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!

Sing Your Heart Out… Now and in Retirement

pmeaReprinted from the Spring 2016 issue of PMEA News, the state journal of the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association.

 

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Isn’t the Internet a wonderful place to validate something you have always known? After only a brief Google search, the research seems overwhelming! Here are my top five reasons all of us should participate in a choir… throughout our adult lives!

  1. Singing promotes a healthy immune system.

lungs-39980_1280If you’ve ever been in a choir, you’ve probably been told that the proper way to sing is from your belly.

The idea is to use your diaphragm – the large muscle that separates your chest and abdominal cavities – to push air out through your vocal cords.

Using your diaphragm to sing is a good way to promote a healthy lymphatic system, which in turn promotes a healthy immune system.

Dr. Ben Kim at http://drbenkim.com/articles-singing-for-health.htm.

  1. Singing soothes the savage beast… and makes you feel better!

relax-1183452_1920As the popularity of group singing grows, science has been hard at work trying to explain why it has such a calming yet energizing effect on people. What researchers are beginning to discover is that singing is like an infusion of the perfect tranquilizer, the kind that both soothes your nerves and elevates your spirits.

Group singing is cheaper than therapy, healthier than drinking, and certainly more fun than working out.  It is the one thing in life where feeling better is pretty much guaranteed.

Stacy Horn at http://ideas.time.com/2013/08/16/singing-changes-your-brain/

  1. Don’t you want to live longer? Singing is “heart healthy!”

aorta-151145_1280Regular exercising of the vocal cords can even prolong life, according to research done by leading vocal coach and singer Helen Astrid, from The Helen Astrid Singing Academy in London. “It’s a great way to keep in shape because you are exercising your lungs and heart.”

Singing… helps you live longer according to the findings of a joint Harvard and Yale study, which showed that choral singing increased the life expectancy of the population of New Haven, Connecticut. The report concluded that this was because singing promoted both a healthy heart and an enhanced mental state.

Heart Research UK at http://heartresearch.org.uk/fundraising/singing-good-you

  1. Think “karaoke!” Singing builds “connections” with each other and social confidence.

singer-84874_1920Colette Hiller, director of Sing The Nation, is convinced that singing builds social confidence by helping individuals connect to each other, and to their environment. “Think of a football stadium with everyone singing,” she says. “There’s an excitement, you feel part of it, singing bonds people and always has done. There’s a ‘goosebumpy’ feeling of connection.”

Chorus America, an organization of singing groups in the United States of America, conducted a survey a few years ago, and found that more people in the U.S. and Canada take part in choral singing more than in any other performing art, since they feel that singing in a chorus builds social confidence. Nikki Slade, who runs The Priory, a chanting and voice-work class, believes that the benefits of singing are linked to the primacy and power of the human voice – and that it is our basic instinct to use it. “People are naturally free and expressive,” she says, “but it’s something that has been lost on a day-to-day basis.” Singing can help restore that lost connection.

http://www.shankarmahadevanacademy.com/community/articles/view/6/

  1. Singing reduces stress and pain, and benefits “senior citizens” especially well.

stress-1277561_1920Studies have linked singing with a lower heart rate, decreased blood pressure, and reduced stress, according to Patricia Preston-Roberts, a board-certified music therapist in New York City. She uses song to help patients who suffer from a variety of psychological and physiological conditions.

“Some people who have been traumatized often want to leave the physical body, and using the voice helps ground them to their bodies,” Preston-Roberts says. “Singing also seems to block a lot of the neural pathways that pain travels through.”

