Retired from What?

concert-662851_1920Do music teachers ever retire? Not really!

The other night, I was attending a community foundation meeting for which I serve as trustee. One of the other members came up to me and made a little fun of the fact that he noticed I list my previous employment on the footer of my email.

I have to admit I was taken aback and a little embarrassed. I recalled that several months after I retired from public school teaching, I prepared some business cards to distribute at music education conferences and collegiate seminars which included the job titles I assumed when I was working full-time at Upper St. Clair. You have to admit it may be a little ironic. Why would a retiree use a business card to help broadcast his skills and experience for possible future employment opportunities… something no longer needed?

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Then it hit me. Most people retire and want nothing to do with the daily grind to which they were assigned during their career. Many want to forget everything and wash their hands of all memories of their former position(s) in sales, management, law, medicine, trades, manufacturing, service industry, etc. – perhaps, even non-arts related education!

Musicians and music teachers are definitely unique. Our job is really more of a “calling,” never just a place to go to work and earn a paycheck. We were inspired to make music and then share this fantastic process with our students and audiences. Our employment was never 9-to-5. And, all of the Performing Arts have no notion of a 9-to-5 goal…  “Hurry up, let’s finish learning this piece, play it, and then go to the bar and have a few drinks.”

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The mission of music education is to facilitate creative self-expression, to nurture understanding of ourselves, our culture, and our artistic heritage, and to seek out as many opportunities to “make music” in collaboration with other instrumentalists and vocalists. You have heard it before: “Music is lifelong learning!” That means there are no limits to lifelong participation in the arts based on race, color, religion, gender, sex, national origin (ancestry), disability, marital status, military status, and most importantly, age!

I know very few music education professionals who do not “bring home their music…” looking for more ways to experience it in their free time:

  1. Play, sing, act, or dance in a community ensemble
  2. Direct or accompany a church or community group
  3. street-musicians-1436714Practice and go out on a few gigs with your own jazz, rock, Barbershop, or chamber music group
  4. Teach private lessons
  5. Coach or compose for local marching bands, etc.

All of these activities become magnified when you retire. Once we are “set free” from the day-to-day academic schedule, lesson planning, faculty meetings, etc., we can focus our attention on what we really love to do. We are probably the luckiest professionals alive… we want to revisit our creative roots, not run away from them.

My previous experience (on my business card or e-mail footer) is relevant and I will no longer apologize for sharing it. I am not “stuck in the past,” but focused on the future! It means I am still active in the profession, available to mentor or help others in the field, always learning and growing, and exploring new directions and avenues to inspire my own artistry.

How many of you retirees agree that you are really just moving on to different pursuits in performance and/or music singer-1535103education? Of course, the best part of retirement is that you get to pick what you want to do every day for the rest of your life. So go ahead and say yes to those extra conducting gigs, writing/publishing your own “Mr. Holland’s Opus,” working with the church or community choir, accompanying a handful recitals, volunteering to help your favorite local marching band or civic theater, serving as an adjudicator for a music festival, supervising student teachers or teaching college music education methods classes, etc.

If you rearrange the letters, “retired” becomes “retried,” not “retread.” Yes, I embrace many of those other “re- words” meaning “growth,” such as redefining, retraining, re-targeting, re-tailoring, remaking, retooling, re-energizing, reflecting, and revitalizing, but not those negative or low-energy terms such as reverting, returning, regretting, retreating, recycling, refusing, regrouping, regressing, or retreading.

concert-1-1438833As long as I am alive, I will continue to inspire in others that music makes a difference!

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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Planning the “Perfect” Professional Portfolio

Prospective Music Teachers: Here’s How to Create an Online Employment Profile/Dossier

“In short, creating a portfolio involves reflection, collection, selection, and connection.”

