WHEN Should You Retire?

The Skills and Models of a Happy Retirement

[Portions reprinted from the state journal of the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association, PMEA News, Spring 2019 issue – All rights reserved.]

 

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Is It TIME to Retire?

This is a personal question that no one but YOU can answer… not even your PMEA Retired Member Coordinator! By the time you read this article in the Spring edition of PMEA News, this choice may be uppermost in your mind, especially if you are within a couple years of that so-called “retirement age.” Most school districts require advance notification of an employee’s plan to retire in order to retain full benefits and exit bonuses, and to allow planning for the job replacement search and screening process. (Check your teacher’s contract!)

In music educator conference sessions, director meetings at festivals, and printed in PMEA News and the online e-publication Retired Member Network eNEWS, much has pmeabeen discussed about the “what,” “how,” and most recently, “where” of retirement, even issues of “privacy” regarding your decision. For a review of these areas and a bibliography of resources, please visit:

The “why” of retirement is also relevant. There may be a lot of influences for someone to consider leaving their full-time career:

  1. Boredom or lack of stimulation in the current job
  2. Changing employment status or responsibilities
  3. Health problems (yours or other members of your family)
  4. Spouse retiring
  5. Your or family member’s desire to relocate
  6. Needs for caregiving (grandchildren, parents, or elderly family members)
  7. Travel opportunities
  8. Acceptance of a new position or the start or expansion of an “encore career” (higher education, music industry, travel/tour planning, or another field)

Other involuntary or more negative motivations may “encourage” you to resign your position:

  • Music and/or staff are eliminated from the curriculum or building in which you teach.
  • You are experiencing a decline in music program enrollment or participation.
  • You feel unappreciated, unsupported, devalued, or ignored as a professional.
  • You conclude you must retire early to avoid losing existing contractual benefits.

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However, the most important reflection on WHEN to retire should begin with the question, “Are you ready for retirement?” and…

Do You Have What It Takes for a Happy Retirement?

A successful retirement is not “all about the money.” Certainly, you are well-advised to make an appointment with an estate planner, elder attorney, and/or financial advisor (probably all three). Bring a copy of your bank and investment statements, annual reports on your pension, social security, annuities, and insurance documents. Make sure you have the “big picture” of your net worth and accomplish the following (https://www.fisherinvestments.com/en-us):

  • Determine your goals, objectives and time horizon;
  • Make key distinctions between income and cash flow;
  • Develop a basic plan to help achieve your retirement goals.

However, probably even more important, experts say there are many other requirements that foster preparedness to enjoying your post-full-time employment years. For example, proposed by the editorial team of the NewRetirement website, there are eight essential keys to a potential retiree’s “happy transition.” (Read the entire article for a greater perspective at https://www.newretirement.com/retirement/8-skills-you-need-for-best-retirement/.)

  1. A Knack for Dealing with Uncertainty
  2. Resilience: Can You Overcome Adversity?
  3. Capability to Maintain a Set of Friends
  4. Cash Flow Mastery
  5. Ability to Set Your Own Schedule and Stay Motivated
  6. Can You Relax?
  7. Capacity to Have a Purpose and Follow Passions
  8. Do You Know How to Manage an Overall Retirement Plan?

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These concepts are supported by the book Happy Retirement: The Psychology of Reinvention by Kenneth S. Shultz (DK Publishing, 2015) which focuses on the question, “Are you psychologically prepared to retire?”

  1. How important is your job when it comes to getting a sense of life satisfaction?
  2. How many non-work activities do you have that  give you a sense of purpose?
  3. How do you imagine your life to be once you stop working?
  4. How do you think retirement will affect your relationship with family and friends?
  5. How much energy for work do you have these days?

Being “psyched” for the “big day” also involves learning personal coping skills, modeling these characteristics of good mental health (from the book The Psychology of Retirement: Coping with the Transition from Work by Derek Milne, 2013):

  • Being able to use your talents and energy productively
  • Enjoying challenges and gaining pleasure from accomplishing tasks
  • Being capable of sustaining a meaningful love relationship
  • Finding meaning in belonging and contributing to your community
  • Being responsive, sensitive, and empathic to other people’s needs and feelings
  • Appreciating and responding to humor
  • Coming to terms with painful experiences from the past
  • Being comfortable and at ease in social situations;
  • Being energetic and outgoing
  • Being conscientious and responsible.

 

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Should I or Shouldn’t I Go Now?