Singing, particularly in a chorus, seems to benefit the elderly particularly well. As part of a three-year study examining how singing affects the health of those 55 and older, a Senior Singers Chorale was formed by the Levine School of Music in Washington, D.C.

choir-305535_1280The seniors involved in the chorale (as well as seniors involved in two separate arts groups involving writing and painting) showed significant health improvements compared to those in the control groups. Specifically, the arts groups reported an average of:

  • 30 fewer doctor visits
  • Fewer eyesight problems
  • Less incidence of depression
  • Less need for medication
  • Fewer falls and other injuries

The seniors themselves also noticed health improvements, said Jeanne Kelly, director of the Levine School of Music, Arlington Campus, who led the choral group. The seniors reported:

  • Feeling better both in daily life and while singing
  • Their everyday voice quality was better
  • The tone of their speaking voice did not seem to age as much
  • Easier breathing
  • Better posture

http://www.sixwise.com/newsletters/06/06/07/how_singing_improves_your_health_even_if_other_people_shouldnt_hear_you_singing.htm

female-1299085_1280Okay, besides that crack about “elderly” in that last article (we’re not “old,” yet!), the evidence seems conclusive! For our general health, feelings of well-being, improved social connections, and “just having fun,” we should all be motivated TODAY to go out and find a community choir and start singing regularly in a group. Enough said?

Similar to the “nearly comprehensive” instrumental ensemble listing published by PMEA retired members in the Fall 2015 issue of PMEA News, check out the recently released directory of Pennsylvania community choruses.  Sorted by ensemble’s name and also by location, these files of PA community bands/orchestras and choirs will be updated (new groups added) from time to time, and new revisions will be posted online under “focus areas” and “retired members” of the PMEA website: http://www.pmea.net/retired-members/. (If you have any corrections or additions, please send them to paulkfox.usc@gmail.com.)

choir-783666_1920For both the instrumental and choral groups, we are most thankful to the contributions of our “dream team” of PMEA researchers and editors (as of April 13, 2016): Jan Burkett, Craig Cannon, Jo Cauffman, Deborah Confredo, Susan Dieffenbach, Timothy Ellison, Paul Fox, Joshua Gibson, Rosemary Haber, Estelle Hartranft, Betty Hintenlang, Ada Jean Hoffman, Thomas Kittinger, Chuck Neidhardt, Sarah Riggenbach, Ron Rometo, Joanne Rutkowski, Marie Weber, Lee Wesner, and Terri Winger-Wittreich. We are especially grateful to the efforts of Director of Member Engagement Joshua Gibson who located the counties and e-mail addresses in the choir directory.

Now, what are you waiting for? Go out and… sing!

PKF

© 2016 Paul K. Fox

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Downsized… and Out!

Coping with the Unexpected Loss of a Music Teaching Job

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To quote from the above Easter Becker-Smith resource:

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

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

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

PKF

© 2016 Paul K. Fox

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An Engaged Mind Makes for a Happy Retiree

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

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

Intentionally Energize Your Mind

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic makes two important conclusions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Additional Resources:

PKF

© 2016 Paul K. Fox

Retirement = Deferred Gratification

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Would Anyone Become a Music Educator?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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PKF

© 2016 Paul K. Fox

 

Random Acts and Other Resolutions

One Music Teacher Retiree’s Reflections on New Year Resolutions

Cheers to a new year and another chance for us to get it right.  – Oprah Winfrey

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Segment from the December 22, 2015 Pennsylvania Music Educators Association (PMEA) Retired Member Network eNEWS. For additional articles and blogs on the transition to retirement, please click on “retirement resources” at the right, or visit the PMEA website: http://www.pmea.net/retired-members/.

 

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

According to Wikipedia, the tradition of making resolutions is rooted in history, with many examples:

  • The Babylonians making promises to their gods at the start of each year “that they would return borrowed objects and pay their debts.”
  • rejoiceThe Romans giving tribute to the god Janus, for whom the month of January is named.
  • The knights in the Medieval era taking the “peacock vow” at the end of Christmas season to “re-affirm their commitment to chivalry.”
  • At “watch night services,” many Christians preparing for the year by praying and making New Year’s resolutions.
  • During Judaism’s New Year, Rosh Hashanah through the High Holidays and culminating in Yom Kippur, reflecting upon “one’s wrongdoings over the year” and seeking and offering forgiveness.

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While success and happiness are in the eye of the beholder, many resolutions do not stand the light of several days… you’d be lucky to “stick with it” for more than several weeks! However, the process of revival – re-examining what is important in our lives, and placing effort in establishing new habits and plans – is just plain “good for you.”