Read more at: http://langwitches.org/blog/2009/07/17/digital-teaching-portfolios/

To quote Cheryl Frazes Hill in “A Portfolio Model for Music Educators” in Music Educators Journal, Vol. 95, No. 1 (September 2008), pp. 61-72, “The portfolio used in education is an organized collection of artifacts (examples of works) documenting a person’s skill and growth in an educational program and a career.”

First, you need to do your homework – a comprehensive collection of “all the good stuff!” To support this, number 7 in the MajorMusic.com blog of “Seven Things Music Education Majors Can Do to Make Themselves More Employable” is “Keep an updated list of your skills, relevant experiences, and training.” (Peruse the whole article at http://majoringinmusic.com/7-things-music-education-majors-can-do-make-themselves-more-employable-2/).

I have always suggested to my college-bound students that they reserve a spot on their computer’s desktop, a file (appropriately) named “ME,” and place in it a bulleted document with chronological descriptions and dates of special achievements, awards, and appointments. From time to time, more updates of “good news” should be added. In addition, archive (drag into the folder) accompanying scans/pictures of all music programs, congratulatory letters, certificates of achievements, newspaper clippings, etc. In college, this should be expanded to include documentation and anecdotes/stories/reflections about music and music education field experiences, accomplishments, and especially any problems identified and problems solved. All of this is perfect fodder for future interviews… Do you have “what it takes” to be a professional music teacher?” In your opinion, what makes you qualified (“a good fit”) to be hired for a position in our institution?”

According to The EDU Edge at http://www.theeduedge.com/top-five-must-haves-top-five-could-haves-your-teacher-interview-portfolio/, the following “must-haves” and “should-haves” (paraphrased) should be incorporated into your portfolio:

  1. Educational philosophy
  2. Résumé or Curriculum Vitae
  3. Letters of recommendation
  4. Artifacts of student work
  5. Classroom observation documents/evaluations
  6. Statement about class management theory (discipline) and the steps that you would take inside your classroom to create a safe and orderly environment
  7. Letters from parents commending the work you did with their children
  8. Pictures (A direct quote The EDU Edge: “We cannot emphasize the power of pictures enough when it comes to portfolios. During interviews, committee members are trying to get to know you and trying to envision you teaching. Don’t trust their imaginations to do so, give them pictures. Pictures bring it together for committee members and verify the reality that you are meant to work with children. For this reason we recommend photos or newspaper articles of you: teaching students in the classroom, with students on field trips, learning excursions or outside class activities, with children while you are serving in adviser roles, with your students at musical or athletic events, coaching or working with children in a coaching capacity, as a leader and role model.”)

To this list, I would add a copy of college transcripts, Praxis® exam results, teaching certificate(s), samples of student assessments/rubrics, and excerpts (short videos) of you performing on your major instrument/voice, solo and chamber recitals, piano accompanying, playing in college ensembles, and especially teaching in as many settings as possible: small and large group instrumental (band and strings), choral ensembles, elementary classroom lessons, extracurricular activities like marching band and musical, private lessons, etc.

An excellent overview on this subject is from “our number one professional music teachers’ association” – the National Association for Music Education (NAfME): http://www.nafme.org/do-i-need-a-digital-teaching-portfolio/.

Carol Francis offers “Sixty Clean and Simple Examples of Portfolio Design” for WordPress users at http://www.onextrapixel.com/2013/01/23/60-clean-and-simple-examples-of-portfolio-design/.

It is worth downloading “ePortfolios in Music Teacher Education” by Vicki Lind from Innovate: Journal of Online Education at http://nsuworks.nova.edu/innovate/vol3/iss3/4/.

Numerous college and universities across the country have their own requirements and recommendations in the development of online credentials. Take a look at the Penn State University School of Music site “Undergraduate e-Portfolios” at http://music.psu.edu/musiced/e-portfolio.html. Another excellent outline is provided by the University of Texas at San Antonio at http://music.utsa.edu/docs/DevelopingPortfolio.pdf. Finally, Vanderbilt University’s Center for Teaching site offers good models and information on “Teaching Portfolios” at https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/teaching-portfolios/.