No, this won’t be an easy decision… but, you knew that, right? There seems to be a plethora of free advice “out there” to help (?) you deliberate. (Well, you get what you pay for!) A few samples from the Internet:

7 Signs It Is Time (http://www.plannersearch.org/financial-planning/7-signs-its-time-to-retire)

  1. Your bank accounts
  2. Your bucket lists
  3. Your health
  4. The markets
  5. Health care benefits
  6. Social Security benefits
  7. Your spouse

10 Signs It Is Not Time (https://www.investopedia.com/articles/personal-finance/021716/10-signs-you-are-not-ok-retire.asp)

  1. Struggling to pay bills
  2. You have lots of debt
  3. Have major expenses
  4. Don’t know your SS benefits?
  5. Need monthly financial plan
  6. Need long term financial plan
  7. What about the effects of inflation?
  8. Need to re-balance portfolio
  9. Retirement worries you
  10. You love your job

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Happy retirement = busy retirement. We keep going back to what PMEA MIOSM Chair Chuck Neidhardt said about venturing into retirement – also the perfect bumper-sticker: “Have a plan!” In almost every case study, retiring music teachers must “move on” to an equally engaging and active life style, finding new purpose and meaning in their “senior years!” Considering that many professionals are “addicted to achievement” and the sudden cessation from work may cause some emotional turmoil (Sydney Lagier in US News and World Report, July 20, 2010), we should study examples of those who have happily “Crossed the Rubicon” ahead of us into “retirement bliss.”

Leaving your school employment does not mean you won’t continue doing what you have always enjoyed… personal music (or dance or drama) making, performing in or conducting an ensemble, composing, accompanying, etc. The PMEA Retiree Resource Registry – the proverbial “directory of past leaders in PA music programs” – lists many retired members who continue to offer their talents and experience to help others in the profession. This is a good place to start for asking “advice from the experts” on just about any topic… perhaps even tips on deciding WHEN to retire: https://www.pmea.net/retired-members/.

How about a couple more “models and mentors” who made this “change of life” adjustment and explored new directions towards self-reinvention in retirement?

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Ben Franklin, Founding Father
“Having worked as a successful shopkeeper with a keen eye for investments, Franklin had earned his leisure, but rather than cultivate the fine art of indolence, ‘retirement,’ he said, was ‘time for doing something useful.’ Hence, the many activities of Franklin’s retirement were: scientist, statesman, and sage, as well as one-man civic society for the city of Philadelphia. His post-employment accomplishments earned him the sobriquet of ‘The First American’ in his own lifetime, and yet, for succeeding generations, the endeavor that was considered his most ‘useful’ was the working life he left behind when he embarked on a life of leisure….”

https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2015/09/how-america-lost-track-of-benjamin-franklins-definition-of-success/400808/

2000 – “The Year of Retirement?” for two musical superstars
Barbra Streisand, singer, songwriter, actress, and filmmaker
Garth Brooks, country-music singer and songwriter
“In 2000, Barbra Streisand performed four farewell concerts to mark her retirement from performing live. At the time, she was 58 years old and wanted to focus more on acting, directing and recording albums, reported ABC News.”

“Her retirement ended in 2016 when she returned to the stage for her The Music… The Mem’ries… The Magic! tour, which grossed $53 million over 16 performances, according to Billboard.”

“Garth Brooks shocked fans in October 2000 when he announced his plan to retire to Oklahoma until the youngest of his three daughters graduated from high school, reported Billboard. The country music superstar was 42 years old when he began his early retirement.”

“During his semi-retirement, he did a few sold-out stints at arenas and a 186-show Las Vegas residency with wife Trisha Yearwood, according to Billboard, but he largely stayed out of the spotlight. Brooks returned to touring in September 2014 and continued until December 2017, performing a total of 390 shows, reported Billboard. Forbes cited his 2017 earnings as $60 million. Together, Brooks and Yearwood are one of the richest celebrity couples.”

https://www.gobankingrates.com/net-worth/celebrities/celebrities-who-came-out-of-retirement/

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“If money can buy you happiness,” supposedly these ten athletes were financially more successful after retirement, as opposed to the total earnings they generated during their original sports careers:

  • Muhammad Ali
  • Jim Brown
  • Oscar De La Hoya
  • Lenny Dykstra
  • George Foreman
  • Dwayne Johnson (“The Rock”)
  • Magic Johnson
  • Michael Jordan
  • Nolan Ryan
  • Dave Whelan

https://www.complex.com/sports/2012/01/10-athletes-who-made-more-money-after-retiring/

 

Agatha Christie, British writer
Finally, to answer the question, “What would Agatha Christie do in retirement?” best-selling author Ernie Zelinski quoted in his The Retirement Cafe website the following list of activities proposed to be “her favorite things” from the publication Agatha Christie: An Autobiography (Dodd, Mead & Co., 1977).

