A Collection of Collegiate “Treasures”

3 by 3: Essential Books + Websites for Music Ed Majors

By now, at least several weeks after the holiday/winter break, most of you have probably returned to school and are “back at it” fulfilling your studies in music and education methods. Welcome to the New Year (2019) and good luck on meeting your goals!

It has been my pleasure to present numerous workshops and conference sessions for pre-service, in-service, and retired music educators on a variety of topics: interviewing for a job, marketing professionalism, ethics, transitioning to retirement, supercharging the musical, etc., and have been asked on occasion, “Where do you find all of the information, research, and resources for your blog-posts and talks?

Well.. I’m glad you asked!

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It would be hard to credit one or a few sources on reliable data, insights, and recommendations for career development. The following “gems” – a few ideas from someone who has taught music for more than 40 years – are just my New Year’s “gifts” to you… hopefully useful in your undergraduate or advance degree studies. Please enjoy!

This is probably the wrong time to suggest making a few “buys” for the sake of educational enrichment. College students are bombarded with many required readings of their (often expensive) textbooks and handouts from their comprehensive higher education courses of study. It is somewhat daunting to “cover all the bases,” especially when you may want specific advice and “answers” as a result of being recently thrown into “the real world” of field observations and student teaching. What else would a prospective music teacher need or have time to read? How can we better prepare you for the challenges of our profession?

Since you have to order books (or borrow them from a library), we’ll start with the printed publications. Here are my “top three” for your immediate consideration.

 

My Many Hats

My Many HatsIn the category of “things I wishes someone would have told me before I was hired to be a school music educator,” the inspirational book, My Many Hats: Juggling the Diverse Demands of a Music Teacher by Richard Weymuth, is a recommended “first stop” and easy “quick-read.” Published by Heritage Music Press (2005), the 130-page paperback serves as an excellent summary of the attributes (or “hats”) of a “master music teacher.” Based on the photos in his work (great “props”), I would have loved to have seen Weymuth’s conference presentations in person as he donned each hat symbolizing the necessary skill-set for a successful educator.

A quote from the author in his Introduction:

“I want my hats to put a smile on your face as you read this book, just as they do for the airport security guards as they go through my bags at the airport. They ask, “Are you a magician? A clown? An entertainer?” My answer is, “Yes, I am a teacher.”

His Table of Contents tells it all:

  1. The Hat of a Ringmaster: Managing your classroom and your time
  2. The Hat of a Leader: Setting the direction and tone of your classroom
  3. The Hat of a Scholar: Learning when “just the facts” are just fine, and when they aren’t
  4. The Hat of a Disciplinarian: The Three C’s: Caring, Consistency, and Control
  5. The Hat of an Eagle: Mastering your eagle eye
  6. The Hat of a Crab: Attitude is everything; what’s yours?
  7. The Hat of a Juggler: Balancing a complicated and demanding class schedule
  8. The Hat of a Banker: Fund raising and budgeting
  9. The Hat of an Artistic Director: Uniforms and musicals and bulletin boards, oh my!
  10. The Hat of a Lobster: Establishing the proper decorum with your students
  11. The Hat of a Pirate: Finding a job you will treasure
  12. The Hat of a Bear: Learning to “grin and bear it” in difficult situations
  13. The Hat of a Peacock: Having and creating pride in your program
  14. The Hat of Applause: Rewarding and recognizing yourself
  15. The Hat of a Flamingo: Sticking out your neck and flapping your wings

Here are a couple sections that should be emphasized if you are currently a junior or senior music education major.

All student or first-year teachers should focus on his/her three C’s of class discipline in Chapter 4: “Caring, Consistency, and Control.” In order to resolve problems and seek advice from local mentors (especially help from second and third-year teachers who may have just gone through similar conflicts), he poses these questions:

  • What is the specific discipline problem that is currently bothering you?
  • Who could you interview in your educational community to help with this problem?
  • How did they handle the problem?
  • What discipline solutions worked and what didn’t work?

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Those getting ready for the job search and interviewing process this year must turn to Chapter 11 immediately! “Just like a pirate, you are searching for your treasure, or at least a job you will treasure.” Suggesting that first-year teachers should stay in their assignment for a minimum of three years (to show “you are a stable teacher and are dedicated to the district”), Weymuth offers guidance in these areas:

  • The Application Process
    • Cover Letter
    • Résumé
  • The Interview
    • Make a Good Impression
    • The First-Class Interview
    • Frequently Asked Questions
  • The Second Interview

The book is worth the $17.95 price alone for the interview questions on pages 85-88.

Once you “land a job” and are assigned extra-curricular duties like directing after-school ensembles, plays, and perhaps fund-raising for trips, shows, uniforms, or instruments, come back to Chapter 8 for “The Hat of a Banker” and Chapter 9 for “The Hat of an Artistic Director.” His guidelines for moneymaking and record-keeping include insightful sub-sections on:

  • Planning and Administering a Fund-Raising Activity
  • Possible Fund-Raisers
  • Motivating Students to Sell, Sell, Sell (Set Goals, Prizes, and Tracking)
  • Budgeting

Having previously posted a blog on “Supercharging the School Musical,”  I was impressed with his pages 65-69 on “Show and Concert Choir Dress” and The Musical,” and especially the “Appendix – Resources Books for Producing a Musical” in the back of the book.

 

Case Studies in Music Education

Case Studies in Music EducationNext, I would like to direct pre-service and new music teachers to Case Studies in Music Education by Frank Abrahams and Paul D. Head. This would be an invaluable aid to “facilitate dialogue, problem posing, and problem solving” from college students (in methods classes?) and “rookie” teachers to veteran educators.

Using the format of Introduction, Exposition, Development, Improvisation, and Recapitulation known by all music professionals, each chapter presents a scenario with a moral dilemma that many music educators face in the daily execution of their teaching responsibilities.

 

“How should a music teacher balance learning and performing? What is the best way to handle an angry parent? What are the consequences of the grades teachers assign? What are the best ways to discipline students? How should teachers relate to the administrators and to other teachers? The emphasis here is not on the solution, but on the process. There are many viable approaches to nearly every obstacle, but before any meaningful long-term solutions can be made, teachers must identify their own personal philosophy of music education and recognize those traits that are admirable in another’s style.”

―Excerpt from back cover of Case Studies in Music Education, Second Edition, by Frank Abrahams and Paul D. Head

Case Studies in Music Education provides a frank discussion about the critical real-world issues music teachers face but are rarely addressed in college courses:

  • Balancing the goals of learning and performing music
  • Communications and relationships with parents, administrators, and other staff
  • “Fair use” and other copyright laws

If you are seeking more reflection and peer review of ethical issues in the music education profession, good for you! Few music teachers ever talk about the “e” word. What’s important is not only becoming aware of your state’s/district’s statues on the “teacher’s code of conduct” and dress/behavior expectations, but developing your own ethical “compass” for all professional decision-making. A good companion to the Abrahams and Head book is to peruse my previous blogs on ETHICS (posted in reverse chronological order).

 

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Enhancing the Professional Practice of Music Teachers

“Book number three” is probably the most expensive, and I could only wish you were already exposed to it in one of your music education courses. If you have not seen it, go ahead and “bite the bullet” in the purchase of Enhancing the Professional Practice of Music Teachers: 101 Tips that Principals Want Music Teachers to Know and Do by Paul G. Young, published by Rowman & Littlefield in 2009. [Note: Be sure to give them your NAfME membership number for a 25% discount!]

“If you want to improve your professional performance and set yourself apart from your colleagues—in any discipline—these tips are for you. If you desire anything less than achieving the very best, you won’t want this book. Rather than addressing research and theory about music education or the “how-to’s” of teaching, Enhancing the Professional Practice of Music Teachers focuses on common-sense qualities and standards of performance that are essential for success-everywhere. Whether you’re considering a career in music education, entering your first year of teaching, or nearing the end of a distinguished tenure, this advice applies to musicians in any setting. Affirming quality performance for experienced teachers and guiding, nurturing, and supporting the novice, Young outlines what great music teachers do. Easy to read and straightforward, read it from beginning to end or focus on tips of interest. Come back time and again for encouragement, ideas, and affirmation of your choice to teach music.”

– https://nafme.org/reading-list-music-educators/

ENhancing the Professional Practice of Music TeachersHis chapters are organized into six tips:

  • Tips That Establish Effective Practice with Students
  • Tips That Support Recruitment
  • Tips That Enhance Instruction
  • Tips That Enhance the Profession
  • Tips for Personal Growth
  • Tips for Professional Growth

Paul Young is a musician and band director who later became an elementary school principal. His book is derived from his experience as a music student, music teacher, and educational leader. The intent of the publication is to guide both new and experienced teachers in continued personal and professional growth. He uses his experience as an administrator to point out to music teachers the traits he has seen in individuals who have become successful in the profession.

Now that you ordered at least one of these for personal research and growth, I should point out other sources of book recommendations for the budding music educator, courtesy of NAfME:

 

Online Resources

Okay, now comes the “easy-peasy” part, and even more importantly, it’s mostly FREE!

NAfME blogThe first thing I want you to do (and you don’t even have to be a member of NAfME yet, although you should be!) is to take at least a half-hour, scroll down, and read through numerous NAfME “Music in a Minuet” blog-posts, bookmarking any you want to return to at a later date. Go to https://nafme.org/category/news/music-in-a-minuet/. Get ready to be totally immersed into the music education profession in a way no college professor can do, with articles like the following (just a recent sampling):

 

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Hopefully you did receive a little cash in your Christmas stocking… or something from grandma! Now is time to “belly up to the bar” and pay your dues. Every professional school music educator should be a member of their “national association…” NAfME!

Once you do this, get ready to reap countless benefits! First, besides offering a discounted rate for all collegiate members, you will be eligible for a significant price break for full active membership renewal during your first-year of teaching! Then, the doors will open wide to you for all of the many NAfME member services such as classroom resources, professional development, news and publications, special offers for members, etc.

Amplify

Once you are a NAfME member, open up your browser, and go immediately to the NAfME AMPLIFY community discussion platform, instructions posted here. Getting started on AMPLIFY is easy:

  • Go to community.nafme.org.
  • Edit your profile using your NAfME.org member username and personal password.
  • Control what information is visible on your profile.
  • Join/subscribe to communities of your choice – you will automatically be enrolled in Music Educator Central, our general community for all NAfME Members.
  • Control the frequency and format of email notifications from Amplify.

If you prefer, they have created a video or quick-start guide here to set-up your account’s profile, demonstrate the features, and provide some help navigating through the AMPLIFY menus.

Once you familiarize yourself with the forum, find the “Music Educator Central” and “Collegiate” discussion groups… and start reading. If you have a question, post it. AMPLIFY connects you with as many as 60,000 other NAfME members… a powerful resource for networking and finding out “tried and true” techniques, possible solutions to scenarios or problems in the varied settings of school music assignments, and the sharing of news, trends, perspectives, and more!

Try it… you’ll like it! When you feel comfortable with the platform, contribute your own posts, thoughtful responses to comments from the reflections of your “colleagues,” teaching anecdotes, personal pet-peeves, and ???  – you name it! The sky is the limit!

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Tooting My Own Horn… the “Paulkfoxusc” Website (now paulfox.blog)

Finally, if you have indeed “blown the budget” over family holiday purchases, I can suggest one freebie website that archives a comprehensive listings of blog-posts, links, and books. Under the category of “marketing professionalism,” you can search through blogs placed online in reverse chronological order at https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/category/marketing-professionalism/ or you can “take everything in” from one super-site entitled “Becoming a Music Educator” at https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/becoming-a-music-educator/.

Of course, I have a few “favorite” articles which may provide you a great start to your journey of self-fulfillment:

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Best wishes on you continuing your advancement and personal enrichment towards the realization of a wonderful career in music education!

PKF

© 2019 Paul K. Fox

 

Photo credits in order from Pixabay.com: “student” by geralt, “book” by PourquoiPas, “girl” by nastya_gepp, “fatigued” by sasint, “learn” by geralt, “brass” by emkanicepic, and “iPad” by fancycrave1

 

 

“Top 10” Organizing Tips for 2019

Food for Thought for “Getting Your Stuff Together”

Once in awhile, someone suggests an article that might be suitable for everyone who stumbles upon this website… retired (but very busy) music teachers, active music educators, collegiates, and music students of all ages. Of course, I cannot resist putting together my own list of ways to become a better time manager and efficiency expert… mainly because I was never that organized when I taught classes in three buildings, assisted in marching band, produced plays and musicals, and served as a curriculum leader during my 35+-year career. (“Do as I say, don’t do as I do…” or did!) It’s now easy to recommend… and after trolling the Internet a little, backing up this advice with numerous “expert” protagonists.

