Is Your Job Killing You?

Book Review: I Love My Job But It’s Killing Me – The Teacher’s Guide to Conquering Chronic Stress and Sickness by Lesley Moffat

Have you read this “International Bestseller” written by a band director?

Where was this when I was still teaching full-time, managing a crazy 24/7 schedule of music teaching and administration, fulfilling a myriad of self-assigned extracurricular activities like band, choir, strings, fall play, spring musical, adjudications and festivals?

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How many of you struggle to

  • Fall and stay asleep?
  • Avoid “brain fog” and exhaustion brought on by stress?
  • Alleviate (or ignore) aches and pains or illnesses that interfere with your work?
  • Reclaim and maintain enough energy to support your work and family life.
  • Resolve feelings that your life is falling apart or you are “burned-out?”

Well, instead of sitting around and whining about your hectic schedule or other challenges in your life, ruining your health, mood, and relationships with your family, friends, and students, or “throwing in the towel” and giving up altogether… take a look at this comprehensive guide to walk you through the problem — “baby steps” towards a complete self-care plan — providing assessments and action plans towards better personal health and wellness.

This blog provides a few highlights from Lesley Moffat’s work.  You owe it to yourself to break down and buy this inexpensive and easy-to-read paperback! Although it is meant for individuals who are serious about starting a comprehensive self-improvement project, this book is not long nor laborious! With a supposed “read time” of 132 minutes (according to the back cover), I would devote probably a couple weeks to thoroughly consume it. For even more clarity, I have even taken to reading sections of it to my wife, also a retired music teacher! Both of us have “been there” in coping with many of the issues of job-related stress and life-style choices.

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The Why — Chapter 12: “Put on Your Own Oxygen Mask First” (Page 109)

After a quick scan of the first couple chapters, I recommend jumping to Chapter 12 to absorb the priority of “me first” in order to be able to care for others. I love the airline safety announcement analogy about “place the oxygen mask on yourself before helping others.”  The central focus of her book, this is something I ignored for 35+ years.

You must take care of yourself. First. You can’t give what you haven’t got.

This is perhaps the hardest lesson of all, yet it is so important. Chances are you got where you are because you ran yourself ragged taking care of other people’s needs. I bet you never said no to requests to be on one more committee, drive carpool, watch a friend’s kids, and every other favor someone made of you, yet I’d also bet there’s a good chance you never take the time to take of your own needs. When was the last time you read a book for fun? Or went to a movie you wanted to see? Or pursued a creative endeavor that made you happy? Or any one of a million things you want to do? I bet it’s been a long time. —  Lesley Moffat

 

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Lesley Moffat’s website where you can order the book: https://squ.re/2TaXoAr

The Who — Chapter 3: “My Journey” (Page 15)

What an incredible story! Lesley Moffat gets personal and tells her own tale of total exhaustion, lack of mental focus (she calls ADHD), numerous aches and pains, arthritis, weight gain, bouts of illnesses like pneumonia, restless leg syndrome (a sleep disorder), and migraines, needed medical procedures like back surgery, hip replacement, bunion removal, etc. At times, her narratives are explicit and most graphic.

This profession is hard. Until my generation, women weren’t high school band directors, so there were no role models for me to look up to when I struggled with finding a balance between raising a family and having this career path. I had to learn things the hard way and make up my own solutions when there weren’t resources for me to use. My peer group is primarily men. How could my male band directing colleagues relate to my struggles? They may have kids, but they didn’t have to spend nine months making those babies while teaching (an exhausting combination that cost me a miscarriage during a band trip), and then pump breast milk during their planning periods to feed each of those babies for the first six months of their lives. And how many of them had to ask a spouse to make a ninety-minute drive with their newborn baby in the car behind the school buses where the band had to play for basketball playoffs so they could nurse the baby in the bathroom when they weren’t directing the band? — Lesley Moffat

The good news? Moffat reports that after a long and often discouraging search to restore her health and vitality and “to get back to the job I love,” today she has found peace, health, and happiness, and is back in the classroom with a renewed vigor, on her way to fulfilling her personal and professional goals.