  • Sunshine
  • Apples
  • Almost any kind of music
  • Railway trains
  • Numerical puzzles and anything to do with numbers
  • Going to the sea
  • Bathing and swimming
  • Silence
  • Sleeping
  • Dreaming
  • Eating
  • The smell of coffee
  • Lilies of the valley
  • Most dogs
  • Going to the theatre

Ernie concluded, “This list of activities and things that Christie loved may trigger some of the stuff that turns you on and which you can use for an active retirement. This will go a long way towards conquering retirement boredom.”

http://www.retirement-cafe.com/Fun-Things-to-Do-When-You-Retire.html

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Is the time ripe for you to retire? Again, only YOU can answer that!

When it becomes the right moment for you to make that “big plunge” to “living your dreams…” KUDOS and BEST WISHES on your rebirth as you explore your own pursuit of retirement self-reinvention and post-employment “freedom!”

PKF

© 2019 Paul K. Fox

 

 

Photo credits in order from Pixabay.com: “old” by dietcheese, “man” by geralt, “elderly lady” by mabelamber, “senior” by ritae, “woman” by silviarita, “old couple” by monicavolpin, “ben-franklin” by ericdunham, “Fisherman” by paulbr75, “grandma” by fujidreams, and “wooden-train-toys-train-first-class” by Couleur.

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Downsized… and Out!

Coping with the Unexpected Loss of a Music Teaching Job

Quotes from the movie “Mr. Holland’s Opus” directed by Stephen Herek

Vice Principal Wolters (William H. Macy): I care about these kids just as much as you do. And if I’m forced to choose between Mozart and reading and writing and long division, I choose long division.

Glenn Holland (Richard Dreyfuss): Well, I guess you can cut the arts as much as you want, Gene. Sooner or later, these kids aren’t going to have anything to read or write about.

Glenn Holland: I’m 60 years old, Gene. What are you going to do: write me a recommendation for the morgue?

* * *

Glenn Holland: It’s almost funny. I got dragged into this gig kicking and screaming, and now it’s the only thing I want to do.

Glenn Holland: You work for 30 years because you think that what you do makes a difference, you think it matters to people, but then you wake up one morning and find out, well no, you’ve made a little error there, you’re expendable.

worried-man-against-white-free-photos-1430353On the subject of music teachers exiting the job market, one area we have not ventured into with these blogs on “retirement resources” is the most difficult to handle – having to face a forced resignation or involuntary leave.

Being laid off, especially from what was a long-term position, is very much like losing a close friend or relative. The loss is palpable.

No matter the reason… budget cuts, downsizing the program, position re-assignments, new administrative directives, or health problems, the feeling is inexplicable. Helplessness. Frustration. Resentment. Resignation.

According to Easter Becker-Smith, Leadership Development and Life Coaching at http://www.slideshare.net/coacheaster/the-emotions-of-losing-your-job-5597103, it is normal to go through four stages of grieving after losing your job:

  1. Denial
  2. despair-work-falure-computer-1494555Depression
  3. Anger
  4. Acceptance

Your past experiences in professional development, employment transfers, moving, coping with change, or understanding management or hiring practices, do not help a bit…  you are “kicked to the curb” and left speechless.

For the music educator and school employee, the scenarios of “getting the ax” are many:
  • Music is eliminated from the curriculum or the building in which you teach.
  • You feel you must retire (earlier than you want) to avoid losing existing medical benefits due to problems with ongoing negotiations of the new teachers’ contract.
  • You were last hired and several arts teachers are furloughed due to a budget crisis.
  • You voluntarily retire from the full-time job, but hope to continue as assistant marching band director (to complete your 30th year). Due to “politics” unrelated to you, a board member withdraws your name from the agenda and you never receive approval.
  • The new head coach of the sport in which you have assisted for ten years fires you to bring in his “cronies.”
  • With no warning, the school secretary (not the administrator himself) informs you that “your services are no longer required” in an extra-curricular assignment you have served for 25+ years.