 

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1. Throw out the “to-do list” and use a calendar

“Millionaires don’t use to-do lists. If something truly matters to you, put it on your calendar. You’ll be amazed at how much the likelihood of getting it done increases.”

– Srinivas Rao at https://getpocket.com/explore/item/why-calendars-are-more-effective-than-to-do-lists

According to The Muse (https://www.themuse.com/advice/8-expertbacked-secrets-to-making-the-perfect-todo-list), “41% of to-do tasks are never completed.” Janet Choi on LifeHacker (https://lifehacker.com/5967563/master-the-art-of-the-to-do-list-by-understanding-how-they-fail) maintains that for most people, there are four problems for using to-do lists:

  1. We have too many to-do’s.
  2. We’re not good at making to-do lists.
  3. We give ourselves too much time.
  4. “The future is full of unknowns, interruptions, and change.”

paper-3141341_1920_rawpixelSupported by Dan Ariely and his team at Timeful (a company acquired by Google), Srinivas Rao writes at https://getpocket.com/explore/item/why-calendars-are-more-effective-than-to-do-lists that we should throw away the to-do list and use a calendar app like Google Calendar for tasks and reminders, to set goals, and to schedule meetings.

Srinivas adds, “Just the act of putting these things on the calendar for some reason seems to significantly increase the likelihood that I actually do them.”

 

2. But there’s still a good reason for keeping your a note-taking app.

Combine a virtual assistant like Apple “Siri” or Amazon “Alexa” with an application like “Evernote” for “brainstorming” to get your thoughts organized.

Perhaps creating to-do lists may or may not work in your day-to-day environment, but the use of note-taking apps with voice-activated personal assistants may be the ticket to sketch out your short to long-term planning and even respond to email or other forms of writing drafts. Basically, I find I talk faster than I can type!

Jill Duffy offers these assessment criteria for picking the “best for you” digital note-taking tool at the blog-site Zapier (see https://zapier.com/blog/best-note-taking-apps/):

  • EvernoteEasy to set-up
  • East to use
  • Specialized to fit your needs
  • Good value (some require no subscription fees)

She reviews Evernote (my personal favorite), Microsoft OneNote, Paper, Quip, and Simplenote for day-to-day use.

A lot of my blog writing is generated using voice recognition by Siri dropped into the Evernote app. It has worked well for me. However, if you are running errands in the car, or even taking a longer trip on the highway, it is not recommended to dictate your manuscript while driving! Your attention is drawn away from watching the road to check on the status of your “writings,” and Siri does not always hear things right the first time! Even if you do not look at your phone while talking to your device, you will find that your distracted “brainstorming out-loud” may cause you to miss an exit or even sit unresponsive at a green light. Never note-take and drive at the same time!

 

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3. Of course, you have to set priorities!

I was never good at going from brainstorming to finalizing the goals and action plans! It seems easier to “think outside the box” than to construct that multi-leveled box of jobs!

Tatyana Sussex at Liquid Paper (https://www.liquidplanner.com/blog/how-to-prioritize-work-when-everythings-1/) proposes these steps for “How to Prioritize Work When Everything Is Number 1.”

  1. Collect a list of all your tasks.
  2. Identify urgent vs. important.
  3. Assess value.
  4. Ordered tasks by estimated effort.
  5. Be flexible and adaptable.
  6. Know when to cut.

Benjamin Brandall contributes additional insight on systems for prioritizing at https://www.process.st/how-to-prioritize-tasks/, defining “the Four D’s” (see section #5) and my favorite concept, “When you have two frogs to eat, eat the ugliest one first.”

Finally, should you feel you need it, definitely revisit the inspiration of Stephen Covey, especially in his book, First Things First or this website: https://www.franklincovey.com/the-7-habits/habit-3.html.

 

4. Creative things should come first!

cello-521172_1920_enbuscadelosdragones0As musicians and music teachers, this suggestion may hit home: Do something that stimulates your “right brain” with acts of personal self-expression or artistry every day, and schedule it both intentionally and early!

What makes you want to get out of bed in the morning? Playing an instrument or singing? Composing? Writing? Painting or drawing?

I have previously blogged about ways to enhance your daily creativity quotient:

I also like this Inc. article: “32 Easy Exercises to Boost Your Creativity Every Day.”

“Here is what I’ve learned from these creative warm-ups: my thinking continues to be more flexible and multi-dimensional throughout the day. I approach work challenges with less fear and more playfully; I’m more open to see things in new and unexpected ways… And that makes all the difference.”

– Ayse Birsel, author of Design the Life You Love

 

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5. Adhere to the “four D’s” system of productivity.

Have you heard of Priority Manager or other systems of paper and digital notes management? My favorite… the four D’s was previously blogged at https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/2017/12/01/help-how-does-one-keep-up/.

  • Do it! (Act on it immediately!)
  • Delay or Date it! (Assign it to the future!)
  • Delegate it! (Give it to someone else to do!) or
  • Dump it! (Delete or move it into the trash)

Check out the practical advice unveiled at https://blog.hubspot.com/sales/4-ds-of-productivity. I particularly liked Mike Renahan’s visual which sums up the system:

Four Ds

 

6. Devote at least 30 minutes a day to professional reading.

“Why did the busiest person in the world, former president Barack Obama, read an hour a day while in office?”

“Why has the best investor in history, Warren Buffett, invested 80% of his time in reading and thinking throughout his career?”

“Why has the world’s richest person, Bill Gates, read a book a week during his career? And why has he taken a yearly two-week reading vacation throughout his entire career?”

Answer? “If you’re not spending five hours per week learning, you’re being irresponsible.”

– Michael Simmons at https://qz.com/work/1124490/5-hour-rule-if-youre-not-spending-5-hours-per-week-learning-youre-being-irresponsible/

***

“In the busy teaching day, it can often be the last thing on your mind to dive into some professional reading. So, why should you make it a priority and how can you utilize your time effectively to fit it in?”

– Hazel Brinkworth at https://www.teachertoolkit.co.uk/2018/10/09/time-to-read/

It seems obvious, doesn’t it? Teachers have to “keep up” with their “craft,” explore mobile-791071_1920_kaboompicsdeveloping innovations, trends, and movements in their field, and embrace better instructional techniques and use of media for their students!

“I don’t have time” means you are not a true professional. Doctors and other medical care providers, lawyers, investment counselors, clergy, etc. – you name the “profession” – must continually renew their knowledge-base and “sharpen their saws.” Regular reading and attending conferences help motivate you, “recharge your batteries,” retool for the formation of new goals, review better strategies, and introduce improved teaching methods, materials, literature, and technologies.

The aforementioned Teacher Toolkit website scripts tips on how to get started:

  1. Focus your topic of interest.
  2. Know where to look.
  3. Listen instead of reading!
  4. Set aside a regular time slot in your week.
  5. Find a quiet place.

 

 

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7. Cut back on your “screen time,” especially closer to your bedtime.

“There’s a lot of debate about how much screen time is too much screen time, specifically for children, but also for adults. Likely you’ve heard about how it’s a good idea to stop using our electronics in the evening so you can wind your brain down for bed. But when it comes to screen time, the only thing that seems conclusive is that there’s such a thing as too much and that it may be different for everyone and depend on the circumstances.”

Interesting Engineering blog-site offers these “11 Easy Ways to Reduce Your Screen Time” (https://interestingengineering.com/11-easy-ways-to-reduce-your-screen-time).

  1. Eat your meals without a screen
  2. Limit your non-work screen time
  3. Don’t watch movies or TV in bed
  4. Cut down on computer socializing
  5. Set a timer
  6. Ban phone charging from the bedroom
  7. Take up another hobby for boredom
  8. Schedule a meeting phone call instead of using chat
  9. Think of other ways to access information
  10. Get your news in a condensed feed
  11. Exercise while you watch

 

8. Are you  getting enough sleep?

male-3730041_1920_Engin_AkyurtThe answer is… probably not.

According to a 2013 Gallup Study (the last year Gallup published a sleep study), the average American sleeps only 6.8 hours a day — and that number may be getting worse over the last several years.

Most experts recommend we receive 7 to 9 hours per night, but the quality of sleep is just as important as the quantity. The HelpGuide website (https://www.helpguide.org/articles/sleep/sleep-needs-get-the-sleep-you-need.htm/) posted this chart with data from the National Sleep Foundation:

sleep

Brittney Morgan at https://www.apartmenttherapy.com/how-to-hack-your-sleep-schedule-and-get-your-full-8-hours-242712 suggested these remedies:

  1. Ease into an earlier bedtime.
  2. Rethink how you use alarms.
  3. Create a sleep routine.
  4. Unplug and de-stress before bed.
  5. Write out your thoughts.
  6. Limit alcohol and caffeine

spiral-notebook-381032_1920_kathrin_I remember when I taught full-time and was in the middle of a full-blown musical production, I sometimes laid awake feeling “stirred up” inside trying to think of all the things I needed to do the next day. #5 of Brittney’s list is solved by putting a legal pad and a good pen by your bed stand, and without awakening your spouse, roll over and jot down a few of your “don’t forgets.” Or if you prefer to use the magic of technology, you can do this digitally… take a minute or so and use your tablet or smartphone, but don’t stay up very long and let the screen’s blue-light make your insomnia worse. Revisit title heading #2 above for note-taking apps.

It’s absolutely amazing the number of sources you can find on the web for additional advice for improving your sleep habits:

 

9. Get rid of the stuff you don’t need

“Now and again, everyone faces a big life transition. For me, it was when I lost my father — right around the time I realized my kids were rapidly growing up (funny how that sneaks up on you, huh?). I started to think about how I really wanted to live my day-to-day life. From the clothes on my body to stuff in my home, I wanted to stop perpetuating things that made me feel bad about myself.”

minimalism-241876_1920_bohemienne“Much like Gilligan and his infamous “three hour tour,” what I thought might be a quick clean-out extravaganza turned into an epic, six-month journey through the nether reaches of my closets and my psyche. Along the way, I learned many things from Maeve about organization — and more than a few things about myself that changed my relationship with my stuff.”

“This is tough for anyone, but it’s a crucial step in regaining control over your stuff. I was really honest with myself, and resolved to not beat myself up over getting rid of (or donating) things we didn’t need — even if they were in good shape. When you start to think of your things as part of an ecosystem for your life, it becomes easier to pare down to only the stuff you really love.”

Ask yourself, how often do you “purge the junk” from your home?

Showcased on Beginning Minimalist, Joshua Becker also shares “10 Creative Ways to De-Clutter Your House” at https://www.becomingminimalist.com/creative-ways-to-declutter/. Be sure to read what he refers to the Oprah Winfrey Closet Hanger Experiment, now my “new favorite” way of discarding seldom-worn clothing.

 

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10. Don’t forget to organize your living spaces.

In “7 Smart Organizing Tricks You Probably Have Not Tried” (https://www.realsimple.com/home-organizing/organizing/smart-organizing-tricks), Louisa Kamps recommends these logical time-savers and better spacing engineering techniques:

  1. Expose everything in your dresser drawers
  2. Store like with like.
  3. Be mindful of the pleasure your possessions give you.
  4. Keep your workspace clean and clutter free.
  5. Streamline your files.
  6. Create effective to-do lists (or see #1 above)
  7. Make “mise-en-place” a way of life.

Need more household tips? One Crazy House also provides a wealth of ideas in their blog-post, “17 Clever Organizing Tricks You’ll Wish You’d Known Sooner” by Donella Crigger at https://www.onecrazyhouse.com/organizing-tips-tricks/. And, if seventeen are not enough, what about over a hundred? Go to the Good Housekeeping’s site: https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/home/tips/g2610/best-organizing-tips/.

 

Hopefully these hints help you “tidy up” for the New Year, and bring you more productivity, peace of mind, and joy in your lives!

PKF

© 2018 Paul K. Fox

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Photo credits in order from Pixabay.com: “young” by kaboompics, “checklist” by TeroVesalainen, “paper” by rawpixel, “important” by geralt, “cello” by enbuscadelosdragones0, “board”by rawpixel, “mobile” by kaboompics, “iPhone” by JESHOOTScom, “male” by Engin_Akyurt, “spiral-notebook” by kathrin, “minimalism” by bohemienne, “clutter” by Kasman, and “ring-binders” by AbsolutVision.

