang up!” and “no, you!” Rachel listens, starts with a rather hypocritical smile, then suddenly snatches the phone out of Ross’ hands and hangs up on Julie.

In a variety of ways, 2020 has hung up on us. All those internal conversations, or external ones with colleagues or supervisors about the need for “stepping outside your comfort zone” very suddenly lost their romantic and happy side, becoming a very brutal reality. In the Friends scene,  someone hangs up, ending the back and forth, but it is not from within, one of the two lovers, rather, it is an outside force, an enraged ex-partner. For us educators, animators, parents, etc., there has been a definite departure from within the comfort zone during 2020, but it was the events of 2020 that took us out of the zone, rather than us intentionally leaving it.

The bad news is that the process of being taken out of the comfort zone has been violent.  There are so many questions: what have we lost along the way? What did not come to a satisfying closure? What will no longer continue? What will not succeed? The good news is that, within all this brutality, we find ourselves here; the comfort zone is now something we look back at from afar. Furthermore, it is a safe bet that we will not be returning. I hope with all my heart that we will find a comfort zone (with new habits – and no doubt a vaccine), but it will certainly be very different from the one we left in March 2020. The pedagogies, subject matter, methodologies, and  teams that gave us benchmarks have inevitably evolved and a new balance will need to be created.

Last night, I spoke with the residents of the Paris Moishe House about a piece of text from Maimonides’s Laws of Repentance of the Mishneh Torah in which he distinguishes two types of repentance. The first, the ideal according to him (“gamour”, or complete) is when one returns to the scene of the crime, returns to the exact the same circumstances as in which the mistake occurred, and chooses to act differently. The second, he teaches, is a process that can take literally a lifetime, requiring awareness alongside incremental and constant changes, with the goal of a new attitude and altering our character. Certainly, it’s less glorious and Instagramable than the first – but in my opinion it is much more realistic. In real life, when we have remorse, when are we actually given the opportunity to erase the past and come back to that same starting point in order to take a new road? That friend I hurt 5 years ago? Will I even see him again? If so, will he be in the same state of fatigue and stress, making him even more vulnerable, as he was that day? And how could I erase the hours spent ruminating on what I told him? This first teshuvah is a theoretical construction, which is why, in my opinion, the Rambam gives his description of the second type of teshuva, even if he considers the first to be ideal. In real life, you can’t erase the past. We must live with the consequences and adapt, with consistency and courage.

So, now that we have left our comfort zone (or it has left us…), and have had time to complain about it, let’s take the opportunity to look at how this transition, even if forced upon us, can help us as educators. (Please understand, I am not saying that this is easy):

  • Thinking back to the first week you taught, what was a dream or project of yours that you have let fade since?
  • Who is a colleague that you particularly admire whom you would like to learn things from for the rest of your career?
  • Are there colleagues that you would like to sit down with (even virtually) to create projects?
  • How can you pass your experience on to colleagues younger than you?
  • What is a skill that you are tempted to acquire and bring into your career? What is the first step to train yourself?
  • Are there students to whom you regret things you have said, or not said. Someone that you can contact?
  • How can you integrate more interactivity and exchanges in your teaching?
  • What habits can you adopt to help you better balance between your private and professional life?

There are two ways we can translate the Hebrew word “teshuvah”. The first, the classic translation, means a “return” – but I don’t think you can go back. The second, which speaks to me more, is a “response.” 2020 has asked us urgent and profound questions. How do we choose to answer them ? This idea makes it possible to face the idea of ​​a return. It is not a turning back, but a return to one’s self,  a return from a journey that habit had misled us. May this year, with all its difficulties and sorrows, at the least give us the opportunity to seek positive responses and  reorientation.