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Just like any regular retirement, you instantly become an outsider and unknown, and lose your former “member of the team” standing (e.g. the ID badge no longer works to unlock doors or operate the photocopier, and you are asked to return your keys). It even seems you and your history have already been forgotten. Of course this hurts – we are all human. Even if we do not care to admit it, we seek approval and validation from our supervisors and peers alike, as well as appreciation from our “clients” (the parents and students we are charged to serve). We want to know that what we did made a difference, were appreciated, and would somehow serve as a model for future employees. And, most of the time, regardless of the length of time and the meritorious contributions you gave to the school district, you will not hear words of gratitude or thanks from your former boss!

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I hate the terms “twilight” or “golden” years (a possible subject of a future blog), but during this “life passage,” things are definitely “going away.” Against our will, we say goodbye to our day-to-day “life’s mission” – a career in school music education – as well as many of our associations with coworkers, that hectic 24/7 schedule and the constant busyness it generated (thank god), and a lot of those social engagements that were a part of our career development and staff camaraderie.

We need to refocus on the future and forget the past. Change happens. Do you recall that famous John Lennon line? “Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans!” Or an appropriate saying for musicians: “Life itself is not a dress rehearsal.”

Suggestive readings on how to cope? First, I would peruse NOLO’s “Losing a Job: Ten Things You  Can Do to Make It Less Painful” http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/losing-job-ten-things-that-help-29761.html.

Check out Lifehacker’s “Nine Things You Should and Shouldn’t Do if You Lose Your Job” by Shannon Smith: http://lifehacker.com/nine-things-you-should-and-shouldnt-do-if-you-lose-you-509536697.

Keep an eye on the health effects that your sudden job loss may have on you: http://www.helpguide.org/articles/stress/job-loss-and-unemployment-stress.htm.

me-and-my-worried-thoughts-1475594Evaluate your response to stress since you were summarily eliminated from your district. It is worth reviewing the definition of PTSD and see if it should be applied to your behavior and the emotional upheaval you are feeling (from the online blog of the Dr. Oz Show at http://www.doctoroz.com/article/how-recognize-post-traumatic-stress-disorder):

“Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is often associated with people who deal with high-stress situations, such as emergency medical technicians, firefighters, police officers or soldiers. But every person has the potential to be struck by this debilitating anxiety disorder. The loss of a family member, severe injury, losing your job or your home – these are just some circumstances that put you at greater risk for PTSD.”

Another good website on the subject of PTSD is http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/index.shtml. However, PTSD is next to impossible to self-diagnose, so see your primary care physician or a therapist.

Finally, for music educators, I have written numerous articles (more to come) about the things you might consider to do with your newfound freedom… satisfying goals to fill and fulfill exciting new bucket lists:

To quote from the above Easter Becker-Smith resource:

“The Bureau of Labor Statistics has never estimated the number of times people change careers in a lifetime, but they did examine the number of jobs the younger baby boomers held between the ages of 18 and 36. It was found to be an average of 9.6 jobs. Other reports show that the average person would have 5-7 career changes…

Remember that losing a job always brings emotions and you will need time to work through those feelings. Lastly, remember that your goal is to always move forward.”

Exactly! Move forward! There’s a great future just awaiting your embrace!

PKF

© 2016 Paul K. Fox

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An Engaged Mind Makes for a Happy Retiree

Boost Your Health and Outlook on Life with Brain Stimulating Activities!

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Have you fed your brain today? The mind is a terrible thing to waste, retired or not! How do you maximize your brain health and have fun doing it?

Intentionally Energize Your Mind

According to Dr. Angela K. Troyer in her August 2014 Psychology Today blog , “One great way is to find leisure activities that challenge and engage you, and to participate in them often.”

Dr. Troyer says the research is clear. “In recent years, there has been accumulating evidence that participating in activities that make you think hard and learn new things is good for your brain health. People with such active, engaged lifestyles tend to do better on memory and other cognitive tests than people who are less engaged. Even more encouraging is research showing these same individuals are less likely to develop dementia – such as Alzheimer’s disease – than those with less active lifestyles.”

She summarizes her top 6 ways to engage your brain with advice for new and challenging learning. She concludes, “It’s important to pick something that makes you think a bit.”