Here are happy-new-year-1184943my top-ten recommendations to help you “grow” and enjoy a glorious 2016!

  1. Read at least one new book each month, in spite of our society’s fascination with media, the web, movies, TV, etc. Multi-millionaires are known to reach out for new ideas, innovations, and leading-edge thoughts from recent publication releases.
  2. Take time for regular physical exercise and to “smell the roses.” For me, the three or four daily sessions of walking my dogs are extremely helpful for gathering my thoughts, calming my nerves, re-charging my batteries, and even brainstorming via speaking to Siri on my Apple iPhone. For example, using the Evernote, a note-taking/sharing app on my cell phone, was the tool for creating this article’s outline. I can even do it hands-free while I am driving (very carefully!), and with my “all thumbs” keyboarding skills, it sure beats typing everything out by hand!
  3. If you are fortunate enough to have reading-with-grandmother-in-wheelchair-1432646grandchildren (your own or adopted ones), enjoy them! Not only is your generous super-competent babysitting services providing ever-so-essential care-taking of your love-ones, “playing with the kids” is wonderful for your own mood and mental health. “Keep around young people and you will stay forever young!” However, invest your time wisely. You deserve a life of your own and unstructured time off. It is easy to be taken advantage of, so don’t let this childcare schedule dominate everything you do in your retirement.
  4. If travel is your thing, get out there and “book it!” One of the great advantages of retirement is the capability to go on trips while the kids are still in school. One of my least favorite memories of a family vacation was going to Disney World over Christmas break… Overcrowding closed the Epcot parking lot by Noon on December 27, and my wife had to endure 45-minute lines to use the ladies’ room.
  5. If you really like being “out on the road” a lot, consider offering your services to local travel agents as a music trip manager. Many PMEA retirees have already assumed new part or (nearly) full-time jobs organizing music groups’ out-of-town adjudications, festivals, workshops, and tours. Really, who is better qualified?
  6. flute-player-1506263-1920x1440The single most satisfying pastime for all of us is to be or do something creative. With few exceptions, every day you need to find venue(s) to express yourself. This could mean pulling out your instrument or singing, with a renewed focus on exploring your musicianship, interpretation, composition, or improvisational skills. Creating new musical works, like adding to your own “Mr. Holland’s Opus,” can “make your day!” Other projects in creativity could involve conducting, acting, dancing, creating two or three-dimensional artworks, sewing, gardening, and my personal favorite, writing. Whether it is fiction or nonfiction, articles, books, poems, letters-to-editors – the activity is very personal – and possibly profitable? Try to assemble in words your long-practiced insights and experiences acquired working as a teacher. I am particularly inspired by the prospects of creating and posting blogs on just about any subject that motivates or moves me. Check out the opportunities that WordPress.com can give you. (I am not too shy to refer you to my own website, showing off my articles and “pet peeves” on the subjects of creativity in education, marketing professionalism, and retirement resources: www.paulkusc.wordpress.com).
  7. At the very least, complete one new “random act of kindness” every week. Do the math! This would add 52 “good deeds” a year, and if every PMEA retired member adopted this resolution, that would total more than 22K caring moments in 2016.
  8. caring-teacher-1622554Every week for the rest of your life, spend some time “giving back!” Volunteer or share your hobbies, interests, or expertise helping out wherever it is most needed… in local churches, hospitals, charitable organizations, schools, pet sanctuaries, or senior care centers. I never understood why some enterprising entrepreneur does not buy a large piece of land to build a combined animal shelter, childcare center, and assisted-living facility, connected with easy access to each other… mutually beneficial opportunities for needy children, lonely seniors, and rescued pets for interaction with each other! That’s a “win-win-win!”
  9. Now that you have significantly more time on your hands than you ever had before, advocate for music education. It is not really up to somebody else to eloquently voice a thoughtful opinion about the essential need for music in the schools. Politics aside, writing to your congressman or senator is important, and who knows, might make a difference in proposing and passing upcoming legislation.
  10. r3_logoStay involved in PMEA. Help new or recently transferred music teachers by joining the PMEA Retiree Resource Registry, the free (but priceless!) adviser/ consultant service (go to http://www.pmea.net/retired-members/). This is one way to get more involved at the state or district level as a judge of adjudications, guest conductor or accompanist for festivals, guest presenter or member on a panel discussion for conferences, workshops, or webinars, etc.

