Teacher Self-Care During the Pandemic

We thought our next article in this series on music teacher health and wellness was going to center around burn-out. But then… COVID-19 struck (was this really only 3-4 months ago?), we were forced into self-isolation, and all “brick and mortar” schools closed. In the ensuing panic, we all scurried about seeking solutions to reconnect and engage our students from afar in compliance with strict shelter-in-place restrictions.

“Seemingly overnight, the world changed. Teachers and school leaders have had to revamp their entire instructional systems with, in many instances, only a day’s notice. To say many of us are experiencing whiplash, disorientation, and anxiety is an understatement.”

virus-4928021_1920_HoagyPeterma“Our students are feeling it too. Typically, nationwide, one in three teenagers has experienced clinically significant anxiety in their lifetime (Merikangas et al., 2010). It’s probable that during a pandemic that heavily impacts everyday life, levels of anxiety in children and teens are even higher, and the possibility of subsequent trauma greater.”

“In these unprecedented times, teachers are rising to the occasion creatively and quickly to shift to remote learning amidst school closures. Even in a traditional classroom, it can be a challenge to support students with anxiety and trauma histories to stay calm and learn. With distance learning, this difficulty is magnified. However, there is much teachers can do to reduce anxiety in students even while teaching remotely. During this crisis, we need to prioritize students’ mental health over academics. The impact of trauma can be lifelong, so what students learn during this time ultimately won’t be as important as whether they feel safe.”

“Maintaining Connections, Reducing Anxiety While School Is Closed” by Jessica Minahan in ASCD Educational Leadership, Summer 2020

My opinion? The Internet and other forms of media can be a godsend or a contributing factor to our feelings of malaise. The 24/7 nature and immediacy of news programs and web posts updating the statistics of new coronavirus cases, hospital admissions, deaths, shortages of personal protection equipment and respirators, unemployment numbers, and the stock market’s roller-coaster ride, have added fear, stress, and “noise” to the real problem… our ability to cope with the ramifications of this pandemic!

Well, at least a lot of dialogue has been generated “out there” about recommended remediation and “success stories.” The purpose of this blog-post is to share some of this “advice from the experts.” Many of you (I hope) may say, “This is just common sense.” True, but however “common” it is, more people than you think are not applying these principles to their own personal lives. And like the one online post that caught my eye the other day, “Teachers Are Breaking” by Jessica Lifshitz, all of us should share our anecdotes… the trials, internal struggles, and tribulations… to make it through this emergency.

Together, we are stronger!

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I have been accused of being a little too emotional and I should not “feed into the negativity,” as one reader complained in reaction to one of my blogs. However, according to this article by Christina Cipriano and Marc Brackett, “emotions drive effective teaching and learning, the decisions educators make, classroom and school climate, and educator well-being.”

“At the end of March, our team at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, along with our colleagues at the Collaborative for Social Emotional and Academic Learning, known as CASEL, launched a survey to unpack the emotional lives of teachers during the COVID-19 crisis.”

“In the span of just three days, over 5,000 U.S. teachers responded to the survey. We asked them to describe, in their own words, the three most frequent emotions they felt each day.”

“The five most-mentioned feelings among all teachers were: anxious, fearful, worried, overwhelmed and sad. Anxiety, by far, was the most frequently mentioned emotion.”

Navigating Uncertain Times: How Schools Can Cope With Coronavirus

Almost in unison, the strategies that seem to be echoed most often by medical and mental health professionals, educators on the front line, and even technology specialists, are outlined by this “wellness map of to-do’s!”

  1. Don’t obsess. Calm yourself. Set priorities.
  2. Connect and communicate often with your family members and your students.
  3. Set and maintain boundaries.
  4. Practice mindfulness.
  5. Take the necessary steps to maintain your own physical and mental health!

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Avoiding Becoming Overwhelmed

As a retiree, I “only” lost the spring season of my community youth orchestra to this crisis. In my position as state chair of the PMEA Council Teacher Training, Recruitment, and Retention (PMEA Council TTRR), I tried to soothe the “hysteria” of many of my still-working friends and colleagues who were grappling with the instantaneous roll-out of distance learning. After researching online music education resources, we were able to place countless links on the PMEA Council TTRR website (here). After 7+ weeks, one of our “omnibus Google Docs” has grown to 15+ pages and more than 225 separate sources of virtual, remote, and alternative music learning media and methods.

computer-768608_1920_free-photosFor some, this has made matters worse… an “overload of abundance!” The multitude of venues and opportunities (too many unexplored “new technologies” for many of us baby-boomers!) included information about virtual ensembles, YouTube libraries, music games, lessons plans and platforms for synchronous and asynchronous e-learning, video-conferencing techniques, hardware and software reviews, etc.