The Three “P’s” and One “B” of Success

Practice, Patience, Perseverance & Belief in Yourself!

foxsfiresides

To inspire greater forward progress and more resolve in meeting our goals, I wrote this “Fox Fireside” back in 1995 for the student, parents, directors, and family members of the South Hills Junior Orchestra (SHJO). This “pep talk” was motivated by reading anecdotes from my favorite series, “Chicken Soup for the Soul” by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen, and begs these three essential questions:

  1. “Why were there so many people who “put down” the achievements or aptitude of these historical figures?”
  2. “What would have happened if these individuals had received more encouragement and support along the way?”
  3. “Are you living up to YOUR potential?”

We are very optimistic about the future! Perhaps if we all “put down” our tech devices (instead of each other) and focused more time and energy on making music together, we can attain new levels of creative self-expression and artistry. Really, all you need is a little practice, patience, and perseverance… so lets make a New Year’s resolution to “play more music,” “attend more rehearsals,” and “share more of our love of music!”

Paul K. Fox, SHJO Founding Director

 

Life is full of course corrections, not failures! Throughout our learning in school or at a job, we face many challenges, some that do not immediately bring us the just rewards for our time and hard work. Every one of us occasionally gets a little discouraged, but we must not give up hope nor fail to commit the resources to continue our pursuits. Consider many of history’s great geniuses who faced similar “bumps” along their pathway to fame:

  • After Fred Astaire’s first screen test, the memo from the casting director of MGM, dated 1933 said, “Can’t act! Slightly bald! Can dance a little!” Astaire kept that memo over the fireplace in his Beverly Hills home.
  • An expert said of Vince Lombardi: “He possesses minimal football knowledge. Lacks motivation.”
  • Socrates was called, “An immortal corrupter of youth.”
  • When Peter J. Daniel was in fourth grade, his teacher Mrs. Phillips constantly said, “You’re no good. You’re a bad apple, and you’re never going to amount to anything.” Peter was totally illiterate until he was 26. A friend stayed up with him all night and read him a copy of Think and Grow Rich. Now, he owns the street corners he used to fight on and has published a book, Mrs. Phillips, You Were Wrong!
  • Louisa May Alcott, the author of Little Women, was encouraged to find work as a servant or seamstress by her family.
  • Beethoven handled the violin awkwardly and preferred playing his own compositions instead of improving his technique. His teacher called him hopeless as a composer.
  • The parents of the famous opera singer Enrico Caruso wanted him to become an engineer. His teacher said he had no voice at all and could not sing.
  • Charles Darwin, father of the Theory of Evolution, gave up a medical career and was told by his father, “You care for nothing but shooting, dogs, and rat catching.” In his autobiography, Darwin wrote, “I was considered by all my masters and by my father a very ordinary boy, rather below the common standard in intellect.”
  • Walt Disney was fired from a newspaper for lack of ideas, and also went bankrupt several times before he built Disneyland.
  • Thomas Edison’s teachers said he was too stupid to learn anything.
  • seriestoshare-logo-01Albert Einstein did not speak until he was four years old and didn’t read until he was seven. HIs teacher described him as “mentally slow, unsociable, and adrift in his foolish dreams.” He was expelled and was refused admittance to the Zurich Polytechnic School.
  • Louis Pasteur was only a mediocre pupil in undergraduate studies and ranked 15th out of 22 in chemistry.
  • By all accounts, Isaac Newton did very poorly in grade school.
  • The sculptor Rodin’s father said, “I have an idiot for a son.” Described as the worst pupil in the school, Rodin failed three times to secure admittance to the school of art. His uncle called him ineducable.
  • Leo Tolstoy, author of War and Peace, flunked out of college. He was described as “both unable and unwilling to learn.”
  • Playwright Tennessee Williams was enraged when his play Me, Vasha, was not chosen in a class competition at Washington University where he was enrolled in English XVI. The teacher recalled that Williams denounced the judges’ choices and their intelligence.
  • F.W. Woolworth’s employers at the dry goods store said he had not enough sense to wait upon customers.
  • Henry Ford failed and went broke five times before he succeeded.
  • Babe Ruth, considered by sports historians to be the greatest athlete of all time and famous for setting the home run record, also holds the record for the greatest number of strike outs.
  • Winston Churchill failed sixth grade. He did not become Prime Minister of England until he was 62, and then only after a lifetime of defeats and setbacks. His greatest contributions came when he was a “senior citizen.”
  • Eighteen publishers turned down RIchard Bach’s 10,000 word story about “soaring” seagull, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, before Macmillan finally published it in 1980. By 1975, it had sold more than seven million copies in U.S. alone.
  • Richard Hooker worked for seven years on his novel, M*A*S*H, only to have it rejected by 21 publishers before Morrow decided to publish it. It became a runaway bestseller, spawning a blockbuster movie and a highly successful TV series (still airing today on cable channels as reruns!).

 

A Modern Day Parable…

There was once a wise woman who lived by herself near a small village. Rumor had it that she could always accurately predict when the rains would come, or help heal a sick child with herbs, or calm angry neighbors and help them to resolve their fights and arguments. People came from all over the land to meet with her and seek her advice on matters both small and great. Her reputation was such that was said she was never wrong — not ever.

Some of the children of the village didn’t believe that it was possible to always be right. Surely she could not know everything! They decided to test her knowledge. First they asked her to answer questions about the planets, the animals, and the world. No matter how hard the questions, she always answered correctly.

The children were amazed at her knowledge and learning and most were ready to stop testing the wise woman. However, one boy was determined to prove that the old woman couldn’t know everything. Hatching a devious scheme, he told all of his friends to meet him at the woman’s home the following afternoon so he could prove she was a faker.

All through the next day he hunted for a bird. Finally he caught a small songbird in a net. Holding it behind his back so no one could see what was in his hands, he walked triumphantly to the wise woman’s home.

“Old woman!” he called. “Come and show us how wise you are!”

The woman walked calmly to the door. “May I help you?” she simply asked.

“You say you know everything — prove it — what am I holding behind my back?” the young boy demanded.

The old woman thought for a moment. She could make out the faint sounds of a birds wings rustling. “I do not say I know everything — for that would be impossible,” she replied. “However, I do believe you are holding a bird in your hands.”

The boy was furious. How could the woman have possibly known he had a bird? Thinking quickly he came up with a new scheme. He would ask the woman whether the bird was alive or dead. If the woman replied, “alive,” he would crush it with his hands and prove her wrong. If she answered, “dead,” on the other hand, he would pull the living bird from behind his back and allow it to fly away. Either way he would prove his point and the wise woman would be discredited.

“Very good,” he called. “It is a bird. But tell me, is the bird I am holding alive or dead?”

The wise woman paused for a long moment while the boy waited with anticipation for his opportunity to prove her wrong. Again the woman spoke calmly, “The answer, my young friend, is in your hands. The answer is in your hands.”

The boy realized that the wise woman had once again spoken correctly and truthfully. The answer was indeed in his own hands. Feeling the bird feebly moving in his hands as it tried to escape his grasp, he felt suddenly very ashamed.

The answer was in his hands — slowly and gently he brought his hands to the front of his body. Looking into the eyes of the delicate bird he apologized, “I am sorry little one,” and he opened his hands to let her go free.

https://www.uua.org/re/tapestry/children/tales/session11/story1

bird-1040944_1920_Pezibear

Is this fable a little too deep for you? Well, remember: the answer is in your hands.

Only you have the power to succeed or fail. Regardless of what others say about your present or future worth, your “wins or losses” are in your hands. You need to trust your mentors/teachers/parents and especially believe in yourself!

Then, the application of practice, patience, and perseverance (never giving up!) will make all the difference!

What are your goals and ambitions for 2019?

Happy New Year!

PKF

 

hi-res logo 2018The mission of South Hills Junior Orchestra, which rehearses and performs at the Upper St. Clair High School in Pittsburgh, PA, is to support and nurture local school band and orchestra programs, to develop knowledge, understanding, performance skills, and an appreciation of music, to increase an individual member’s self-esteem and self-motivation, and to continue to advance a life-long study of music. Members of the Orchestra learn, grow, and achieve positions of leadership to serve their fellow members.

(For more information about SHJO, please visit www.shjo.org.)

This and all Fox’s Fireside blog-posts are free and available to share with other music students, parents, directors, and supporters of the arts.

Click here for a printable copy of The 3 Ps and 1 B to Success

Other “Fox Firesides” are available at https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/foxs-firesides/.

 

© 2019 Paul K. Fox

Photo credit from Pixabay.com: “Ember” by VIVIANE6276 and “bird” by Pezibear

 

Resolutions for Retirees

[Portions reprinted from the PMEA Retired Member Network eNEWS, January 3, 2019]

 

Twas the morning after Christmas, and all through the house.

Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse…

Wouldn’t this be the perfect time to make a New Year’s Resolution?

 

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Many do believe that ushering in the New Year is all about pursuing new directions, a sort of “rebirth,” analyzing and revising our personal goals/visions, and making promises for self-improvements… perhaps a little like the personal renaissance of retirement.

However, it is likely that after all the festive celebrations and squarely facing the first several weeks in January, if you had made New Year’s resolutions, you may have forgotten them or fell short of even starting your 2019 aspirations. My new approach is to examine and expand on what I was planning to do anyway… not to propose lofty ambitions like losing 30 pounds or exercising an hour a day (both not likely to ever happen, no matter my best intentions). What I have learned about setting personal goals (and I taught these concepts during student leadership training sessions) is that you need to “keep them simple,” “write them down,” “make them measurable,” “revisit and revise your plans often” and “publish or announce them” somehow. Tell your spouse, “This is what I am going to accomplish in the New Year.” A great place to post your “promises” for everyone to see is where you get up in the morning… perhaps on or near your bedroom or bathroom mirror.

The last time I wrote an article about New Year’s resolutions for retirees was back in December 2015. You can see it here (also printed in a Retired Member Network eNEWS): https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/2015/12/22/random-acts-and-other-resolutions/

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Well, I suppose I better sketch out a “new plan!” Let’s see if any of these “strike a chord” with you… possible your own considerations for 2019? (I admit this is a little self-serving like the Peanuts cartoon character Lucy van Pelt dictating New Year’s resolutions for Charlie Brown. Well, as they say, if the shoe fits…)

  1. Read at least one new book each month.
  2. Take time for regular physical exercise.
  3. “Keep around young people and you will stay forever young!”
  4. Enjoy travel and “see the world,” and go on trips while the kids you used to teach are still in school.
  5. Do something creative every day: make/create music, art, dance, drama, photography, writing, etc.
  6. Complete one new “random act of kindness” every week (but don’t call attention or take any credit for it!).
  7. Continue to be an advocate for music education.* (see last link below)

The American Psychological Association at https://www.apa.org/helpcenter/resolution.aspx recommends these tips on “making your New Year’s resolution stick.”

  1. Start small.
  2. Change one behavior at a time.
  3. Talk about it.
  4. Don’t beat yourself up.
  5. Ask for support.

The online Self magazine has even more suggestions: https://www.self.com/story/new-year-resolution-handbook.

Some even say, skip the formal process of adopting a New Year’s resolution altogether: https://www.rd.com/advice/quitting-new-years-resolutions/ or https://www.pocketmindfulness.com/why-you-shouldnt-set-new-years-resolution/ or https://www.lifehack.org/articles/featured/new-years-resolutions-dont-work-heres-why.html.

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Here are additional links to “inspire” your own “pursuit of self-reinvention,” that is, if you decide you are willing to truly commit the time and energy for a “growth-spurring” exercise. My apologies for the multiple references to the term “seniors” below. I don’t know about you, but I don’t consider myself a senior until I hit a hundred years old!

The final bullet above is from Mike Blakeslee, our NAfME CEO/Executive Director. Even though most of us now have “less contact” with music students, his message is still timely and relevant. Many retired music teachers are still involved in supervising student teachers, conducting youth ensembles, performing in church or community groups, coaching sports, voice or instrumental sections, or teaching private lessons… so be an advocate and active supporter (leading by example) to help achieve diversity and inclusion in the profession… bringing quality music education for all!

doors-1767563_1920-1_qimono

Best wishes for a happy, healthy, prosperous, meaningful, and musical New Year!