 

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The What — Chapter 4: “Let’s Get Started!” (Page 23)

Lesley Moffat introduces her mPower Method (and a perfection alliteration) of four key components: meals, movement, music, and mindfulness. She says it all starts with administering a self-evaluation called the Mojo Meter (sample of the 40 questions below):

  1. I have a lot of aches and pains. T F
  2. I often feel tired after eating. T F
  3. My memory doesn’t seem to be as sharp as it used to be. T F
  4. Other people have mentioned that I seem down, upset, or not myself. T F
  5. I experience a lot of brain fog.* T F
  6. etc.

*She describes examples of “brain fog” more than a dozen times throughout the book. Do you experience any of these symptoms?

Brain fog isn’t a medical condition itself, but rather a symptom of other medical conditions. It’s a type of cognitive dysfunction involving:

  • memory problems
  • lack of mental clarity
  • poor concentration
  • inability to focus

Some people also describe it as mental fatigue. Depending on the severity of brain fog, it can interfere with work or school. But it doesn’t have to be a permanent fixture in your life. https://www.healthline.com/health/brain-fog

In her Mojo Meter assessment, if you answered “true” to 11 or more of these statements, then Moffat responds, “I know why you are here… It’s time to reclaim your health and energy, so get ready to amaze yourself.”

 

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The How — Chapter 9: “SNaP Strategies” (Page 79)

If you want to change your life, first change your mindset. You can’t find opportunity when you are looking for excuses. — Anonymous

Moffat’s “My SNaP Strategies” (Start Now and Progress) will give the reader examples of ways to develop new skills by changing habits one step at a time. Some of my favorites:

  • Take a break from social media.
  • Seek out opportunities to compliment others.
  • Allow someone to go ahead of you in line at the store.
  • Set your alarm for nine minutes earlier and use those nine minutes to listen to an inspiring song.
  • Turn off notifications on your phone.

In addition, she urges you to “do the homework” and dive into her Action Plans at the end of most chapters.

 

Mojo Meter on Meal Planning
I Love My Job But It’s Killing Me Page 47: “mPower Method Mojo Meter for Meals”

More Sneak Peeks

  • Using the observations you made in the self-administered Mojo Meter forms, the end of Chapter 5 offers an extensive “plan” for evaluating and removing the foods to which you may be allergic. (See above assessment form.)
  • I can heartily endorse her suggestion of using a food journal in Chapter 5, keeping track of every food choice and “how it makes you feel.” My wife discovered her sensitivity to gluten, and removing it from her diet has made all the difference!
  • One of her funniest anecdotes described her first-days participating in a yoga class! (Chapter 6)
  • Do you have on-hand and regularly use specific self-designed music playlists for meals, exercise sessions, and getting ready for bed? (Chapter 7)
  • A simple definition (but not so easy acquisition) of “mindfulness” — “being fully present in the here and now.” (Chapter 8)
  • Check out her “advice for driving during rush hour” (Chapter 11), tips for staying calm during all stressful moments: slow down, simplify, sense, surrender, self-care.
  • On Pages 9 and 10, there are amazing “before” and “after” photos of the author!

 

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Coda: Summary of Advice for Better Self-Care (Chapter 10)

  1. Take deep breaths when you encounter speed bumps and stop signs during your daily commute.
  2. Write a cover page to your syllabus outlining appropriate times and methods for parents and students to contact you.
  3. Have a work space that is exclusively yours, including a “do not disturb” sign, closed door, and/or noise-cancelling headphones.
  4. Talk to your boss about reasonable expectations, including how many after-school and evening events are anticipated.
  5. Enlist the help of others (volunteers, boosters, etc.).
  6. Start your mornings in a way that charges you up for the day.
  7. Re-evaluate your work space and make changes changes that will be conducive for more efficiency.
  8. Plan meals and make time to eat them.
  9. Stay hydrated.
  10. Incorporate time to upgrade yourself.
  11. Ask yourself, “Does this choice align with who I am?”
  12. Come up with a self-care plan that is sustainable.