Take a deep breath! Focus! Prioritize your goals. What are you trying to accomplish? Don’t try to consume all of the available resources “out there,” nor use every application or online lesson that you find on Facebook groups like https://www.facebook.com/groups/mecol/. What was it my mother used to say at the dinner table? “Sip and chew slowly… don’t gulp!” Take away what might help your situation, but approach anything brand new in moderation!

online-5059831_1920_TumisuGo ahead and sign-up for a webinar or planned learning community meeting or two. Many professional development workshops are provided with “no extra fees” right now, like the NAfME library here, the aforementioned Facebook group and others, and if you already have a membership in PMEA, this website.

BUT… plan to take away ONLY one or two new “teaching tools” from each session… maybe consider trying-out one new app or lesson idea every other week?

As if to anticipate our needs, more than a year ago, Elena Aguilar published the in-depth piece “How to Coach the Overwhelmed Teacher” in Education Week blog, summarizing excellent stress-reduction treatments. (Share these if you think they will help you or some else! Read the entire article for more detail!)

desperate-5011953_1920_Peggy_MarcoFive tips for coaching overwhelm:

  1. Describe it.
  2. Recall previous experiences.
  3. Identify one tiny next step.
  4. Listen.
  5. Plan for action.

“When coaching someone experiencing strong emotions, it’s important to know the signs and indicators of depression and anxiety disorders. Emotions can turn into moods, and if moods hang around long enough, they may become depression or an anxiety disorder. People who feel overwhelmed a great deal may be experiencing depression, whereas those who are ‘stressed’ a lot may be experiencing anxiety. This resource, AppD Depression_Anxiety.pdf, can be offered to your coachees or used to consider whether someone may need professional help.”

“When coaching any strong emotion, it’s useful to remember that emotions can be guides to self-understanding. They are a normal part of being a human being, and strong emotions show up to get us to pay attention to what’s going on. We can welcome strong emotions—in ourselves and in our coachees—and explore them to gain insight into ourselves and humans and educators.” — Elena Aguilar

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Making Connections

Your loved-ones and friends probably need you now more than ever!

And, a myriad of research supports the assertion that social connections significantly improve our own physical and mental health and emotional well-being, such as published by the “Center of Compassion & Altruism Research & Education” of the Stanford Medical School:

“Strong social connection leads to a 50% increased chance of longevity, strengthens your immune system (research by Steve Cole shows that genes impacted by loneliness also code for immune function and inflammation), helps you recover from disease faster, [and] may even lengthen your life!”

“People who feel more connected to others have lower levels of anxiety and depression. Moreover, studies show they also have higher self-esteem, greater empathy for others, are more trusting and cooperative and, as a consequence, others are more open to trusting and cooperating with them. In other words, social connectedness generates a positive feedback loop of social, emotional and physical well-being.” — Dr. Emma Seppala

There’s even evidence that “human touch” and close connections with other people increase our body’s levels of the beneficial hormones serotonin and cortisol.

Just more common sense? Right? Probably!

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The first thing I did during that initial announcement of school/activity closures was to reach-out to my “musical kids.” Many music directors told me they quickly sponsored a Zoom/Google Hangout meeting of their ensemble members, mostly just to check-in with their players or singers and get everyone “on board” for future online interactions.

Perhaps COVID-19 has made me a better “citizen,” too. Much more frequently, I now call or text a friend, colleague, volunteer co-worker, or neighbor to see how they are doing. It’s terrible to admit that it took a world disaster to improve my interpersonal communications skills!