  1. Nurture your inner artist. You have heard me rant about this before. Music educators, go back to your “creativity roots” which inspired you to enter into this profession and “make your own music.”
  2. dancers-in-white-1440514Take up a new hobby. Now that you have the time, go exploring… and the skies the limit! But don’t forget, anything worth doing “engages the mind!”
  3. Explore cultural activities. Near or far, this is a no-brainer! We are talking about the very things we love and have experienced most of our lives: the symphony, ballet, theater, opera, museums, etc.
  4. Do old activities in new ways. How creative are you? Dr. Troyer asks, “If you already have some favorite activities, think about how you could ‘shake them up’ and make them into novel, challenging activities.”
  5. Learn something new, just for the fun of it. How courageous are you? What are you waiting for? You should have an extensive to-do list of things to try for the first time.
  6. Take the ultimate “formal learning” challenge. Enroll in a course at the local community college, community center, or library, or sign-up to volunteer in a new organization doing something you have never done before.

Read Dr. Troyer’s full article at https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/living-mild-cognitive-impairment/201408/6-ways-engage-your-brain.

curious-cat-cutout-1405973Curiosity does not kill the cat… or the retired person either!

Do you know the differences among IQ (intelligence quotient), EQ (emotional quotient), and CQ (curiosity quotient)?

Citing issues of solving the complexity of life (ever try to set-up a new printer?), the article “Curiosity is as Important as Intelligence” of The Harvard Business Review (see https://hbr.org/2014/08/curiosity-is-as-important-as-intelligence/), touches on the value of the curiosity quotient. “CQ… concerns having a hungry mind. People with higher CQ are more inquisitive and open to new experiences. They find novelty exciting and are quickly bored with routine. They tend to generate many original ideas…”

Author Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic makes two important conclusions.

  1. Knowledge and expertise (like experience) translate complex situations into familiar ones, so CQ is the ultimate tool to produce simple solutions for complex problems.
  2. Although IQ is hard to coach, EQ and CQ can be developed. As Albert Einstein famously said: ““I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.”

Although we no longer have to spend our lives at school solving “complex problems” and motivating students to study and appreciate music, being passionately curious is exactly what all retirees should strive to be and do every day!

How do retirees face the tumultuous passage of leaving full-time employment?

heart-in-your-hands-1311548.jpgIf you have not read a previous blog of mine, “Advice from Music Teacher Retirees to Soon-To-Be Retirees,” check out the reprinted version on the Edutopia website: http://www.edutopia.org/discussion/advice-music-teacher-retirees-soon-be-retirees. The act of retirement is a very stressful transition, and what would be worse is sitting around mindlessly watching television or allowing your brain to “atrophy!” In the article, I refer to Dr. Amit Sood’s writings, author of The Mayo Clinic Guide to Stress-Free Living: “This a time of enormous change. You are leaving your job and friendships with colleagues and finding new things to do.” He recommends, “Find meaning in new passions, including possibly using your work skills in a new job or volunteer work.”

My own ideas on stimulating our brains have more to do with a journey into the unknown… to steal a quote from Star Trek, “to boldly go where no one has gone before!” If you have not experienced any of these, take a gander. However, you should customize (and frequently revise) your own unique list.

One retiree’s bucket list of “brainy engagements!” Not enough hours in the day…

  1. face-questions-1567164Just like a rehearsal – start off with a mind warm-up! Go to the website https://curiosity.com/. You will be amazed to read topics from the sublime to the ridiculous – examples like “Cats and Dogs Drink Very Differently” to “How Does Memory Work in Your Brain.”
  2. Have you perused the awesome coursework and lectures in iTunes University? Download the app to your smartphone… it’s free and you won’t be sorry!
  3. You need to visit the “Best of Bonk” website about creativity and critical thinking in education, hosted by a modern-day genius Dr. Curtis J. Bonk from the Indiana University of Bloomington: http://www.indiana.edu/~bobweb/cv_hand.html. Almost makes you wish you were still teaching?  
  4. Also, don’t forget to sample the inexhaustible iTunes library of free video and audio podcasts on nearly every subject in the world.
  5. In a thousand years, one could never consume all of the material available from Ted (the famous “Ted Talks” either online at http://www.ted.com/ or the TED Radio Hour hosted by Guy Raz) and YouTube.
  6. computer-monitor-tablet-and-mobile-1241520Leo the Tech Guy program and site at www.twit.tv and www.tech guylabs.com offer an extensive archive of broadcasts solving problems and recommending purchases of computers, software/apps, smartphones, cameras, home theater, and other devices.
  7. Here are a few more “very educational” and “mind nourishing” websites and television channels, many with online versions of full length episodes and videos: The Discovery Channel http://www.discovery.com/, National Geographic Channel http://channel.nationalgeographic.com/, The History Channel http://www.history.com – to name a few.
  8. Believe it or not, there are many free brain-games websites, such as http://www.games.com/brain-games and http://www.brainbashers.com/. I cannot vouch for their educational value, but word games, Sudoku, and logic puzzles can be… stimulating.
  9. If you miss being a teacher and creating tests (did we ever enjoy assessments?), there is a even website for taking and sharing quizzes: http://www.quibblo.com/.
  10. chess-world-1415252Finally, hobbyist websites are a wonderful resource. Examples: photography Flickr,  Shutterbug, and Tips from the Top Floor; family history research programs www.ancestry.com, www.familylink.com, and https://www.myheritage.com/; sewing http://www.sewingsupport.com/general-sources/sewing-websites.html;  woodworking http://www.highlandwoodworking.com/highland-woodworking-links-woodworking.aspx and http://www.woodworkers-online.com/p/top-100-woodworking-sites.html; gardening http://www.gardenguides.com/ and http://www.garden.org/; cooking http://www.epicurious.com/, http://www.bestcookingsites.com/, and http://online-recipe-websites.no1reviews.com/cooking-websites.html.