In conclusion, take some time to examine the sample teaching portfolios (below) for more insights on design, style, and content. I also recommend you read my blogs on other subjects of “marketing professionalism” (click on the category link to the right of this article).

Good luck! PKF

“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” – Charles Caleb Colton

© 2015 Paul K. Fox

What I Have Learned from My Dogs… in Retirement

fox pups posing 051115It was one of the first things I did when I retired from more-than-full-time music teaching and serving as the Performing Arts Curriculum Leader of my excellent school system (Upper St. Clair School District/Western Pennsylvania). Start looking for a dog.

The incredibly hectic non-stop schedule of a husband and wife, both string teachers with a variety of responsibilities, music class assignments, after-school rehearsals, and concerts across numerous buildings, serving as spring musical directors, active music festival and conference participants in our professional groups (PMEA/ASTA), and co-director (wife) or assistant (me) of the marching band – totally precluded having a dog. I think it would have been considered animal abuse. We were never home, except to crawl into bed to fall sleep. That’s the “calling” of a devoted music educator, especially if he/she is passionate about and focused on inspiring and bringing creative self-expression to the students, willingly committing him/herself to countless hours of extra-curricular activities. We are proud of those opportunities that affected so many lives! (Do you remember the theme of that final scene in the movie “Mr. Holland’s Opus?”)

dogs_nopretender_IMG_1565It was quite by accident that we “found” our two puppies. (Actually, as most dog owners would attest, they chose us!) We visited the area pet stores, just to peruse all of the animal habitats, beds, toys, treats, and the like… and did not know that one chain store in our area actually sold dogs! Gracie, a pure-bred bichon frise selected my wife, and a yorky-poo we named Brewster picked me! The rest is history… at a high cost (the premium price for the dogs plus two of everything, including duplicate crates, dishes, bags of food, treats, and even toothbrushes). With lots of surprises in store for us, we rescued them from Petland!

dogs_scolded_IMG_1564After 35 years of having to run in and out of the house to travel and fulfill appointments, errands, practices, and performances, all at once I had a reason to stay home and share the unconditional love of owning not one but two “good dogs.”

New retiree “pet chores” were doled out. My wife was in charge of feeding and grooming. I did the lion-share of walks. We both attended “owner training” (they called it “dog training,” but we were the ones who needed to learn how to control our dogs).

For me, walking the dogs has become the most amazingly peaceful and reflective activity. It has improved my disposition, calmed my nerves, sharpened my senses, increased my dogs_walk_IMG_1782capacity for patience and tolerance, and lowered my blood pressure! Yes, between volunteer escorting patients at our local hospital several days a week and exercising the dogs at least four times daily, we add up a lot of mileage… an average of 15,000 steps or 5-7 miles a day!

Something I would never have predicted before my retirement:  I am now getting up as early as 5:30 most mornings… which is before the alarm would go off when I was employed! Of course, this is every day, every week, every season, rain or shine, with few exceptions. Who needs sleep anyway?

You really ought to try taking two warm bundles of fur to bed with you to hug and cuddle. Gracie and puppy moment3Brewster only have temporary residence on the top of our blankets and bedspread, and must later go back to their playpens in the game-room (our former music studio) once we decide to go to sleep. (My dogs are small… I don’t want to “squash them” when I roll over!)

So, who’s the teacher now? The following are a few of the “life’s lessons” I have learned from close observation of my dogs. Consider this a helpful guide for all retired people.