Finally, here’s a good “recap.” In spite of the need for social distancing, these examples of “safe connections” are suggested by Jennifer Wickham from The Mayo Clinic:

  • Use electronics to stay in contact with friends, neighbors and loved ones. This could include using video-conference programs, making voice calls instead of sending texts, or talking with a neighbor through windows while maintaining a safe distance.
  • Spend quality time with the people you live with, such as playing board games or completing an indoor project.
  • Make a family meal or dessert recipe that reminds you of friends or family you are unable to visit, and then call them to tell them about it. This way, you get an experience of internal and external connection.
  • Write in a journal about your experiences during this time of social distancing. Not only will this help you sort out what you are thinking and feeling, but also it can be shared going forward as a way for future generations to connect with the past.

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Setting Boundaries

Something else I admit to NOT doing!

“Going Google,” “exploring e-learning,” or “doing digital” –  it is easy to get carried away and not notice you just spent 12 hours in-a-row of “screen time” participating in online meetings or creating new remote learning opportunities for your music students. Exactly when are your classroom and office hours? You are likely pushing yourself too hard, even in your pajamas! This insane pace will only promote other health concerns!

The foresight of Elisa Janson Jones was evident for writing this in her blog “7 Self-Care Strategies to Prevent Burnout” back in September 2018 before the pandemic:

bulletin-board-3233653_1920_geralt“It’s hard to create a work-life balance when life is filled with work. Teachers are known for working long hours off-the-clock for no additional compensation. This is even more prevalent in music education. We add performances, competitions, musicals, individual lessons, fundraising, data entry, and even music composition and arranging to our task list.”

“We may find pride in saying we worked 60 hours this week, flaunting to our friends that we got to school in the dark and left in the dark. Perhaps we find self-importance in their pity and admiration.”

“However, to thrive in our profession, we must remember that teaching music is our career, not our entire life. Hobbies, families, volunteering, and other ways we contribute to our communities and our homes are also aspects of who we are.”

“Setting clear boundaries between when we are working for our paycheck and when we are working for ourselves helps us carve out space where we offer ourselves time to be free of obligations and burdens of our career. Whether it’s a few hours per day, a full day per week, or both, setting strict boundaries for when you’re on-the-clock and when you’re off is essential.” — Elisa Janson Jones

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Mindfulness and “Living” in the Present

Another concept that Elisa Janson Jones covered in her Smartmusic blog: mindfulness.

Now is the time for a little nonjudgmental “free reflection,” or what the psychologists call the best practice of “mindfulness” – a focus with full attention on your thoughts, feelings, and sensations “in the moment.” I think the “Teaching with Orff” website really nailed it in the article “7 Self Care Tips for Quarantined Music Teachers.”  Read co-author Zoe Kumagai’s examples of affirmations: “How do I want to feel today?”

  • I allow myself time and space to reflect.
  • My mind is aware of the present.
  • My heart feels compassionate and is full of love.
  • My mind is stimulated by books, stories, art, scholarly articles, music that inspire me to be my best self.
  • I maintain boundaries with technology and intake of the news.
  • My body is free to dance.
  • My voice is clear to sing, laugh and converse authentically.

According to this Harvard Medical HelpGuide, the habits and techniques of mindfulness can improve well-being, physical health, and mental health:

“There is more than one way to practice mindfulness, but the goal of any mindfulness technique is to achieve a state of alert, focused relaxation by deliberately paying attention to thoughts and sensations without judgment… Allow thoughts to come and go without judgment and return to your focus on breath or mantra.” — HelpGuide

Band director, best-selling author, and acclaimed clinician Lesley Moffat devoted an entire chapter to mindfulness in her book I Love My Job But It’s Killing Me. You know what they say, “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.” After learning the techniques for herself, she adopted mindfulness practice at the beginning of each band rehearsal for her students, a 4-5 minute routine of guided breathing and relaxation exercises leading up to the daily warmup chorale.

 

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I love the symbolism in her “snow globe” analogy:

“Just like a snow globe that’s been shaken up, it takes time for your mind and body to settle down. If you try to get the snow globe to settle down while you’re still holding it and carrying on with your regular activities, the snow may fall slower, but it won’t completely stop and allow you to see the objects in the snow globe. You must allow it to be completely still long enough for the water to stop swirling and the glitter to follow the pull of gravity and settle on the bottom. It only takes a matter of minutes until it settles, revealing the magical scene inside, and the very glitter that was covering up the view when it was moving around has become a lovely blanket of snow that grounds the scene in the snow globe. But without a few minutes of stillness, it is impossible for it to become completely settled. So it goes with a mindfulness practice. Your mind and body needs time to go from hyper-speed to a pace that serves you well, a place where you have space to think – and space to not think. That begins by bringing stillness to your body and to your mind. Easy to say – hard to do… until you practice it every day and it becomes habit.” Lesley Moffat

Love the Job, Loss the StressHer book should be required reading for all music teachers, even retirees who want to remain active in the profession. (Read my previous review here.) It serves as a true treasure-house of practical applications for de-stressing and re-centering your life. Her “mPower Method of Meals, Movement, Music, and Mindfulness” may be the solution to improving your situation.