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This is just the “tip of the iceberg” analyzing pathways for improved health and wellness. We are thankful that Lesley Moffat was so bold and open about sharing her own journey. Everyone can “take home” the causation of being “sick and tired of being sick and tired” and wrap their arms around implementing new strategies towards a happier living!

 

Author’s Bio (excerpts from the book)

Moffat authorNow in her fourth decade as a high school band director, Lesley Moffat has worked with thousands of people, helping them not only achieve musical goals (including repeated performances at Carnegie Hall, Disney Theme Parks, Royal Caribbean cruise ships, and competitions and festivals all over the US and Canada), but also teaching them how to develop the long-term life skills they need to be successful in the world.

Lesley has been a presenter at the National Association for Music Education (NAfME) and WMEA Conferences, served on the board for the Mount Pilchuck Music Educators Association, and has been an adjudicator and guest conductor in the Pacific Northwest.

After completing her undergraduate degree at Indiana University, she returned to her roots and moved back to the Pacific Northwest, where she and her husband, George, raised their three daughters, all of whom were students in her high school band program. Fun fact: Lesley, George, all three of their daughters, and Lesley’s dad have performed at Carnegie Hall.

PKF

 

Photo credits (in order) from Pixabay.com

 

© 2019 Paul K. Fox

Retirement… It’s a Private Matter!

 

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The clock may be ticking (28+ years in the field?), and you are the most senior music staff member.

“They” are all out there waiting for your decision.

When are you going to retire?

Like it or not, your “education community” and the coworkers with whom you have collaborated as much as half of your life, will want to share this special moment with you. You should expect the planning of multiple sets of farewell parties (especially if you were assigned to teach in several school buildings – I had four functions) and the second your retirement is posted, “your friends” will start collecting for gifts and maybe even begin speech-writing for a roast or two!

We want to be there for the “big event!”

And, it’s none of their business.

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People need to respect your privacy on this life-changing passage to self-renewal and reinvention. If you’re about to make that decision to “bite the bullet,” you have to be sure you are psychologically prepared for it (there’s usually no turning back), and then hopefully be permitted to announce it in your own way and on your own time. Well, not exactly…

You will be compelled to officially state your intentions.

Yes, you’re probably contractually required to put in your “walking papers” early in the second semester so that the school district can start the process of hiring a replacement, but there are a lot more issues at stake here. And, like it or not, there is probably no way to keep it “under wraps” for very long!

When the time is right, your fellow teachers and other school staff will want to celebrate your many years of meritorious service. They will hardly be able to contain themselves experiencing a myriad of emotions associated with living vicariously… excitement, joy, jealousy, pride, optimism, anxiety, fear of the unknown, and even “what’s in it for me?”

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Some of my colleagues have told me, when they were ready, they just wanted to fade away from the landscape, and quietly go without fanfare or festivities. Call it modesty, discretion, shyness, timidity, or social awkwardness? The sad truth, a few were leaving before they were really ready. They would admit they had more to give and still enjoyed teaching children and making music. However, they felt they had to retire early because of a perception that there was declining support for the music program, fear of staff/class reductions or student enrollment decreases, negative updates on the status of the labor negotiations, predictable loss of benefits as defined by a new contract, possible emotional burn-out or fatigue, or simply a sense of being devalued or ignored as a professional, “kicked to the curb” or “it’s time to leave before anything gets worse!”

You didn’t appreciate me when I was teaching here, so don’t make a lot of whoop-la as I prepare to retire!