  1. Live enthusiastically in the “here and now.”
  2. Forgive unequivocally and immediately.
  3. Life is all about taking a long walk, smelling the roses (and everything else), bamboozling another treat from “daddy,” and getting my ears scratched or belly rubbed.
  4. dogs_fringe_IMG_1990Whenever possible, fearlessly explore the fringe (almost beyond the reach of the leash).
  5. Relax and snuggle with someone you love as often as possible.
California attorney Mike Vaughn posted several additional “bits of wisdom,” a map for happy and healthy retired living, on his Maritime Law Center website: http://maritimelawcenter.com/html/things_i_learned_from_my_dog.html
  • When loved ones come home, always run to greet them.
  • If what you want lies buried, dig until you find it.
  • Never pretend to be something you are not.
  • No matter how often you are scolded, don’t buy into the guilt thing and pout… run right back and make friends.
dogs_IMG_1860doggie_heaven_ - 32Tara Mullarkey summed up a few more of the important ones on her blog “7 Life Lessons I’ve Learned from My Dog” (http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-7561/7-life-lessons-ive-learned-from-my-dog.htm):
  • We need to play (every day).
  • Love is all there isl

Attention all recently retired persons: If you do not already own a dog or other pet, I strongly encourage you to consider the option of adopting or rescuing a dog! It may be one of the best decisions of your life!

PKF

© 2015 Paul K. Fox

Retirement = Reflection + Renewal + Altruism

“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” – Winston Churchill

Attention all wordsmiths! Here’s a new word to add to your vocabulary: eleemosynary, an adjective that means generous, benevolent, charitable, gratuitous, or philanthropic.

Also, according to dictionary.com, the first definition of reflection is “the act of reflecting, as in casting back a light or heat, mirroring, or giving back or showing an image; the state of being reflected in this way.”

Assimilating both of these concepts, simply put, retirement is a time for both reflection and giving back.

on-green-1362995Do you remember as a kid lying down on your grass and looking up to the clouds imagining that you see animals or faces or Medieval dragons? Did you relax and let your thoughts wander to make up stories or scenarios to “play” in your mind? What new ideas or visions came to mind? This process of daydreaming or brainstorming can be the perfect vehicle for a little self-reflection, a calm moment to refresh your outlook, reconcile your feelings, review and revise personal goals, and basically re-energize your passions!

For once in your life, you don’t have to accept the demanding “hustle and bustle” of a very stressful workday schedule. Now you have more of life’s most precious commodity – TIME!

This new freedom gives you the chance to spend some time with your family, friends, acquaintances, even former coworkers when they have breaks. I hate to admit it that, as a full-time music teacher, I could not give you the names of my neighbors on my street, and now that I walk dogs daily, I have become much more “neighborly” and make every effort getting to know them.

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Of course, one of the most important directions you can go is to revisit your “creativity roots,” the reason you got involved in music and music education in the first place. One of your first priorities when you retire from full-time employment in music education should be to pull that instrument out of the closet, brush it off, warm up on it a little, and begin restarting your regime of training those chops (or vocal skills) once more. Go out and join a community band, orchestra, or choir (subject of a future blog).

Seize the day (as they say) and embrace opportunities for volunteering, possibly going back to the school and offering your professional services on a “very” part-time basis. Perhaps a local music program could use your expertise in setting up new technology, playing the piano, helping conduct large ensembles or coaching sectionals or chamber groups, organizing or chaperoning music trips, repairing instruments, composing or arranging music for the ensembles, or assisting on the rehearsals or designing the field show for the marching band, dance team, or drum line.

In addition, the “passage to retirement” allows a re-examination of ourselves and discovery of new interests, conceivably some non-music volunteer activities. Select a project or two that will help satisfy your need to help others and “wheelchair-1576246nurture your soul.” My personal favorite (besides retaining my “conductor chops” by directing a youth orchestra on Saturdays) is to serve as a volunteer escort at our local hospital. In addition to walking dogs several times a day, pushing wheelchairs several days a week is good physical exercise, but more importantly, it is a big help to the efficient and economical operation of any mid- to large-sized medical facility.