FYI, her next book, Love the Job, Lose the Stress, is on the way. You can request an advance e-copy here.

 

“Do as I Say… Don’t Do as I Do!”

The worst part of this? We seldom take our own advice. Hey teacher, “heal thyself,” and “practice what you preach.” Taking care of our children or elderly relatives, we are probably the last to comply with the tenets of our own sermons on health and wellness.

Lesley Moffat also devoted a chapter in her book to the airline safety bulletin “Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First.” You cannot take care of someone else (your family members or your music students) unless you first take care of yourself!

salad-374173_1920_stevepbMake self-care PRIORITY ONE for YOU! I know, you have heard all of these before:

  • Eat a balanced diet.
  • Hydrate.
  • Get enough sleep.
  • Exercise daily.
  • “Flex your brain.”

The latter “exercising your mind” is referenced in the Teaching with Orff website, and is a frequent emphasis on my blog-site (with examples here, here, and here). Pursue your own avenues of creative self-expression, and grow and learn something new every day!

According to charitable organization Waterford.org, the definition of “self-care” is “any action that you use to improve your health and well-being.” They cite extensive research from the National Institute of Mental Illness (NAMI), corroborating the statement that there are six elements to self-care:

  • Physical
  • Psychological
  • Emotional
  • Spiritual
  • Social
  • Professional

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And, as explained in the article “Why Teacher Self-Care Matters, and How to Practice Self-Care in Your School,” self-care is not about selfishness.

“Self-care is an important component of a teacher’s mental health, but there are misconceptions about what it is. It’s common for educators to dismiss the self-care movement as ‘selfish’ or ‘superficial.’ But for teachers, self-care is so much more than breakfast in bed or treating yourself to a spa day. It’s about taking care of your health so that you’re prepared to be the best teacher you can be for yourself and your students.”

Waterford.org

These endorsements probably represent just “the tip of the iceberg!” Peruse all of the resources listed below. In addition, perhaps we should take a close look at Alex Wiggin’s ASCD article,  “A Brave New World: A Teacher’s Take on Surviving Distance Learning” (Educational Leadership, Summer 2020), considering the adoption of these four lessons learned from the past four months:

  1. Relying on a team reduces work and stress.
  2. Connecting with students boosts morale.
  3. Learning new technology isn’t so bad.
  4. Model being a life-long learner

I predict that the hardest part, coming to the end of May and the completion of our first-ever “virtual spring semester,” is coming to grips with our “fear of the unknown!” At the date of this writing, no one really knows when “we” are going back to “in person” schools, how we will resume large group music instruction like band, choir, or orchestra rehearsals, and what will the “new normal” look like to successfully “move on!”

Summer break is just around the corner… a good time to stop and reflect! And yes, we will make it through this.

Please stay safe! PKF

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References

 

© 2020 Paul K. Fox

 

Photo credits (in order)

From Pixabay.com

 

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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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.

Unique Retiree Resources

It is always a privilege to receive email or comments from many of you regarding my past blog-posts at this site. I truly appreciate hearing from you – agree or disagree – and, whenever possible, I will “pass along” your recommendations and perspectives.

hospice-1793998_1920_unclelktThe “mission” is to help you with the transition to retirement and, when they are relevant, to communicate links to helpful sources of information. Many of these are not applicable to every retiring music teacher. However, if not issues for a family member, you might know of a friend, neighbor, colleague, or someone else who could use some direction in these eclectic topics:

  • Housing purchases/rentals, maintenance, and improvements
  • Personal security
  • Downsizing
  • Health care, eldercare, and physical fitness
  • Disabilities
  • Advance care planning
  • Medical Alert systems
  • Mattress purchase recommendations
  • Sleep guides and disorders
  • Grieving and coping with loss

We started this exposé with a previous blog, “Seniors Helping Seniors” at https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/2017/05/28/seniors-helping-seniors/.