Blogs are all about sharing ideas. Comments to this site are welcome! You are invited to “join in the fun” and submit your own “engaging mind” resources!

Make it a point in your life to discover something new every day. Happiness and good mark-learns-to-row-1468576health is all about nurturing our skills/talents, exploring new pathways, facing new challenges, engaging our minds, and enjoying the “good life” after full-time employment. Nothing is stopping you from starting a new career, learning a new language, writing a book (or reading everything you always wanted to at the library), learning (better) how to act/dance/sing/play a new instrument, taking a trip to a new country (or city in the US) or journey to your backyard with a camera, and modeling the essence of the Robert Frost message, “I took the road less traveled by…. and, that has made all the difference.”

Additional Resources:

PKF

© 2016 Paul K. Fox

Retirement = Deferred Gratification

“A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.” – Henry Adams

One Music Teacher Retiree’s Soapbox: “I Paid My Dues – Now It’s Time to Reap the Rewards!”

that-s-lame-bad-and-or-stupi-1537799I write these blogs to “get things off my chest.” Fair warning! Unlike other articles on this site, I may project a little negative attitude in this piece, griping in response to what I consider is unfair public opinion.

One thing you discover very quickly during your career and in retirement, when you’re socializing at a party of mixed company, it is never a good idea to bring up the subject of teacher pay and benefits. 

You want to start an argument? In particular, discuss teacher pensions. Jealousy? Disrespect? Certainly not gratitude or understanding!

There’s a view out there that school employees are “public servants” (or should I say “slaves?”) deserving lower salaries, especially considering the fact that their compensation and fringes are funded almost entirely by taxes. “Don’t raise my taxes!” Possibly this is a translation of another unspoken sentiment: “You should not be making more than me!”

in-giving-we-receive-1241576While on this rant, I would also like to complain that I am tired of hearing how teachers only work nine months a year. Someone’s math is really bad when you look at the calendar. Most schools in Pennsylvania start by the fourth week in August for teacher in-service days (definitely before Labor Day) and end by the second week in June, depending on how many snow days or vacation breaks are scheduled in the school year. Closer to ten months?

Anyway, the real point is that I know very few educational professionals who do not constantly bring work home nights and over weekends, and spend their summer months researching, retraining, retooling, and finding new ways to reach their students for the coming term.

my-mad-teacher-1254564There will always be criticism and negative comments about the value of our teachers. Part of this is due to the fact we have all been there. Everyone knows a “bad teacher” who modeled laziness, incompetency, or neglect of duty. You may have had one of these “rotten apples,” or perhaps were forced to endure an educator or coach who demonstrated “abuse of power.”

That being said, I was mystified that some of our greatest parent critics were also the same people who made the most of demands on the educator. It seems crazy that these parents who cried out “no more teacher raises” are the ones who asked me for a last-minute recommendation for their college applicant, extra practices for or rides to/from music festivals, or requested a detailed analysis and recommendations for improvement when their son or daughter didn’t achieve what they wanted at an audition.

So, while these pet peeves are fresh on my mind, I would like to share a retrospective – the benefits and drawbacks of our profession – and why, in balance, I believe music teaching is still one of the most honorable, personally satisfying, and valuable of life’s pursuits!