PKF

© 2018 Paul K. Fox

Photo credits in order from Pixabay.com: “start-line” by mohamed_hassa, “hate” by cabrasjoan, “new-years-eve” by Gellinger, “idea” by geralt, and “doors” by qimono.

One Retiree’s “Tech Rant”

When Your Car (or Smartphone or Computer or Soundbar) is Smarter Than You

Okay, I know I am not a “technology native,” but at least I have become more savvy as a well-informed “technology immigrant.” (Just don’t tell Donald Trump!) But, I just can’t seem to keep up! What is it about “our generation” missing that part of the brain that somehow intuitively informs us which link or button to push in a long series of options on a menu bar? (The ones that only have symbols or pictures really puzzle me!)

I bought a new Chevy (a used but current-model-year demo from the dealer), and I am struggling to understand it! Oh, not just the basics of the radio, three-zone HVAC system, cruise control, or all of the other nifty buttons on the steering wheel…

Chevy-Mylink-Banner

But, this car talks to me. It tells me when I am not driving straight within the lane. It reprimands me when I am following too close to the car in front of me. In case I forgot to notice the speed limit sign, the reminder pops up next to the speedometer. It even tells me to stop reading the dashboard while I am driving (which is somewhat ironic since the notice comes up randomly while my car is moving).

Our devices are all becoming more interconnected and even “seamless!” For example, my GM vehicle offers OnStar, turn-by-turn navigation, and Sirius/XM-Radio. When I plug my iPhone into the special interface next to the cigarette lighter, the home screen shows up on the main window of my car, making it a cinch to play music from my iTunes library!

If I need to hear female voices “tell me where to go” (besides my wife, of course), I have the opportunity of either letting Siri give me the street directions or listen to another digital woman (who or where she comes from I do not know – a Google Maps cyborg?). One trip, I turned them both on. Number 2 came through the car speakers, while Siri spoke through the phone itself. They both nearly simultaneously gave me the wrong directions to Hershey Lodge (Harrisburg), having me exit the PA Turnpike two exits too soon. (Go figure. I should have taken the advice of my wife who said, “Harrisburg East.”)

This “trouble in tech paradise” is not limited to automobiles. Every appliance is becoming smarter than me! Here’s another example that I may have bought “too many toys” for my own good. Both my Samsung TV and soundbar seem to automatically update themselves using my household WIFI network. The funniest moment in my installation of the Bose sound equipment connected to our cable box in the living room was when I downloaded their app for my iPhone, and inadvertently turned on from a remote location a streaming country music service blaring throughout my house. (Scared my wife to death!)

imac-1999636_1920_Nick_H

This is an “equal opportunity” rant, and I do not discriminate: Apple vs. Windows OS, Apple vs. Android iOS, or Apple Genius vs. Best Buy Geek Squad. It makes little difference… embracing the tools of “new age” media and scientific innovations are complicated! For example, why does one need to have a PhD in computer science to use Mail Merge and print labels from Excel and Word on either platform? It should never be that hard to prepare your Christmas card mailing list!

Nearly the only time my “marital bliss” with my wife has been challenged is when something BAD happens to a file, app, or program on our iPhone, iPad, or Mac computer… and we try (with loads of mistakes) to fix it “together.” Even the dogs know to stay away from technology when we are in the middle of a hardware or software “bug!”

 

Your worst fear – a “crashing” computer

It’s hard to know who to trust in this technology-overloaded environment. Several weeks ago, when my wife’s Mac crashed and was “trapped” in an endless loop of restarts, we picked up our entire 27-inch, awkward-shaped/sized piece of equipment and carried it to the Apple Store for a consult with the “Almighty Apple Genius Department.” We brought with us the printed error message that said the problem was due to a “kernel panic.”  Placing our faith in AppleCare, we accepted their experts’ prognosis, and allowed them to erase half-a-million documents from her hard drive, strip it clean, and re-install the operating system. Big problem, but an even bigger mistake.

computer-problem-152211_1280_OpenClipart-Vectors

Here’s the short version of our sad story (the retelling of which raises my blood pressure). After seven trips to the mall over five days, “they” (who are supposed to know better) discovered that our backup external hard drive, the Apple Time Capsule bought 18 months ago (now out-of-warranty, but of course!), was the source of the problem, not the Mac. man-857502_1920_Tikwa(Getting a little revenge? On trip #6, when we hooked up to the Apple Store’s computer, our Time Capsule crashed their hardware.) With all of my wife’s documents long-gone from the computer and a couple terabytes of data on the Time Capsule now inaccessible, we were “saved” by our subscription to the cloud-based backup program Carbonite which did restore most of her files… but took five days 24/7 via WIFI to bring them back!

However, we “learned” that this process is excruciating slow if you have a stray colon or backslash within the title of any document. Many of these files had to be reloaded by hand. And, to date, we still have not been able to get our Family Tree application to work!

Morale to the story: Don’t always believe in the “geniuses!”

 

Don’t give up on your existing tech skills

Regardless of our age, many of us music teachers are a little more fortunate to have been exposed to innovative software and other technological tools during our teaching years.

Pyware_3d.v9.demo_

If you were a band director, you might know Pyware 3D Drill Design or some of the video editing programs to compare your the halftime show on Friday night with the schematic drawings “count by count” on how it should look. If you were involved in printing programs, senior yearbooks, posters, or other graphic media, you’re probably not afraid of desktop publishing projects. Those versed in Sibelius, Finale, or other music creation programs, or who introduced MusicFirst or SmartMusic applications to your music students, are much further along than many of the other teachers from our generation. If you’re retiring or have retired in the last five or 10 years, you were probably trained in your school district’s proprietary grade-book programs or attendance record system, and even may call yourself well-versed on creating/posting material on a website like “teacher pages,” skills that can be easily transferred to applications like WordPress or Wicks.com. So, don’t be afraid to venture out of your “comfort zone!” Unlike your father or father-in-law, who may have only had a taste of Applesoft Basic programming or a little TurboPascal coding before they retired, you may be “ahead of the game!”

Here are a few more gleams of “tech illuminations” that I have learned from being baptized and then thrown into this 21st-century topsy-turvy madhouse.

 

Turn yourself into a “tech-streetwise” retiree

LeoOne way to help educate yourself on all of these 21st Century “innovations” is to watch the podcast “Leo the Tech Guy” at https://techguylabs.com/. Leo Laporte brings all of this confusion down to our level… simple/easy terms and step-by-step instructions, and his reviews on future computers, smartphones, tablets, televisions, home security, software applications, and other technology are excellent. His FREE talk show airs every Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. Pacific Time, but all of the episodes are archived and you can search on specific topics.

The subjects he returns to on a frequent basis include:

  • Backup and Recovery
  • Business
  • Gaming
  • Hardware
  • Home Theater
  • Internet and The Web
  • Media
  • Mobile Phones
  • Networking
  • Peripherals

 

Backup the backup

Leo says we should have at least three copies of every important file… one on our hard drive, one on an external drive, and one in the cloud. If you don’t believe this, reread the agonizing anecdote above (“…crashing computer”). Backup #1 was erase by Apple Genius. Backup #2 was damaged or made inaccessible by the “kernel panic.” That left us with Backup #3… Carbonite. Thank god!

thumb-drive-864831_1280_skeezeThe original saved document is considered Copy #1. You need to then transfer this to an external location, outside your hard drive. Copy #2 could be sent to a flash or jump drive (just plug it into your USB port), or an external hard drive. (Understandably, my wife is no longer willing to trust the Apple Time Capsule which uses a program called Time Machine that automatically backups every file you save via WIFI… but there are other brands you could consider.)

However, keep in mind that if a fire occurs in the room you store your computer and external hard drive, all could be lost! The final copy #3 should be the automatic online back-up created by a cloud-based application. Carbonite saved my ***, but there are many subscription services out there that offer file syncing, encrypted backup, and data restoration at a reasonable cost:

  • Acronis True Image
  • Backblaze
  • Carbonite
  • IDrive
  • SOS Online Backup
  • SpiderOak One

What is the core reason that all of this is worth the money? Cloud-based programs do their magic behind-the-scenes (automatic redundancy saves the day) and won’t let you you forget to backup! If you are looking for an assessment like Consumer Reports on these products, advisers say, “Go to a computer nerd!” Perhaps PC Magazine comes the closest in being comprehensive: https://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2288745,00.asp.

 

Manage passwords carefully.

key-1013662_1920_3dman_euFrom password management to virus protection, and simply knowing not to click on any random link or attachment in email are essential. Online security has become a very important issue. The experts tell us we should not have the same password for all of our applications, and it should not have any portion of our name, phone number, or other easy-to-guess info. My solution to resolve the conundrum of being safe and catering to a “senior citizen’s memory” was to create a core password that I could remember but no one else could figure out, and then add a prefix or suffix of a couple additional letters that describes the name of the applications. (Whatever you do, don’t use “123” as a password!) You should write down on paper an alphabetical listing of your user names and passwords, store the journal in your safety deposit box away from fire, flood, or theft, and share another copy of it with your spouse or at least one other family member. But, don’t forget to update the catalog frequently! (Passwords should change from time to time.)

I also found there are several ingenuous apps out there to help you with creating really random passwords, storing and accessing them with one “master password,” and even the provision of a “digital will,” designating a trusted friend and family member access to your virtual password vault in the event of an emergency or crisis. Now, all that is left for you is figuring out how to download one of these on all of your devices:

  • LastPass (my favorite)
  • Keeper Password Manager
  • DashLane
  • Sticky Password
  • Password Boss
  • RoboForm
  • True Key, etc.

Again, an analysis courtesy of PC Magazine provides additional insight: https://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2407168,00.asp.

 

Sanitize your smart devices.

They used to say that a tie is one of the most germ-ridden articles of men’s clothing. (In some hospitals, they recommend that doctors “lose the tie” as part of their dress code.) What do you see at the entrance of most grocery stores… disinfectant wipes for the shopping cart handles? Perhaps your cellphone tops the list of tech articles you rarely sterilize. When was the last time you cleaned your tablet? Your door knob to the bathroom probably gets more attention! Can you imagine anything containing more bacteria than the surface of your computer’s keyboard?

Whatever you do, be careful not to immerse your tech tool and cause harm to the internal circuits! Even if they say your phone is “water resistant,” don’t test it!

There are a lot of products out there to help you kill the microbes… specialized wipes for touch screens and others for hard surface areas. Read the precautions. What do you use Purellfor your eye glasses to avoid scratching the lenses?

Be aware of “operator error” in making this worse. How often do you wash your hands prior to picking up your wallet or smartphone? PURELL Hand Sanitizer was invented in 1988 by GOJO to meet the needs of healthcare providers and restaurants operators looking for ways to reduce the spread of germs. I have a container of PURELL sitting next to my computer.

Merry Maids offer these tips on cleaning your electronic devices: https://www.merrymaids.com/blog/quick-tips/clean-and-disinfect-electronic-devices/.

I also liked Design Mom’s “Eleven Secrets to Cleaning your Tech” at https://www.designmom.com/living-well-11-secrets-to-cleaning-your-tech-devices/.

Again, read their advice and all warnings. For a low budget solution, I would look into buying an antibacterial micro-fiber cloth and for the keyboards, consider using a very light application of isopropyl alcohol (on a rag, not directly on the device!).

 

Speaking of sanitizing… clear your “cookies” and “cache!”

What a strange language we use for our tech tools! Well, in the middle of writing this blog, I found that my Firefox browser was “giving me fits” for doing an online credit card transaction. Taking time out to find out why there were error messages (calling the 1-800 customer support people), I confirmed they always seem to ask you three questions:

  • What is the make, model, and year of your computer (or other device)?
  • What is the version of your computer’s operating system? (Mine is almost always updated to the most current edition. This is normally good advice for surviving the always-fluctuating tech landscape.)
  • What browser are you using?

For some reason, the techies will recommend you clear your browser history, including all forms, downloads, cookies, and cache… “translate” this mumble-jumble as cleaning out some of the temporary files and other “things in the buffer.” If you are having trouble reaching a known website or filling out digital applications or other forms, give this a try. It works for me almost every time. When in doubt, sanitize!