What’s that inspiring quote? “I thought I was poor because I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet.” My wife and I get a lot of personal satisfaction helping people who are less fortunate than we are, especially those who are much more senior to us, and by now (after two years plus of retirement), I believe we are now nearly expert “wheelchair jockeys.” At the hospital, you meet many wonderful people, the majority of whom are undergoing a (hopefully temporary) life challenge… surgery, treatment, observation, rehabilitation, etc. It has to be said that we have found that “patients are the most patient,” and individuals with the most serious conditions are usually the most appreciative and display the sweetest dispositions. Of course, our favorite wheelchair trip is to the family birth center, where the majority of the time, we get to escort a mother with her new baby to the car.

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Other volunteer activities? Lists of needy programs are numerous (here are a few examples):
  • Walk dogs or care for pets at the local animal shelter
  • Serve in charitable fund-raising projects (man phones, etc.)
  • Offer to translate/interpret foreign languages
  • Assist food banks and meals-on-wheels agencies
  • Enlist as a “court appointed special advocate” for abused or neglected children
  • Work as a hospice volunteer
  • reading-with-grandmother-in-wheelchair-1432646Join Elder Helpers or other organizations to help needy seniors
  • Run a school club or activity (share your unique hobby)
  • Help maintain parks, trails, nature habitats, or recreation centers
  • Collate/file/sort/catalog libraries of sheet music or books
  • Host an international student
  • Become a youth director, mentor, or scout leader
  • Register new citizens to vote at citizenship ceremonies
  • Clean-up vacant lots, cemeteries, playgrounds, etc.
  • Apply office management and clerical skills to benefit nonprofit associations
  • Teach summer school or Fine/Performing Arts classes
  • Give guided tours or lectures as a “docent” at a local museum

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Check it out! Today, 3,281 volunteer opportunities in or near Pennsylvania were posted at: http://www.volunteermatch.org/search/?l=pennsylvania

Volunteer some of this new-found time that you have on your hands, and I promise, you will never regret it!

PKF

© 2015 Paul K. Fox

Are You Ready? Thoughts on Retirement for Music Teachers

Life and retirement are truly journeys… which means getting there is more meaningful than being there.

Now beginning my third year of retirement from the public schools, I can honestly make the statement… I LOVE IT! For me, I cry out HURRAY for the FREEDOM, and enthusiastically take on exploring raising puppies, home improvement, more personal music making, conducting, writing, photography, community service, and volunteer work. And, as you can imagine, my calendar is as full as it has ever been!

However, not all of our newly retired colleagues feel the same way… at least, not at first. It should be said that not everyone may be ready to retire. Often heard employment complaints aside, “be careful for what you wish!” In general, few are ambivalent about this transition… leaving the day-to-day highly pressured, detailed, “rat-race” most music teachers embrace to jumping into the wide-open horizons of new vision, focus, and directions. Recent retirees either love or hate this “passage.”

Examine your motives and your inner thoughts. Are you ready to retire?

Retirement should not be about “escaping from” something but “journeying to” something else. The type-A-ness in most of us, strong connections and identity to our work, music classes, ensembles, and programs, has to relinquish control over our 24-7 lives… allowing time to rest, reflect, re-energize, and make new goals. This means you rarely look back or live in the past; you look forward and plan new challenges!

Just as I made the decision to retire from teaching full-time strings/orchestras, serving as Performing Arts curriculum leader, and managing a hectic schedule of music and theater extracurricular activities, I wrote an article for PMEA News (the state journal of the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association), citing the wisdom of many others on this topic. (See “Retirement! Now What? Tips for Retirees and Soon To Be Retirees” below from the Fall 2013 PMEA News.) You are invited to examine these areas of help and inspiration before you consider when and how to make this life-changing (but glorious) “metamorphosis!”

Also, for more resources, I encourage you to peruse the retired members’ section under “focus areas” of the PMEA website: http://www.pmea.net/retired-members/

CLICK HERE for Retirement Article in PMEA News

PKF

© 2015 Paul K. Fox