Public School Music – The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

  1. Music education is a “calling,” not just a career. Another definition (applicable to all teaching subjects) is a professional “practice!” Like doctors and lawyers, we marching-band-1440110-1“practice” our job, applying different techniques to each unique situation, focusing on the needs of our “charges,” constantly re-assessing ourselves, retraining and updating our skills, and solving problems.
  2. Most music teachers agree that the profession demands a 24/7 schedule (at least, it feels like it!!)… and yes, that means most Saturdays and many Sundays, not to mention numerous afternoons and evenings after the classes are dismissed. Even when we are not at school, we think about our next lesson/unit, select new music, look for ways to inspire new knowledge and self-expression in our students, prepare the scores or instructional aides, and practice the accompaniments.
  3. For the HS music teacher, what are the five seasons of the year? (1) Fall Festival Auditions/Fall Play/Marching Band, (2) Winter Festivals/Concerts, (3) School Musical/All-States, (4) Spring Concerts/Adjudication Trips, and (5) Summer Camps/Curriculum Writing/Reading Workshops/Professional Development.
  4. I have absolutely no regrets. Having said this, make no mistake about it… the sacrifices were many! We had no time to start a family of our own. Since my wife (also a music teacher) and I were never at home, it would have been considered animal cruelty to purchase a dog. We enjoyed few summer vacations, and those trips we did take had to be short in duration… scheduled around string camp, summer conferences, and marching band rehearsals.
  5. singer-1414613No one goes into education to make a lot of money. With the same level of post-graduate work, nearly every other entry-level job or even being self-employed will fetch much more compensation.This is why it has been hard finding math and science teachers in some localities. They would have to accept major pay-cuts declining jobs in engineering, chemistry, computer science, and the technology industry as opposed to becoming a first-year teacher.
  6. The pay? You have to consider the salaries spanning over 30-40 years! In those early years in public school education (when I started), if you had a family with kids, you were eligible for food stamps. I suppose one should compare the usual range of corporate compensations (much higher) during those active years of employment vs. teacher pensions (higher) during retirement. Does it really equalize in the end?
  7. Compared to other proprietary consultants with highly specialized skills, many music teachers provide free or very-low-cost extra services, uncompensated on-the-spot lessons, etc. I remember on one occasion, a computerized lighting board service technician was able to charge my school district more than $1000 to come from Ohio to fix our controller… as opposed to “Johnny” randomly dropping in to see me after-school for some help in learning to play “a lick” for the concert.
  8. concert-1435286At least, we are doing something we love, and we can take “the joy of making music” to the grave!
  9. Music educators often sponsor fundraisers for their programs (tickets, sales, etc.), and also pour back a lot of their own finances into the extra-curricular activities of their classes/ensembles. I was seldom reimbursed for everything I contributed, although one year, my tax accountant allowed me a $2300 deduction in pizza “gifts” made to my after-school programs!
  10. Musical directors, how much do you dole out? I recall there were always significant out-of-pocket expenses for props, scenery pieces, costumes, etc.
  11. Music education professionals spend time and resources advocating for their programs (indeed even their own music students’ existence). Music and the arts are the first subjects to be cut during school budget crises. Unlike our English or math colleagues, instrumental teachers must recruit for and retain participants in their classes. A significant drop in band or orchestra enrollment is the fastest way to compel the school district to furlough the last-hired music staff member.
  12. Worse yet, it was always demoralizing when a parent came to me to pull his/her child from the ensemble. More often than not, the “quitter” is a musician showing i-myself-1515970great potential and one for whom you have spent much time and effort helping. It was always a crushing blow to hear “Johnny wants to give up playing,” “he is bored,” or “now we will try something new like (ahem) intramural tiddly-winks.” Parents/guardians conceded that it was hard to “make him practice.” My initial  response (if I have the guts to say it, but by then, it was usually too late): “Who is in charge here? Do you make your kids brush their teeth or do their math homework?”
  13. Being a music teacher at a student-centered pro-arts school district in Western Pennsylvania was incredibly satisfying and inspirational. I was one of the lucky ones. At Upper St. Clair School District where I taught for 33 years, the emphasis is/was on “customized learning” and “The Whole Child.” I received all of the administrative help and community support anyone could ask. I was encouraged to take risks, build the string and drama programs, direct countless concerts, plays, musicals, and other lessons in creativity and self-expression, and seek new avenues of professional development.
  14. I also have no regrets in retiring… I knew it was time to turn over a new chapter in my life, recapturing the freedom to try new directions in the journey of retirement.
  15. usctaglineI was relieved that, during a time of state and local budget crunches (when many school districts were not filling retired staff positions), my administration and school directors were true to their mission statement: “Developing lifelong learners and responsible citizens for a global society is the mission of the Upper St. Clair School District, served by a responsive and innovative staff who in partnership with the community provides learning experiences that nurture the uniqueness of each child and promote happiness and success.” When I retired, they hired excellent replacements for all of my former positions: Secondary Orchestra/String Teacher, Grades 1-12 Performing Arts Curriculum Leader, and Spring Musical/Fall Play Director/Producer.
  16. The benefits of retirement are wonderful. Yes, my wife and I enjoy a comfortable public school pension and, although it is now a “fixed income” that will never go up, we really do not have any financial worries… at this point.
  17. With our health and future secured, the “earlier then industry-standard” retirement allows us to do whatever we want… fill and fulfill “bucket lists!”
  18. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANow we can “catch-up” on travel, pets, hobbies, volunteer work, gardening, home improvements, and revisiting our “creativity roots” which got us started in the first place towards a career in music and education.
  19. There is still a lot of joy running into appreciative former students and their parents at shopping centers or the grocery store. Our former “music stars” represent the kids we never had, and seeing them move on successfully to raise their own batch of musicians, singers, composers, conductors, or music teachers, literally moves me to tears. There is nothing better than being a music teacher and feeling appreciated!