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Elmer George invited all of us to peruse his new website: elderville.org. It is called Resources for All Elders, and it shares lists of websites, blogs, and fact sheets on numerous senior-related themes – everything from “daily safety tips” to “volunteering.”

elderville.comSeveral great examples, his set of February 2018 articles (https://elderville.org/blog/) discuss “Five Ways Seniors Can Avoid Stress and Hassle During This Tax Season” and “Three Ways Seniors Can Get Healthy at Church.”

Specific to housing concerns, Elmer emailed me these additional avenues of help:

 

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Elizabeth Reynolds reached out to me with research on criteria for choosing the best medical alert system: https://www.reviews.com/medical-alert-systems/.  She said, “After hearing that there are 800,000 fall-related hospitalizations each year, our team created this resource in an effort to change that number.” Elizabeth added, “Our hope is that our guide may assist readers navigating their options to minimize this risk in the event of a fall.” At first, I thought her posting was a well-concealed advertisement for a particular company, until I explored her entire www.reviews.com website. Knowledge is power. Elizabeth has assembled a wide variety of resources in these areas worth further reading:

  • Reviews.comHome Services
  • Insurance
  • Financial Services
  • Home Products
  • Health and Fitness
  • Beauty
  • Pets

 

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Speaking of reviews, something on which you would not probably seek advice is what mattress to purchase or finding other aids for improving your sleep. Well, if you know anyone who has had trouble getting to sleep or is seeking methods of being well-rested, let me be the first to recommend https://www.bestmattressreviews.com/, shared by Jenny Thompson. She claims her “team” has been researching the science behind sleep and reviewing sleep products to see if they really have the effects that the companies claim to have. I admit, her extensive online resource first sounded a lot like a very large commercial, but I have never known such detail and vast criteria could be involved in assessing the merits of different mattresses and sleep accessories:

  • Types: foam, innerspring, latex, and hybrid
  • Sleep position: side sleepers, back sleepers, stomach sleepers, couples
  • Other benchmarks: firm, soft, cooling, crib, organic, pain management, and user type (mattresses for pet owners, runners, people with disabilities, etc.)

It is definitely worth your time to examine the article section on specific sleeping guides:

  • bestmattressreviewsSleep disorders
  • New and expecting mothers
  • Advice for children, teenagers, and college students
  • Mental health and sleep
  • Sleep and anxiety
  • P.T.S.D. and other problems

We may all know someone who has suffered the effects of Alzheimer’s. This one recently hit home to me as I just discovered one of my long-time music teacher friends was enrolled in a memory unit.

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According to this website, “Alzheimer’s disease affects as many as 5 million Americans. Scientists still don’t know how to prevent, slow, or cure the disease. Meanwhile, the death rate has increased 55% over the past decade and a half, and with the silver tsunami on the horizon, the number of patients is expected to explode. Sleep problems and Alzheimer’s are interconnected. People living with Alzheimer’s experience difficulty sleeping, while people who have sleep issues earlier in life are at greater risk for developing the disease.” We should all be aware of this link for more information: https://www.bestmattressreviews.com/alzheimers-and-sleep/.

 

spiritfinderFinally, out of the blue, Jennifer Scott contacted me with “healthy ways to cope with a loss” with these resources to help grieving families:

Reaching out to those who may be suffering with anxiety and depression, her helpful hints will go far to alleviate stress. I found parts of her website, http://spiritfinder.org/, are also very illuminating. Thank you, Jennifer!

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Bookmark the URL of this blog-post for future use. You never know when you might need some guidance on these miscellaneous subjects. Revisit past writings at https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/for-retirees/.  Also, please stay “connected,” communicate your “views and news” in blog comments (click at the top of the page), submit your responses to the NAfME discussion platform Amplify (we have a special “retired member” community forum, or just send an email to paulkfox.usc@gmail.com.  As Tom Bodett said in commercials for a well-known motel chain: “We’ll leave the light on for you.”  

PKF

© 2018 Paul K. Fox

Photo credits (in order) from Pixabay.com: “countryside” by sasint, “hospice” by unclelkt, “grandparents” by sylviebliss, “granny” by brenkee, “bed” by pexels, “dementia” by geralt, and “beach” by qimono.