 

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When you’re in real trouble, be quick to reach-out for support

Remember that game show, “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” In the original series, one of the “lifelines” to help the “stumped” contestant deal with a difficult question was the option to “phone a friend.”  Latch onto a “technician tutor,” perhaps a student graduate or close family member. With how fast technology is evolving, I have been so appreciative of a former student stage crew member who came back to the school district employed as a tech aide, and was willing to do “house calls” and set up and improve the overall security of my network, install multiple routers, computers, printers, smart TVs, etc.

 

What about becoming a “web(inar) maestro?”

Finally, have you considered making an education video or presenting a webinar? Do you think you, another “technology immigrant” and retired music teacher (like me) would be the last one to ever venture out to do this? Well, perhaps not!

Think of all of that expert “stuff” you have swimming around your head. Pass it on… it’s all about leaving a legacy. You should share your experiences and knowledge earned from that old “school of hard-knocks!”

And, it isn’t that hard to do. If you are comfortable with PowerPoint, Keynote, or Prezi, all you need to do is find someone who has a subscription of Zoom or Go-To Meeting. If you are a member of a state education association like NAfME or an affiliated state unit like PMEA, they could set you up to host a webinar or record a professional development video. It’s “easy peasy!” Most would welcome your contribution to their online professional development library, like the NAfME Academy.

You might even have a few ready-made presentations sitting idle on your hard drive. What about those old music appreciation lessons, marching band leadership seminars, Orff/Kodaly/Dalcroze workshops, string pedagogy tips, or ??? Dust them off, review/edit/update, or as they say, “repackage” your work. What’s that quote? “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.”

 

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This started out as a “rant” lamenting the fact we have all but lost what seemed to be a calmer, simpler lifestyle. But, technology is here to stay, and we either learn to cope with it, or go back to the caveman era and put our heads in the sand (to mix metaphors). At least, be happy to know you are not alone in riding this “bucking bronco” of the digital age. Here are even more online hints on surviving technology:

 

P.S. My wife says she’s still mad at Apple! Well, we do have to move on… a little wiser, more resilient, and possibly less gullible in trusting future “experts.”

PKF

© 2018 Paul K. Fox

Photo credits in order from Pixabay.com: “banner” by geralt, “imac-ipad-iphone-macbook-laptop” by Tim_H, “computer problem” by OpenClipart-Vectors, “man” by Tikwa, “thumb-drive” by skeeze, “key” by 3Dman_eu, “maze” by qimono, and “smartphone manipulation” by Funky Focus.

 

 

Practice Tips on Becoming a Conductor

Resources to Learn the Basics of Directing an Orchestra

foxsfiresides

One of my favorite times with the South Hills Junior Orchestra, leading up to preparations for the Charity Concert, is when members take the baton and conduct most of the carols.

According to “The Method Behind the Music” website at https://method-behind-the-music.com/conducting/intro/, “Conducting is more than waving your arms in front of the band/orchestra. The conductor has two primary responsibilities:

1.      To start the ensemble, to establish a clear, uniform tempo, and keep it throughout the performance.

2.      To help the musical quality of the piece (expression, dynamics, cues).”

I also like the comments from School Band & Orchestra (SB&O) digital newsletter:

 “As a conductor, you have one of the most creative jobs in the world – you sculpt sound with your hands! You evoke, shape, and inspire sound with your conducting. Have you ever asked a snare drummer to keep time for your ensemble? Many conductors are the visual equivalent of our snare drummer. If you were given the task of inventing conducting, would you pound the air on every beat regardless of the musical impetus? Or, rather, would you craft a set of gestures that indicates all aspects of the music, not just the meter. If you choose the latter, imagine your conducting as the artistic catalyst to inspired music making.” — SB&O

In other words, be an artist, and “shape the music!” Check out their “15 Conducting Tips for Inspired Musicianship” at http://sbomagazine.com/1269-archives/2320-59creative-conducting-15-conducting-tips-for-inspired-musicianship.html.

seriestoshare-logo-01The purpose of this short SHJO “Series to Share” is to get you started with some basic “how-to steps” to learn how to conduct. Truly, for success in directing an ensemble, the only thing you need to do is “give it a try” and practice those beat patterns with your favorite musical selections. During the Saturday SHJO rehearsals in December, we will give you the opportunity to direct the entire group and provide you a few hints!

Enjoy! PKF

 

1. Conducting in 2/4, 3/4 and 4/4 (mirror image – follow her)

 

2. Conducting in 6/8

https://ourpastimes.com/conducting-orchestra-in-68-time-13580341.html

 

3. Tips for Conducting an Orchestra (series):

Common Time Signatures for Symphony Orchestras

 

Hand Movements to Conduct an Orchestra

 

Mistakes of Beginning Conductors

 

4. The Conducting Beat Patterns

http://cnx.org/content/m20804/latest/

 

5. Use of Left Hand in Conducting

http://cnx.org/content/m20895/latest/

 

6. Advanced Concepts about Conducting

https://www.ted.com/topics/conducting

 

hi-res logo 2018The mission of South Hills Junior Orchestra, which rehearses and performs at the Upper St. Clair High School in Pittsburgh, PA, is to support and nurture local school band and orchestra programs, to develop knowledge, understanding, performance skills, and an appreciation of music, to increase an individual member’s self-esteem and self-motivation, and to continue to advance a life-long study of music. Members of the Orchestra learn, grow, and achieve positions of leadership to serve their fellow members.

(For more information about SHJO, please visit www.shjo.org.)

This and all Fox’s Fireside blog-posts are free and available to share with other music students, parents, directors, and supporters of the arts.

Click here for a printable copy of “Practice Tips on Becoming a Conductor”

Other “Fox Firesides” are available at https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/foxs-firesides/.

 

© 2018 Paul K. Fox

Photo credit from Pixabay.com: “Fire” by JerzyGorecki.

Stress, Burnout, & Stage Fright in College

Resources for Music and Music Education Majors

Increasingly,  in some parts of the country there are new shortages of qualified, experienced, skilled, and engaging public and private school teachers, even in the fields of Performing Arts. (For examples, see https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2017/08/28/teacher-shortages-affecting-every-state-as-2017-18-school-year-begins/?utm_term=.c599b1d39405.)

At the same time, although it may not seem to be hustle-and-bustle-1738072_1920_geraltdocumented to a great extent, stress, burnout, and stage fright have become real concerns for music education majors completing their coursework, juries/recitals/concerts, methods exams, student teaching, and other field experiences. This may be affecting statistics on college enrollments, graduation rates, and job placements!

It would seem we should be recruiting more music educators (not losing them as “failed” music/music education majors). Where should we look for answers to this problem?

“Burnout is fatigue and diminished interest caused by long-term stress. It is characterized by emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and lack of personal accomplishment. In the university music atmosphere, stress and burnout are prevalent accepted as part of the culture. Symptoms and causes of general stress and burnout have been well researched, but much less has been presented on college musicians’ burnout, let alone how to deal with it.” — Helen Orzel

 

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The purpose of this blog-post is to share studies, surveys, and articles of research on the causes for stress and “drop-outs” of music and music educator majors, along with proposals of remedies for reducing college student anxiety and recommendations for alleviating the problem of attrition.

An overview of collegiate performance anxiety elucidates numerous emotional triggers:

  1. anxiety-2019928_1920_WokandapixCollege funding
  2. Academic pressures: acquiring new knowledge, understandings, skills, etc.
  3. Competition (both in self-perception of achievement and in relation to peers)
  4. Trends in seeking perfectionism
  5. Coping with being away from home
  6. Sleep deprivation
  7. Challenges with personal relationships
  8. Development of new strategies and systems of personal organization and time management

If you find additional sources or statistics, please pass them on. Click on the above comment link so we can add them to this discussion.

 

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College Student Stress

The best summary I have found on this subject is from the recently released Fall 2018 issue of the state journal of the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association (PMEA) – PMEA News. (For full access, become a member of PMEA.) Read the article on page 52, “Music Major Anxiety – Causes and Coping” by Kevin Shorner-Johnson, National Association for Music Education (NAfME) Society for nafme_society_research_music_edMusic Teacher  Education (SMTE) PA State Chair and Director of Music Education at Elizabethtown College. He talks about anxiety as “the leading mental health issue among adolescents and college students,” and examines the stressors of academic expectations, time management, “perfectionism,” and amygdala and cortex-rooted stress disorders, as well as cultivating practices of self-care and coping skills.

Shorner-Johnson recommends the book, Rewire Your Anxious Brain: How to Use the Neuroscience of Fear to End Anxiety, Panic, and Worry by Catherine Pittman and Elizabeth Karle (2015).

“Pittman and Karle provide beautiful guides and checklists that may assist students in building coping skills such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, meditation, prayer, yoga, exercise, and chanting. Coping strategies can allow us to enter into tension, getting to know origins and triggers, and transforming anxieties into new forms of centered awareness. Like music, coping strategies are skills that can only be cultivated through practice. When we practice self-care, we rewire associated connections and empower new responses.”  — Kevin Shorner-Johnson

 

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For a comprehensive survey on the stressors of music majors, peruse the illuminating thesis of H.J. Orzel (2010) “Undergraduate Music Student Stress and Burnout.” She states that her study has a two-fold purpose:

  • Examine sources of stress and burnout for undergraduate music students, and
  • Examine existing methods of controlling stress and burnout.
  • This information can also be a tool for college music students needing
    help with stress and burnout.

“A college musician’s environment can significantly influence stress levels. Environmental stressors include overworked professors unable to provide support,
competitive peers, lack of resources such as practice space or counseling services,
overburdened schedules, and high standards and expectations set by institutions…
Developing and maintaining a healthy lifestyle can help reduce the effects of environmental stress, promoting resilience.” — Helen Orzel

In her conclusion, she mentions these possible strategies to alleviate stress:

  1. stress-391657_1920_geraltLearning to “manage your burdens,” class schedules, assignments, calendar, etc.
  2. Improvement of personal time management towards greater work/life balance
  3. Development of coping skills for new environments
  4. Exploration of new practice venues and study routines
  5. Allocation of more time with supportive peers
  6. Learning to make manageable choices, setting of limitations and reasonable expectations for making future commitments
  7. Practice of relaxation, slow breathing, and meditation exercises
  8. Strategies for reduction of performance anxiety and “stage fright”
  9. Reflection on and rehash of personal mission, goals, and motivations, and “what first inspired them to pursue music”

 

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H. Christian Bernard II from the State University of New York at Fredonia offers his research-based article Contemplative Practices in Music Teacher Education, describing efforts to incorporate contemplative studies within a music curriculum (Sarath 2006), mindfulness instruction on the music listening experiences (Diaz 2013), mindfulness-based stress reduction intervention instruction (Shapiro, Schwartz, and Bonner 1998), short-term meditation practices on attention and self-regulation (Tang lonely-1510265_1920_PoseMuse2009), “deep listening” as “a way of hearing in which we are fully present with what is happening in the moment” (Barbezat and Bush 2014), contemplative movement activities including methodologies of Orff, Kodaly, Dalcroze, and Gordon adapted for other music teaching contexts (Benedict, 2010), walking meditation, tai chi ch’uan, yoga, and labyrinth walking (Center for Contemplative Mind in Society, 2016), contemplative reading, writing, and other self-help practices.

“Contemplation is not the opposite of thinking but its complement. It is not the emptying of the mind of thoughts but the cultivation of awareness of thoughts within the mind. Through contemplation, the mind is open to itself.”                                               — D.P. Barbezat and M. Bush.

“Utilizing contemplative practices including meditation, reading and writing, movement, and listening can offer students and teachers opportunities for meaningful experiences while simultaneously reducing levels of stress and anxiety. While mindfulness is a prerequisite for all contemplative practices, this secular and academic application goes beyond deepening of awareness and compassion to also include deepening of thinking and learning. Care should be used when selecting resources and activities, as the use of contemplative practices should always serve as an aid to, not a replacement for, effective music teaching and learning.”   — H. Christian Bernard II

Bernard also provides an excellent bibliography for further study, and has also written many other related articles:

 

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Burnout

An outstanding series of YouTube video presentations dives into what “five different research studies have to say about burnout and the undergraduate music education major, and the implications these studies have for students, professors, and administrators when it comes to managing the stress often associated with this degree.” As a requirement for her graduate music psychology class, Meghan Johnson presented “Burnout and the Undergraduate Music Education Major: Surviving the Stress” in 2010:

Additional resources regarding pre- and in-service music teacher burnout:

 

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Performance Anxiety

Dr. Natalie Ozeas, formerly Professor and Head of Music Education at Carnegie-Mellon University (CMU), shares a new local initiative for addressing the problem of stage fright by Anne Jackovic Moskal, a member of the Pittsburgh Benedum Orchestra and solfege teacher at the CMU School of Music.