Why Would Anyone Become a Music Educator?

My father could not understand why all three of his children ended up in music. When he visited my first 4th grade musical production in the spring of 1979 (Edgewood School District, now Woodland Hills), he asked me, “Why in the world would you choose to make your life’s work as a teacher?” Comparing our salaries (the difference of a decimal point – $8,000 for a teacher vs. $80,000 for a nuclear engineer) and the hectic 24/7 nature of my work, he pointed out that if I would go into business with him, as partners we could each make so much more than even he was earning as a manager at Westinghouse.

Although he briefly complimented my performance, he made these remarks after the show, and it burst my bubble. It hurt. I mustered a response like, “Thanks dad for coming, but you should know I always wanted to be a music teacher… to bring to others the incredible joy of making music.”

ColePorterThere is nothing worse than feeling that your father does not approve of who you are or what you want to do with the rest of your life. Of course, I am not alone in having this kind of parental disapproval. American composer and songwriter Cole Porter (who wrote Anything Goes) experienced a similar problem. At the insistence of his rich maternal grandfather for whom he was named after, he entered Yale University and then the Harvard Law School to become a lawyer. However, his true love was music. While at Yale (and secretively from his family), he wrote 300 songs and the words and music to six full-length student shows. Eventually he switched to studying harmony and counterpoint with the Harvard music faculty… the rest is history!

However, my story gets better. When my father attended my Upper St. Clair High School winter production of Scrooge (1982) involving nearly 200 choral students and the orchestra, he began to understand and accept a new perspective – what has become for me “the calling” of music education, theater, and creative collaboration with students. I sat him in the front row, while I conducted the pit orchestra literally feet from him. It was an “Upper St. Clair production” – the beginnings of what we do today – very high levels of artistry and professionalism and strong community support.

After the performance, my dad totally redeemed himself. He asked me, “You did all of this?” He praise me, said it was the greatest thing he had ever seen, and told me how proud he was of me. That was the last time he ever saw one of my shows… he died suddenly of a heart attack two years later almost on the day of my next choral musical, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

concert-1435286Why choose education? Well, the status of a teacher in some cultures is at the pinnacle of the society’s most cherished and respected. In fact, in some Asian countries, tradition dictates that the eldest rules the entire family, and is often considered a master teacher. The career of a teacher is on the top of the spectrum. The merchant is at the bottom. This is exactly the opposite for today’s Western countries… a worship of wealth, stockbrokers, millionaires, “things,” etc. (Of course, it should be mentioned that, using this analogy, Asian musicians are also at the bottom… considered to be nearly useless in lower socioeconomic agrarian societies.)

A wide-body of research proves that the arts help develop 21st Century learning skills, especially success in creative self-expression, critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, and communications. We know practitioners of the Performing Arts find meaning and discover their talents and interests, and being involved in music and art brings out the appreciation of the beauty in our lives.

Although, now I’m retired, I was once there… and helped to make this happen!

For more articles on retirement by Paul K. Fox, go to https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/category/retirement-resources/.

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PKF

© 2016 Paul K. Fox