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These are New Year’s resolutions I can live with, and hopefully fulfill. Time will tell! I recall the words of the classic Star Wars character Yoda: “Try not. Do, or do not. There is no try.”

 

Approach the New Year with resolve to find the opportunities hidden in each new day.- Michael Josephson, whatwillmatter.com

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PKF

© 2015 Paul K. Fox

Tips for Retirees on Managing Stress During the Coming Winter Celebrations

Sometimes the most important thing in a whole day is the rest we take between two deep breaths. – Etty Hillesum http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/12/05/holiday-stress-quotes-the-11-best_n_791925.html

snowman-1383597It used to be that the coming winter recess of seven or more days off from full-time public school music teaching mostly meant catching up on much-needed sleep, tackling a few of those deferred household chores, performing or conducting a couple holiday concerts, visiting family and friends, and “pigging out” at a few gigantic holiday feasts.

Now that we are retired, one could argue that “every day is a vacation” and our lives are always “a bed of roses.”

However, holiday stress is a real problem for full-time workers and pensioners alike. No matter the setting or stage of your life, it is something that needs to be addressed!

According to Alexandra Ossola (Popular Science) at http://www.popsci.com/why-are-families-particularly-stressful-during-holidays, “It may have more to do with your expectations than the annual meltdown over the turkey.” She comments, “For most people, colourful-festival-muffins-1317770family gatherings during the holidays are rarely stress-free… Sometimes these situations are small, unpleasant blips in otherwise enjoyable celebrations. But for some, the feelings go deeper—many people dread the holidays, becoming stressed or anxious in the weeks leading up to a family get-together.”

She concludes with research from Terri Orbuch, a relationship expert and sociology professor at Oakland University. “We think this should be a perfect time, the food will be perfect, and our conversations will be respectful. But when our realities don’t match that, we get frustrated,”

xmas-tree-1360371So, here is some timely advice to bring down your anxiety levels and cope with the changing season.

First up, the American Heart Association advocates being “heart-healthy” in all dealings with holiday stress at http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/StressManagement/FightStressWithHealthyHabits/Holiday-Stress-Try-These-5-Tips-for-a-Heart-Healthy-Holiday-Season_UCM_433252_Article.jsp#.

  1. Think ahead and carefully outline a consistent “30 minutes of physical activity per day.”
  2. Avoid the perils of party foods (overeating of high-fat, sugary, or salty treats).
  3. Stay active… but not too active (enjoy the added exercise, but don’t overbook yourself).
  4. Layout a plan for January and beyond.

Several ideas for handling your Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and/or New Year galas come from WebMD at http://www.webmd.com/balance/stress-management/tc/quick-tips-reducing-holiday-stress-get-started.

  1. bag-1-1443662Know your spending limit (set a budget and stick to it).
  2. Retirement usually means being on a fixed income. Share gifts that are meaningful and personal, but not necessarily extravagant or expensive.
  3. Organize your appointments and to-do lists.
  4. Share the responsibility (you don’t have to do everything yourself).
  5. Learn to say “no!”
  6. Be realistic. “Try not to put pressure on yourself to create the perfect holiday for your family. Focus instead on the traditions that make holidays special for you.”

To avoid the predictable “serious conversation alert” or a downturn of the mood at any family gathering, Talya Stone urges the infusion of humor to lessen your holiday stress at http://stress.lovetoknow.com/Humor_for_Holiday_Stress.