“The text that I use for my class is Musician’s Yoga by Mia Olson. We work a lot with meditation, especially focused towards the music we are currently working on. We practice by either listening to recordings or simply thinking of the whole work in their mind and how to continuously breath through it. The thought is that they will be able to move past anxious moments in performances and feel the constant breath instead. Additionally, we take meditation walks and practice the same method. Some of these methods are addressed in this book. We also have a physical practice to reinforce breathing through challenges. However, a significant part is to stretch, repair, restore, and strengthen our bodies from the damage of long practice sessions.”                            — Anne Jackovic Moskal

There are a myriad of sources on the web geared to performers for lessening stage fright, including blogposts like “A Few Things Every Musician Should Know About Stage Fright” by Noa K Kageyama from BulletproofMusician.

 

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NAfME members have free access to numerous articles on performance anxiety. Several articles published in the Music Educators Journal (MEJ) include “Stress in the Lives of Music Students” by David J. Sternbach (January 2008), “The Other Side of Stage Fright” by Donald L. Hamann (April 1985), and “Stage Fright – Its Cause and Cure” by Rowland W. Dunham (1953).

“To help your students reduce stress, address the ways they critique their practice and prepare for performance… Excessive self-criticism in practicing can be a predisposing factor for performance anxiety.” — David J. Sternbach

nafme“When musicians think about performing, they eventually think about performance anxiety — ‘stage fright.’ Performance anxiety can be defined as a physical and mental deviation from a ‘normal state’ and is perhaps one of the most misunderstood areas of performance practice… A reduction in anxiety levels especially with musicians with extensive formal training may actually diminish performance quality. For musicians with low mastery skills, the prudent approach would seem to be to undertake more formal training.” — Donald L. Hamann

“Here is the cure for stage fright. If you have strength of mind and a conscientious determination, you can walk onto the stage for a solo with almost the same certainty you have in practicing. There is the added and thrilling incentive now of an audience. By ignoring what you may fancy to be their opinion of you — which does not matter anyway — you have a new angle: giving emotional joy, spiritual nobility, or dramatic stimulation.With an honest artistic outlook, stage fright goes out the window. In its place you have the pleasure of adding something to he lives of your listeners.”               — Rowland W. Dunham

 

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Additional resources on stage fright and other anxiety issues:

 

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Finally, even though there is so much more to cover, a good “coda” on the subject of stress in music school might be to look at the article “Reality 101” by Gary C. Mortenson in the December 1991 issue of Music Educators Journal. Citing the University of Massachusetts student Erin Martin’s column “Real World 101: A Needed Course” in the October 1990 issue of U. — The National College Newspaper, college students could use help in areas not traditionally included in undergraduate curriculum:

  1. hurry-2119711_1920_TeroVesalainenJob placement
  2. Financial planning
  3. Raising a family
  4. Stress management

Mortenson creates several excellent “mock scenarios” fostering critical thinking and problem solving of teacher-student relationships, teacher-parent relationships, and criticism and stress that are issues in every teaching career.

“Life would be much easier if we could learn to handle real-world problems before we have to face them on our own.” — Erin Martin

“Teaching requires the ability to manage a variety of challenging situations. It is as complex and changeable as the society we live in. In college, future teachers assimilate a great deal of information that prepares them to share knowledge with their students. No one, however, can teach all of the skills needed to make complex decisions on all possible future real-life circumstances. These must ultimately be arrived at on an individual basis according to one’s own instincts and conscience. By giving more thought to how the problems and issues that confront students, parents, and colleagues will affect us, however, we can better equip ourselves to respond in an intelligent way to these challenges.” — Gary C. Mortenson

 

UPDATE (January 3, 2019):

Just after the release of this blog-post, the timely article “The Mindful Music Educator – Strategies for Reducing Stress and Increasing Well-being” by Dana Arbaugh Varona came out in the NAfME Music Educators Journal, Volume 5 Issue 2, 2018. (See https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0027432118804035.) You must be a member of NAfME to read the December 2018 issue in its entirety.

PKF

© 2018 and 2019 Paul K. Fox

 

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Photo credits in order from Pixabay.com: “stress” by TheDigitalArtist, “hustle and bustle” by geralt, “people” by tweetyspics, “anxiety” by Wokandapix, “woman” by Comfreak, “stress-2883638” by geralt, “stress-391657” by geralt, “woman” by Pexels, “lonely” by PoseMuse, “stress-22670” by geralt, “cello” by enbuscadelosdragones0, “trumpeter” by klimkin, “marching-band” by skeeze, “hug” by markzfilter, “hurry” by TeroVesalainen, and “laptop” by JESHOOTScom.

Audience Etiquette and Manners Matter

How You Act During Public Performances Is a Reflection on Who You Are

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Almost 30 years ago, an article I wrote for the Upper St. Clair High School Choral Boosters was a lighthearted attempt to address a growing need in public performances – one of improving our audiences’ listening habits and knowledge of musical “traditions,” as well as raising their overall consciousness and sensitivity. Although it now seems a little “retro” and “dated” (texting was not invented yet and tabloids were the fiction of Star Trek and other Sci-Fi programs), it “hits the nail squarely on the head,” identifying the ongoing problem of inappropriate audience etiquette for student, amateur, and professional music, dance, and drama productions.

 

“Uninvited Guests at Performances” (1990)

The painter begins his/her creation on a clean white canvas, void of any dirt, smudges, or imperfections, so that the final art form is pure and readily convey to the viewer. In much the same way, a musician or singer relies on “a clean slate” – that is, a quiet and attentive audience in the concert hall without any stray noises or interruptions that will distract from his/her extremely delicate art form of live music. However, unlike the painter (or unless the concert is recorded and distributed at a later date), music represents only a temporary art… the effects lasting only a moment, and then forever lost until the next time the work is performed. That is why a tradition of concert customs have evolved to “set the stage” for clear communication of that really wonderful expression of music.

However, we have noticed in school and professional performances in our area, several new trends have been born from our fast-paced life styles, overworked schedules, television viewing, and Walkman listening habits. Several uninvited guests have been seen at concerts, unintentionally making life miserable for performers and audience members alike. Do you recognize these “characters?”

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First of all, there is Gertrude the Gossip and Theresa Talker who spend the entire performance discussing local events or their personal lives. They usually sit in the center section, first row, in order to have the greatest disruptive effect, even though they would be the first to suggest that you were rude for listening in on their conversation. A close relative, Prentice Postmortem, likes to give a “play-by-play” account of the relative success of the concert, with comments like, “Did you hear that wrong note?” and “I wonder why he was chosen for the solo part?”

Then we have several distinguished visitors from the Planet Hypertension, including the “frequent flyers” Leroy the Seat Leaper and Hortence Half-a-Concert and a host of others. Everyone has witnessed spectacular events created by these adults, who have developed the most advanced technique of choosing only the softest or most sensitive moment in the music to jump up and change seats, run down the aisle towards the bathroom or parking lot, or go get something to eat. Somehow, they feel they are being helpful or considerate of the musicians or actors on the stage when they stand up to leave before or during a particular song, often right after their son/daughter performs. Of course, some music directors themselves are contributing to the situation, selling 12-ounce cans of pop and sugar candy at intermission, which are known elements of improving (?) the biochemistry and behavior of young children staying up past their bedtime.

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To add a touch of “color” from a very large pallet of noises, several other guests in the audience feel it is necessary to “perform” along with the singers and instrumentalists. If you sit near the recording or PA microphones or cable TV cameras, you will usually find the boisterous Cyril Cellophane unwrapping candy specially designed to “rattle” everyone’s nerves, along with his friends Velda Velcro and Hildegarde Hum-along, not to mention Winslow WatchBeeper. One of the finest (?) musical moments ever experienced at Upper St. Clair High School was the cacophony of buzzers, chimes, Looney-Tunes™ alarms, and chirps during the slow movements of Handel’s “Messiah” oratorio in the 1987 USCHS Holiday Choral Festival. Performers and conductors have always appreciated the opportunity of setting the exact hour of an ongoing concert using the hourly signals of digital watches in the audience.

And don’t forget those long-time veterans Clem the Clapper, Shouting Sherwood, and Wardella Whistler, who store up their applause for inappropriate moments like between movements, or after the Hallelujah Chorus or Star-Spangled Banner, but leave early so that they missed the curtain calls.

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All sarcasm and joking aside, performers do appreciate the faithful support of the community. Without the public, lavish Broadway musical productions and extensive choral and instrumental concerts could not be featured. Our talented and hard-working students/musicians/singers/dancers/actors need and deserve large audiences in order to exhibit their craft. The “final exam” of every music ensemble and theater company is the public performance. And, nothing is more demoralizing then spending three months in rehearsal and then performing for only a handful of parents and well-wishers!

However, occasionally it is our job as music lovers to remind everyone the need for concert customs which just add up to good manners. With the bad habits of MTV™ and Muzak™ that music education researchers say may have bred insensitivity and inattentiveness in the indiscriminate consumption of music, we have to focus on providing that “clean slate” – a calm, orderly, and quiet atmosphere of an alert, well-informed audience!

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Yes, “manners matter!” I can still hear my mother scold us, “Don’t be rude. Do you think you were you raised in a barn?”

On the subject of “audience do’s and don’ts,” we will leave the “last word” to http://www.fanfaire.com/rules.html. The following are considered their updated and succinct “Golden Rules” of Audience Etiquette:

  1. Go easy with the atomizer; many people are highly allergic to perfume and cologne.
  2. If you bring a child, make sure etiquette is part of the experience. Children love learning new things.
  3. Unwrap all candies and cough-drops before the curtain goes up or the concert begins.
  4. Make sure beepers, cellphones, and watch alarms are OFF. And don’t jangle the bangles.
  5. The overture is part of the performance. Please cease talking at this point.
  6. Note to lovebirds: When you lean your heads together, you block the view of the person behind you. Leaning forward also blocks the view.
  7. THOU SHALT NOT TALK, or hum, or sing along, or beat time with a body part.
  8. Force yourself to wait for a pause or intermission before rifling through a purse, backpack, or shopping bag.
  9. Yes, the parking lot gets busy and public transportation is tricky. But, leaving while the show is in progress is discourteous.
  10. The old standby: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

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Here are several things to add to their guidelines – NO TEXTING, not even turning on your smartphone or iPad for a moment to look at the time or your messages. The light from the screen is very distracting to everyone in the auditorium and the performers on the stage! In addition, flash photography is generally prohibited, and may even be dangerous to the performers (can cause accidents!). Finally, any audio/video recording of the event may be an infringement of copyright law. (Don’t do it!)

In conclusion (from fanfare.com): “Remember, part of one’s pact as an audience member is to take seriously the pleasure of others, a responsibility fulfilled by quietly attentive (or silently inattentive) and self-contained behavior. After all, you can be as demonstrative as you want during bows and curtain calls.”

Here are more links to explore for teachers, practitioners, and supporters of music:

hi-res logo 2018

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The mission of South Hills Junior Orchestra, which rehearses and performs at the Upper St. Clair High School in Pittsburgh, PA, is to support and nurture local school band and orchestra programs, to develop knowledge, understanding, performance skills, and an appreciation of music, to increase an individual member’s self-esteem and self-motivation, and to continue to advance a life-long study of music. Members of the Orchestra learn, grow, and achieve positions of leadership to serve their fellow members.

(For more information about SHJO, please visit www.shjo.org.)

This and all Fox’s Fireside blog-posts are free and available to share with other music students, parents, directors, and supporters of the arts.

Click here for a printable copy of “Audience Etiquette and Manners Matter.”

Other “Fox Firesides” are available at https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/foxs-firesides/.

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© 2018 Paul K. Fox

Photo credits in order from Pixabay.com: “fireplace” by joseclaudioguima, “angry” by Clker-Free-Vector-Images, “lolly” by yossigee, “grandstand” by cocoparisienne, and “smartphone” by SplitShire.

Retiring “Against Your Will”

Were you forced to leave before you were ready?

More than two-and-a-half years ago, I wrote a piece, “Downsized and Out…” but since I still hear many teachers and administrators alike lamenting the fact that they either felt “pushed out” or they retired too early even though they had a lot more to offer to the profession, it seemed like a little “rehash” was in order. Sorry for any excessive repetition! Hope this helps anyone facing these common yet hard-to-cope “downers!” PKF

 

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This issue is a lot more complicated than at a first glance. There are so many stories…

“I hate retirement…”

“I am so bored! I don’t know what do with myself.”