 

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Of course, other reasons to retire are more concrete: health problems (yours or other members of your family), your spouse is retiring or relocating, opportunities to travel, you were offered a new position (higher education or other field), etc.

One big issue is how to you tell your students. My own story was that (although a very good indication of strong community support in my high school spring musical production) I had several school board members serving as theater volunteers. I was required to tell the superintendent of my plans by February, and he then distributed the list of projected staff retirements at a Board meeting the last week of the month. “The word was out” before opening night, and I had to scramble to tell my grades 5-12 string students, even taking into consideration a few of their feelings of guilt or abandonment while alleviating unsubstantiated fears for the future of the orchestra program.

That’s not how our former music teacher Mr./Ms. _____ used to do it!

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Someone wise once told me that no matter how you perceive your standing or “popularity” with the kids, 30% of them will be upset at your leaving, 30% of them will be happy or at least interested in someone new taking over your position, and 40% will be ambivalent. For those of us teaching instrumental and choral electives (saddled with the overall responsibility for our own recruitment and retention), it is important that during this transition, you encourage your students to support and assist the new hire, and continue their enrollment in the class and positive behavior, motivation, and participation in the program. I remember a few lectures about the “benefits of change” and “patience” and the role of student leadership in the process.

gratitude-2939972_1920_johnhainThe music parents are another matter. I had great support of both the band/string parents and my loyal “theater angels” throughout my career, and I made sure to attend meetings as early as possible to tell them “in person” my future plans so that they did not have to rely on those “rumors on the street!” One advantage I had was I lived in the district. I promised to roll-up my sleeves and support a fund-raiser or two, and was able to attend numerous concerts and musicals to support my “extended family” as a nonjudgmental retiree.

If some of your parents are more of a pressure group or negative influence, you may wish to discuss their role in your impending departure and warn an administrator. Avoid being a part of any gossip or political controversy… it’s no longer your “sandbox.”

Of course, you should NOT be involved at all in the search, interviewing, or even training of your replacement. Sure, it is a good idea to meet with the new teacher once or twice to “hand over the reins” and perhaps tell him/her where the closets are if not the skeletons. Willingly give out your phone number if the newcomer wants help, but then STAY AWAY. No one can BE YOU, and trying to “clone” your essence in a potential “protege” or well-tutored graduate from your program is an invitation to disaster. The new staff member must find his/her own way, making more than a few mistakes along the way (like you did a long time ago?), but not experience any interference from the “old veteran!” You have to trust that your superintendent, HR/personnel director, and other school leaders found the most qualified and talented candidate available and will support him/her during that “sometimes bumpy” orientation/transitional period

 

What is your legacy?

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Now would be a good time for you to review “for posterity” your professional record quietly behind-the-scenes or even share this with your closest colleagues or supervisors. Sort of like writing your own obituary (a little morbid?), reflect on and frame your career in music education. For what do you want to be remembered? What was most important to you? (It was disappointing to me that one of my principals showed he didn’t know me very well at our last faculty meeting and my final “sendoff.” In his speech, he focused on my tendency for long and sometimes passionate emails as the single greatest contribution to 33+ years in his building.)

r3_logoIn Pennsylvania, we are fortunate to have the PMEA Retiree Resource Registry (R3), which besides providing a pool of well-qualified consultants and unofficial mentors for PMEA members, pre-service teachers, and “rookies” who want advice, it allows our retired members to archive their achievements, awards, and teaching assignments online. I believe it’s just good mental health for recent retirees to look backwards and revel in a little personal gratification, esteem, and peace-of-mind for their contributions to the profession. Yes, you deserve to be proud.

You truly “made a difference.”

PKF

© 2018 Paul K. Fox

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Photo credits (in order) from Pixabay.com: “shaking-hands” by geralt, “best wishes” by artsy-bee, “man” by geralt, “guitar-player” by couleur, “woman” by cnort, “gratitude” by johnhain, “piano” by stevepb, and “couple” by memorycatcher.