  1. reindeer-1-1419910Tell jokes, like “Why do reindeer stop for coffee on their Christmas run? Because they’re Santa’s star bucks.” A whole collection of quick one-liners are available at her website, which she says are guaranteed to add humor to your holiday and de-stress awkward episodes.
  2. Avoid becoming Scrooge. Don’t take yourself so seriously! Laugh at your own foibles and boo-boos!
  3. Create happy memories and find laughter in every day
  4. Watch humorous movies of “side-splitting moments fueled by mistakes, failures, and blunders, allowing you to laugh in the face of any holiday stress.” Suggestions by Stone include A Christmas Story, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Elf, The Santa Clause, Jingle All the Way, Bad Santa, and my personal favorite Home Alone.
  5. Organize a harmless holiday prank to help diffuse some of the stress that comes with being so preoccupied during the holiday season. How many times can you gift-wrap a small present in progressively larger boxes? Stone gives other examples.
  6. Don’t forget to bring the games! Several inter-generational ideas for entertainment are Christmas Bingo, Pin the Nose on Rudolph, and Snowball Toss, but almost anything can increase the “festiveness” of every festivity.

christmas_hornIf your stress is made worse mostly due to the transition of a recent retirement, there are numerous resources to help you through this “significant life passage.” First of all, you should know it is not unusual to feel this way. In his book, The Retiring Mind, Dr. Robert P. Delamontagne estimates that “50% of retirees will suffer some form of acute emotional distress.” Now all we have to do is learn how to deal with this change… sounds easy?

Dr. Amit Sood, author of The Mayo Clinic Guide to Stress-Free Living, writes “This a time of enormous change. You are leaving your job and friendships with colleagues and finding new things to do.” Sood recommends many christmas-stocking-1443217stress-reduction strategies: “Realize that your brain’s reward center likes variety, so give yourself a variety of experiences.”

He adds, “Let your best friends not be the TV, refrigerator or couch. Let your best friends be real people, books and sports shoes.”

“Treat your first year in retirement as if you are ‘interning’ to give yourself time to readjust and set new expectations,” he concludes. “Find meaning in new passions, including possibly using your work skills in a new job or volunteer work.”

For retired music teachers on this subject, I have written other blogs (see the link “Retirement Resources” at the right), and there are additional materials at the PMEA website: http://www.pmea.net/retired-members/. Please explore these numerous links/books/articles.

Finally, always prolific, The Huffington Post offers a couple dozen articles on the subject of “Holiday Stress Management,” everything from financial advice to mediation to dealing with a difficult person at family visit or party. Go to http://www.huffingtonpost.com/news/holiday-stress-management/.

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From my family to yours – best wishes for the attainment of all of the “R’s” during the coming season – a refreshing, restful, reawakening, reviewing, recreating, reviving, rejuvenating, replenishing, and re-invigorating New Year!

PKF

© 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

people-listening-1239292

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

Advice from Music Teacher Retirees to Soon-To-Be Retirees

Tips and Resources on Bridging That Transition to Retirement

“Your problem is to bridge the gap which exists between where you are now and the goal you intend to reach.” – Earl Nightingale

Retirement is a life-changing event, perhaps the most significant “final transition” in our lives involving an ongoing process of emotional adjustment.

The research of counseling psychologist Dr. Nancy K. Schlossberg is worth reading. She identified the following ways in which people approach retirement, as quoted at http://www.apa.org/research/action/retire.aspx:

  • Continuers who continued using existing skills and interests;
  • Adventurers who start entirely new endeavors;
  • Searchers who explore new options through trial and error;
  • Easy Gliders who enjoy unscheduled time letting each day unfold;
  • Involved Spectators who care deeply about the world, but engage in less active ways;
  • Retreaters who take time out or disengage from life.

Soon after being appointed to the position of Pennsylvania Music Educators Association (PMEA) State Retired Member Coordinator, I realized that we have three types of PA music teacher retirees responding to the challenge of this time-honored passage:

  • People who do not see themselves as retired, just leaving a full-time job in music education, and moving on to new goals, employment, and/or volunteer work.
  • People who are relieved from the stress of day-to-day employment, and now feel ready to fill and complete new “bucket lists,” spend more time with family, travel, and hobbies, and perhaps even explore several new areas/levels/skills in music and education.
  • People who are happy to leave the profession and want nothing to do with any part of music education or PMEA.