“Why would anyone want to leave education and lose their chance of working daily with children?”

“I found something I like doing – teaching – and now, at the age of 60, I’m tired of everything.”

“I wasn’t expecting to leave teaching. I feel I have so much more to give.”

At the peak of your career, you may be asked to consider early retirement, assume an unwanted job re-assignment, or choose to “bite the bullet” because of medical issues, changes in family status, or the sudden “piling on” of new (and sometimes scary) responsibilities for care-giving of an elderly relative or grandchildren. Fear of the unknown might creep into your decision. Perhaps the labor negotiations of your teachers’ contract are not going well, or you hear rumors of the likelihood of losing benefits as a result budgetary cutbacks. You could also be facing serious downsizing of the music program, declining enrollment, or pending music staff furloughs.

 

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“The Good,” “The Very Good,” and “The Ugly!”

First, to gain a little perspective on this topic, I often share at my workshop sessions these three types of music teacher retirees. Which one best predicts/defines your future?

  • Good: People who do not see themselves as retired, just leaving a full-time job of public school music teaching, and moving on to new goals, employment, and/or volunteer work.
  • Very Good: People who know they are retired, and although relieved from the stress of day-to-day employment, now feel ready to complete new “bucket lists,” spend more time with family, travel, and hobbies, and perhaps even explore several new areas/levels/skills in music and education.
  • Ugly: People who know they are retired, are happy to leave the profession, and want nothing to do with any part of music or music education, including their state’s professional music education association or NAfME. Basically, the not-subtle message is, “Leave me alone!”

 

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Some Causes of Teacher Burnout and Early Retirement

Fifty-five percent of U.S. teachers report their morale was low and declining.

National Union of Teachers, 2013

I like Keely Swartzer’s summary in the Learner’s Edge article, “The Causes of Teacher Burnout: What Everyone Should Know,” listing these stressors:

  • An extreme number of responsibilities above and beyond instruction
  • A lack of administrative support
  • An over-emphasis on standardized testing
  • Evaluation of teachers based on standardized testing scores
  • Increasingly difficult student behavior with increases in frequency and severity
  • Home lives of children that teachers cannot control
  • A lack of personnel/proper staffing
  • Forcing teachers to teach outside of area of expertise
  • Inadequate prep time
  • Extreme amounts of paperwork
  • A lack of respect for the profession
  • Challenging interactions with parents
  • A lack of resources
  • A lack of training for new initiatives and technology

I am a huge proponent of solutions-based thinking and building resilience in educators. That being said, I am well aware of the need to know and understand the causes of this growing problem. By having this information, we can keep an eye out and develop strategies to decrease or reverse teacher burnout and increase teacher resilience.

– Keely Swartzer

Other sources to read about teacher resignations due to feeling “burned out” or unappreciated:

Of course, depending on your public school employees retirement system, some states offer full retirement benefits to teachers with 30 years of service, regardless of age, or other early-bird programs. Often, this is motivated by the move to save money for the districts (more years of experience = higher salaries). These special “windows” for early retirements may exacerbate the problem of coming national teaching shortages… and, of course, allow the decline of keeping our most proficient/experienced “education experts” where they belong…  in the classroom!

Here are several online links for further study on the factors influencing teacher supply, demand, and equity, including statistics from your geographical region:

 

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Two Retirement Scenarios – This Could Be You?

Due to the sudden change in employment status, no longer satisfying your “life’s calling,” losing the feeling of being purposeful in a job, or missing the connections or “mattering” in the interactions with other colleagues, you cannot understand why you now feel left out, bored, unappreciated, discouraged, uninspired, or even angry?  Perhaps in an attempt to model this phenomenon and providing a little real-life clarity, I will share two first-hand accounts of educators who, although they happily decided to retire, were “forced out” of the other things that they truly loved before they were ready to leave the profession entirely.

Several years ago, a local colleague retired from full-time music teaching, but wanted to continue serving as the assistant marching band director, a position she enjoyed for nearly 30 years. Unfortunately, this was during a very negative political climate in the community where she taught. A member on the school board was trying to de-hire the HS band director, making his job as difficult as possible (including not supporting his extra-curricular staffing requests). This resulted in the retired professional’s name being removed from the school board agenda at the last minute, and eliminating her chance for re-assignment, unless she filed a grievance with the teacher’s union or fought it with an age-discrimination lawsuit. She did neither… and was just left with the emotions of bitterness and being “depreciated.”

Another narrative…

Enjoying the status of “the unofficial mayor” of a local school community, and having the chance to continue serving as a cheerleader in support of the students’ after-school activities while photographing and writing articles for press releases and district publications, one music teacher was looking forward to his post-employment niche as the superintendent’s PR assistant. For several years, his free time allowed him to attend numerous award ceremonies, art shows, drama productions, concerts, sports meets, etc. and to showcase the talents and accomplishments of the children in the media. However, the retirement of a central office secretary granted administration the opportunity to re-align the staff and hire a full-time communications director, a vastly more qualified full-time employee that instantly assumed all of the responsibilities formerly held by the music teacher retiree. The worst part, the superintendent himself never told the retired staff member of the change (nor did he even personally thank him for his 25+ years working in school publicity); he had to hear of his “firing” or job elimination from the superintendent’s secretary. “No, you will not have to take the photos of the National Honor Society members next week. From now on, all PR jobs will be handled by the new staffer.” In other words, “Please don’t go away mad, just go away?”

According to the now “phased out” teacher, it felt like being stabbed in the back.

 

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Unhappy Pathways… Scenarios of “Downsized and Out!”

These are among the many “stories” of involuntary retirements…

  • Music and/or staff are eliminated from the curriculum or building in which you teach.
  • You feel unappreciated, unsupported, devalued, or ignored as a professional.
  • You are exhausted and no longer want to continue solving the same problems over and over again.
  • You conclude you must retire early to avoid losing existing contractual benefits (special bonuses, reimbursement for sick days, medical coverage, etc.).
  • The new head coach of the sport (or club or activity) on which you have assisted for many years fires you to bring in his “cronies.”
  • While agreeing to voluntarily retire from the full-time “day” job, you hope to continue serving in the capacity as assistant director (marching band, musical, etc.), club sponsor, or some other after-school position, but you are not considered for the re-assignment nor invited to return. In spite of the many years of loyal service to the school and community, you are told “your services are no longer required.”

Believe-it-or-not, if for any reason you feel “kicked to the curb,” you could be susceptible to PTSD – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. You should look up the symptoms of PTSD, characteristics that can also mimic the stages of grief for losing a loved one or being fired from a job.

Anytime you compel someone to choose a pathway outside their own heartfelt core beliefs, values or goals, you add stress. Whether or not this rises to the level of true PTSD is very individual and up to a person’s mental make-up, maturity, emotional resilience, and/or personal crisis management “chops.”

 

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Definitions of PTSD… What It Feels Like

The textbook definition of PTSD is “a condition of persistent mental and emotional stress occurring as a result of injury or severe psychological shock, typically involving disturbance of sleep and constant vivid recall of the experience, with dulled responses to others and to the outside world.”

For the most extreme cases, PTSD depression is palpable and may even be paralyzing (according to https://mindyourmind.ca/expression/blog/what-does-post-traumatic-stress-disorder-feel):

  • It’s never ever feeling safe.
  • It’s never taking a full breath of air in your lungs.
  • It’s being afraid to close your eyes.
  • It’s having your gut instincts scream at you to RUN every time someone looks at you.
  • It’s spending most of your time alone because you are terrified of other human beings, sometimes even your friends.
  • It’s feeling flawed, bad, marked, stained.
  • It’s like being in prison.

The worst part? Most people cannot self-diagnose PTSD. Your spouse or other family members may be in a better position to advise you. A few hints? If you are suddenly having trouble sleeping, difficulty with relationships, or find yourself feeling significantly depressed or lethargic for a long period of time, visit your health care professional.

 

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The Five Stages of Grief

It is appropriate to repeat that PTSD may bring on the same “stages of loss and grief” as a divorce or the death of a family member:

  1. Denial (disbelief, numbness, shock)
  2. Bargaining (preoccupation with “what could have been,” guilt, remorse)
  3. Depression (sadness, loneliness, emptiness, isolation, self-pity)
  4. Anger (feelings of helplessness, abandonment)
  5. Acceptance (emotional resolution, healing)

However, perhaps your feelings do not rise to the level of PTSD. (We hope not!) The normal “ups and downs” of this life-changing event is eliciting your mood swings. It is clear that the psychological process of retirement follows a pattern similar in nature to the emotional phases accompanying other phases of life. Surely you have read about the research-based stages of retirement, according to most gerontologists, that are a normal “bumpy journey” for everyone transitioning into their “golden years.”

 

The Six Phases of Retirement

  1. Pre-Retirement: Planning Time
  2. The Big Day: Smiles, Handshakes, Farewells
  3. Honeymoon Phase: I’m Free!
  4. Disenchantment: So This Is It?
  5. Reorientation: Building a New Identity
  6. Routine: Moving On

(Source: https://www.investopedia.com/articles/retirement/07/sixstages.asp)

Take particular notice of #4 above.

emotions Dr. Yvette Guerrero

So are the normal cycles of emotions often associated with the “passage to retirement,” according to Psychologist Dr. Yvette M. Guerrero, University of California: “Compelling and challenging, the retirement process involves transitioning to a new identity. This process can become self-empowering and lead to creative ways to self-reinvent and thrive.”

Why is this transformation so difficult?

Change: The mere mention of this word may cause some to feel uneasy. We often find ourselves resisting change, perhaps because of the perceived risk or fear associated with it. Behavioral change is rarely a discrete or single event; however, we tend to view it in such a way. More often than not, behavioral change occurs gradually, over time.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-truth-about-exercise-addiction/201608/why-is-change-so-hard

 

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Steps to Take to Alleviate the Stress of Losing Your Job

Besides visiting the links within this blog-post and “talking it out” with your loved ones, seek medical advice if your depression is severe and you feel your emotions are disrupting your life and happiness. There’s “nothing ventured, nothing gained” if you are not really experiencing PTSD nor something that a doctor needs to address, such as a mental health disorder or a thyroid or blood sugar issue. It could be as simple as the addition of a little post-employment goal setting, change of venue, new hobbies, new diet, adoption of an exercise program, etc. As best-selling author Ernie Zelinski says in his book How to Retire, Happy, Wild and Free, “To be bored is to retire from life.”

“Tis easy to resign a toilsome place, But not to manage leisure with a grace; Absence of occupation is not rest, A mind quite vacant is a mind distress’d.” – William Cowper in Retirement

“Making the most out of retirement entails taking advantage of increased freedom to establish a lifestyle that is adventurous, exciting, and rewarding.” – Ernie Zelinski

Here are a few more reflections to hopefully “pull you out of your blue funk” and get you back on your feet.

  1. Reach out to stay strong. You have heard of the saying, “Misery loves company?” Yes, there is comfort in numbers, and you should consider sharing some of your feelings with recently retired colleagues and friends. “Your natural reaction at this difficult time may be to withdraw from friends and family out of shame or embarrassment. But don’t underestimate the importance of other people when you’re faced with the stress of job loss and unemployment [and retirement!]. Social contact is nature’s antidote to stress. Nothing works better at calming your nervous system than talking face to face with a good listener.” – https://www.helpguide.org/articles/stress/job-loss-and-unemployment-stress.htm
  2. Don’t continue allowing yourself to be “addicted to achievement,” wrapping up your entire personal identity with your former music position. “Sure, losing your job is a very personal experience, but don’t take it too personally. Who you are is not what you do. Never was. Never will be.” – https://www.forbes.com/sites/womensmedia/2012/06/12/bouncing-back-from-job-loss-the-7-habits-of-highly-effective-job-hunters/#755eec27b709
  3. Face your feelings and express your concerns. Put it on paper. “Writing about your feelings is especially important if the way you were terminated was emotionally painful. Recall the details and write about how you feel over and over and over again. Doing this helps you overcome emotional trauma, begin to heal, and stop feeling like a victim wounded for life.” – http://resiliencycenter.com/handle-the-emotional-side-of-job-loss-with-resiliency/
  4. Take a balanced view of your new situation and rethink your priorities. Look at “the whole picture.” It’s time to answer the question, what do you want to be when you grow up? “Psychologist and mindfulness expert Dr. Melanie Greenberg writes in Psychology Today that she recommends adopting a ‘mindful’ perspective during unemployment, refocusing on the positive aspects of your life. That includes self-reflecting and being honest with yourself about the causes behind your job loss [or feeling bored or depressed].” – https://lifehacker.com/nine-things-you-should-and-shouldnt-do-if-you-lose-you-509536697
  5. Focus on the future. Dream a little and think big. “It’s easy to get stuck in the past and what shoulda-woulda-coulda happened but didn’t. Doing so only perpetuates destructive emotions that fuel anger, self-pity and a sense of powerlessness.” – https://www.forbes.com/sites/womensmedia/2012/06/12/bouncing-back-from-job-loss-the-7-habits-of-highly-effective-job-hunters/#755eec27b709
  6. Find a new sense of purpose. The list is endless and very personalized: volunteer work, charity projects, or related “encore careers” like private teaching, church or community ensemble directing, music industry jobs, guest conducting, travel/tours, adjudicating groups, higher education teaching or supervising student teachers, etc. Do you still feel you have a lot more to offer children? Then, sign-up to coach, advise, assist, or teach in new arenas. “Finding a new way to provide meaning for your life will restore the sense of purpose that you once found through work.” – https://www.verywellmind.com/depression-after-retirement-1067239
  7. Get off the couch! Build a busy schedule and get active again. Now that you have the freedom, it’s time to “fill up your dance card” and self-reinvent! “If you have a lot of spare time with no agenda, you can quickly become a very unhappy person. A lot of the relationship trouble we see among retirees comes from either the husband or wife not knowing what they want. They become unhappy, and that unhappiness bleeds out into all areas of their life.” – https://www.thestreet.com/story/13101438/1/5-hardest-things-about-retirement-that-you-arent-expecting.html
  8. Revisit your music roots and rekindle your self-expression. Finally, music teachers have one distinct advantage that many other retirees cannot appreciate… our art. To dramatize this and generate a little self-direction, all you have to do is poll yourself, “points to ponder” often shared in other articles on this website: (https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/for-retirees/)
  • Why did you go into music and education in the first place?
  • What have you always wanted to explore… play… sing… compose… record… conduct… create?
  • When will you finish your own “Mr. Holland’s Opus” and have it performed and recorded?
  • When are you going to publish your next song, article, book, warm-ups, instrumental method, essays on pedagogy, musical, drumline feature or halftime show… or write your personal memoirs?
  • When do you plan to join a community band, orchestra, chorus or theater group?

Last piece of advice? Take some time to read all about retirement, managing your time and money, planning your personal goals and objectives, and sharing your thoughts and hopes with your partner. Retain membership in your professional associations and attend meetings and conferences. Finally, take a gander at this comprehensive website: https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/for-retirees/.

As always, “Happy Trails,” retirees!

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PKF

© 2018 Paul K. Fox

Photo credits (in order) from Pixabay.com: “despair” and “man” by geralt, “good vs. bad” by techexpert, “burnout” by darkmoon1968, “sleepwalker” by Engin_Akyurt, “depression” by johnhain, “alone” by geralt, “desperate” by Anemone123, “counseling” by tiyowprasetyo, and “old-couple” by andreahamilton264.

Ethical Conundrums Revisited – Part II

More About Ethics in Education

“Food for Thought” for Teachers

Resolving Problems in Daily Professional Decision-Making

 

Business Ethics

For a review of Part I of this article, please visit https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/2018/08/20/ethical-conundrums-revisited-part-i/. The entire blog-series can be read (in reverse chronological order) at https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/category/ethics/.

Regardless of whether you are a first-year teacher, recently hired or transferred, or someone who has many years of experience, we know that little training is provided for handling our daily contradictions or controversies in school ethics. This investigation illustrates several additional obstacles in maintaining appropriate professional and ethical behavior and exploring the application of the moral decision-making “compass” for educators. Here we will rehash more modern-day dilemmas using “mock scenarios” in the workplace, encourage business-woman-2137559_1920_andreas160578you to reflect and respond to “what would you do?” and even re-orient you to the paradoxes in which you may encounter that may not seem to offer an obvious resolution.

It’s time to put on your “thinking caps!” What are your initial impressions of a few of these “conundrums” or conflicts?

MCEETo foster meaningful scrutiny and study of the bulleted issues in bold above, we will sort these problems by Principle III “Responsibility to Students” and Principle IV “Responsibility to the School Community” of the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification (NASDTEC) “Model Code of Ethics for Educators” (MCEE):  https://www.nasdtec.net/general/custom.asp?page=MCEE_Doc. In addition, whenever possible, a link to a scenario or case study about the subject will be shared. It is recommended that, in a small group of your peers, you view each video/text resource and assess its ramifications on the ethical appearances (professional image) and actions (intent and interpretation). In my opinion, this is the BEST way to study ethical dilemmas. Here are a few key essential questions to help promote in-depth dialogue:

  1. What possible ethical concerns might this scenario raise?
  2. How could this situation become a violation of state law, the “Code” or school/district policies?
  3. In this situation, what are some potential negative consequences for the teacher, student, parents, school staff, and/or community?
  4. How would this episode affect a teacher’s efficacy in his/her classroom, demean the employing school entity, or damage his/her position as a moral exemplar in the community?

 

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Responsibility to Students

MCEE III A 2, 5, 6

Study scenarios on INAPPROPRIATE RELATIONSHIPS:

CONUNDRUM: Coming home from a successful musical performance, my wife noticed on my tuxedo stains of stage make-up caused by several actors’ “musical hugs.” “Should you let the performers hug you backstage?” she asked, and scolded me to “be more careful!”

“No touch” policies for teachers in schools really do not make a lot of sense. There are many who agree that casual contact like a pat on the back may even be helpful. See:

MY ADVICE: Music teachers “touch” their students all the time; it is part of the natural process of assisting them to hold and play a new instrument. I am not opposed to an occasional celebratory or consoling hug. The factors that may contribute to the moment being judged “okay” vs. “inappropriate” boil down to:hug-1315552_1920_markzfilter

  • Intent
  • Setting
  • Length of time
  • Frequency or patterns of repetition
  • Comfort level of the student
  • Age level of the student
  • Being in public
  • Who started it?

If a child is in distress, pulling him/her aside from the rest of the class and consoling with a light/half/side hug should not be a problem. This issue is one that requires judgement based on common sense – don’t encourage repeated contacts or “get carried away.”

However, young/rookie teachers may be surprised about one violation included in the official definition of “sexual misconduct,” judged as “crossing the boundaries” and inappropriate by most state codes: “exchange of gifts with no educational purpose.” (Reference from the PA Professional Standards and Practices Commission)

 

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MCEE III C 1, 2, 3

Study scenarios on STUDENT PRIVACY RIGHTS:

Legal protections for student confidentiality are mandated by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and other Federal regulations. (See previous blog-post, “Ethics Follow-up” at https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/category/ethics/.) You must remain very discrete about divulging or transferring any “non-directory data” about “your charges.” The operative saying is, “When in doubt, don’t give it out.”

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REMEMBER – NEVER GOSSIP! Discussing an incident or behavior concern with another teacher in the hallway between classes or sitting down in the teacher’s room is never advisable, and it is probably illegal! Educators must, at all costs, avoid inadvertently disclosing personal information about the lives or actions of our students “in public.” Even carrying on a conversation with a student in an open or common area that could be construed as a “private matter” may be accidentally overheard, and therefore violate a student’s privacy rights.

EXCEPTIONS to third-party disclosure prohibitions (source):

  • Other educators or officials within the same school who have legitimate educational interests in the student.
  • When disclosure of information is necessary to protect the safety and health of the student.
  • Another school to which a student is transferring.
  • In order to comply with a judicial order.
  • Interested parties who are determining a student’s financial aid eligibility.

CONUNDRUM: How do you resolve the apparent contradiction of the recommendation of never holding a meeting alone with a student with the need to provide a safe/secure place to share information?

MY SOLUTION: Confer with your student in a place with sight-lines to the hallway (windows) but sound insulated from hearing the voices inside and/or where there is a high probability of someone interrupting and stopping the conversation.

 

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Responsibility to the School Community

MCEE IV A 1, 2

Study scenarios and articles on INTERACTIONS WITH PARENTS AND STAFF:

CONUNDRUM: You receive a call from an angry parent who wants to know why her daughter was not awarded the lead in the school play. The mother wants a detailed assessment of her child’s skills and advice on how to prepare for future auditions.

board-3700116_1920_athree23MY SOLUTION: This is more common than you would like. This episode compels you to figure out how to wear two unique hats simultaneously – the educator and the judge. Assuming you were clear (in writing) on the requirements of the try-outs, even sharing the blank rubric that would be used for the evaluations, you are now charged to find the “best” person for each lead assignment based on a number of criteria:

  • Needed solo character parts in the play
  • Voice part of the candidate
  • Musical skills
  • Dramatic skills, which may be further categorized/ranked by oral/voice technique, projection, character development, understanding of text, and stage presence
  • Dancing/movement skills
  • Type of projection: the potential for acting a comedic vs. romantic role
  • Height (relevant if partnered with another character)
  • Overall preparation

Of course, these expectations and targeted assessments should have been shared with everyone before the auditions were held.

Parents want “what is right” for their kids and for them to feel successful. You as the director want the ideal cast for the show, providing the best chance for the entire company’s success in performance, but must show that the entire process is impartial, consistent, and fair.  As a teacher, it is your responsibility to listen to the students’ and parents’ concerns, but I feel it is not realistic nor appropriate for you to “adjudicate” each actor’s audition. I wrote about this distinction HERE in my last “Fox’s Fireside” blog-post. This is an article you can “pass around” prior to your next tryout.

 

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MCEE IV B 1, 2, 4, 8

CONUNDRUM: Maintaining professional relationships with your teaching colleagues vs. the mandatory reporting of unethical behavior and inappropriate speech/actions.

A member of the staff is “bad mouthing” you, the principal or other school staff members in public. You are assigned to work side-by-side with him, and yet he does not interact with the staff with civility or respect, nor does he support the academic achievement and related goals that promote the best interests of students.

MY SOLUTION: Thankfully, I have had no personal experience with this scenario, but can recommend that you first try to deal directly with the unethical colleague. According to MCEE, professionals must collaborate and maintain effective and appropriate relationships with the faculty, “resolving conflicts, whenever possible, privately and respectfully and in accordance with district policy.” Before you bring up the matter with your supervisor or building administrator (which you have the right and even responsibility to do, especially if the students hear any improper speech first-hand or that the incidents rise to the level of bullying or aggressive behavior), talk to the unhappy team member one-on-one. Be calm and sensitive, but hold your ground: you must assert that his/her behavior/language is unacceptable and will not be tolerated in the future.

The suggestions of Mind Tool’s article “Five Ways to Deal With Rudeness at the enraged-804311_1920_johnhainWorkplace” are applicable (read their entire blog-post at https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/five-ways-deal-with-rudeness.htm):

  1. Be a good role model.
  2. Don’t ignore it.
  3. Deal directly with the culprit.
  4. Listen.
  5. Follow-up on any offender.

As for anything that is a violation of the teachers’ code of ethical conduct, you are mandated to report the transgressions of a colleague that threaten the health and safety of the students, especially any observations (or even suspicions) of verbal, physical, or sexual abuse/misconducts.

As for one’s “freedom of expression” to complain about administrators or co-workers, especially in the use of social media, the National Education Association responds:

“Let’s debunk the free speech myth: Many teachers believe they have the absolute First Amendment right to post anything they want on social networking sites, including party pix and diatribes about the boss. After all, they’re on their own time and using their own resources. Sadly, the courts say otherwise.”

 

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As a follow-up, visit additional resources in “Becoming a Music Educator.” Please feel free to leave your comments and links to share other scenarios of ethical “conundrums.”

PKF

© 2018 Paul K. Fox

Photo credits (in order) from Pixabay.com: “meadow” by geralt, “business woman” by andreas160578, “trumpeter” by klimkin, “fear” by ElisaRiva, “fear” by markzfilter , “bag” by Pexels, “privacy policy” by succo, “conference” by geralt, “Board” by athree23, “argument” by RyanMcGuire, “enraged” by johnhain, and “music students” by musikschule.