With the exception of the latter group, it is worth repeating the message I wrote in my Winter 2015 article in PMEA News:

“PMEA has a lot to offer, and, in return, we retirees can ‘give back’ in a way that is both meaningful and beneficial to our professional association. It comes to no surprise that PMEA retirees have filled numerous district and state officer, committee chair, council, and ex-officio positions. You know what they say – What we know in our little pinkies….”

There are numerous opportunities to “lend a hand” or “keep our feet wet” in our profession:

  • Sign up for the PMEA Retired Members’ Retiree Resource Registry (R3) to share your vast wealth of teaching experiences and expertise, archiving your special skills, interests, awards, and past professional assignments, and being willing to be called upon to serve as an informal adviser or go-to person for help. Complete the survey at https://pmea.wufoo.com/forms/pmea-retiree-resource-survey/.
  • Volunteer to serve as presiding chair or member of the planning or listening committees for the PMEA In-Service Conference.
  • Participate as a guest lecturer or panel discussion member at a conference or workshop.
  • Judge PMEA adjudication festivals.
  • Offer to help plan or manage a local PMEA festival or workshop.
  • Accompany, coach or guest conduct music festivals or local school ensembles.
  • Call up the local music teacher and offer your help in music technology, instrument repair, etc.
  • Submit articles to PMEA News.

Additional suggestions from successfully retired members were sent and shared in PMEA News (Summer 2015) :

  1. To prepare yourself for retirement, have something in place to do – private teaching, performing, traveling, and/or volunteering.
  2. Have a plan! Figure out some idea of what you want to do with the rest of your life after teaching.
  3. Build your social network of friends, colleagues, and people with which you want to continue spending time. Relationships are important in retirement.
  4. Stay involved in music – somehow. Once retired, you can revisit your roots in creative self-expression (the things that inspired you to become a music teacher in the first place), while avoiding the day-to-day stress and routine of your former job assignments.
  5. Do not micromanage or “try to help” the new guy appointed to your position. If (and only if) your replacement asks, perhaps you can meet for breakfast or lunch to “pass on the baton,” offering to share with him/her where are the closets (if not the skeletons), and information for smooth transition such as the location of the music library database, curriculum guide, classroom instruments, etc. However, keep in mind it is not your responsibility nor is it appropriate to give the newcomer philosophy, methodology, or minute details on how or what to do in your former job. The new professional is not you (and probably will make many mistakes), and will have to find his/her own way to realize success in the position.
  6. Travel to those places that you always wanted to see but never had the time. Try a warm sunny place in the winter and see what your students always enjoyed while you were stuck in the classroom during January and February.
  7. Get involved in advocacy, either for music education or something else that is important to you.
  8. For assistance in making the smooth transition to retirement, read the Fall 2013 PMEA News article “Retirement – Now What?” archived on the Retired Member section of the State PMEA website (http://www.pmea.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Retirement-Now-What-in-PMEA-News-Fall-2013.pdf). Also review the other links posted on the same site.

Be sure to read the other retirement blogs on this site, “Are You Ready? Thoughts on Retirement for Music Teachers” (July 2, 2015) and “Retirement, Exercise, and Balance” (July 6, 2015).

Finally, peruse the following links and books which analyze the psychology and stages of retirement, and provide thoughtful recommendations for happiness and fulfillment after a career of full-time employment. Happy trails, retirees!

Sample of Online Links

Honey I Am Home – for Good – Ohio State University Extension (by Kirk Bloir): http://ohioline.osu.edu/hyg-fact/5000/5159.html

Stages of Retirement – Ohio State University Extension (by Christine Price): http://ohioline.osu.edu/ss-fact/0201.html

3 Ways to Successfully Transition into Retirement – U.S. News and World Report Money (by Dave Bernard): http://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/on-retirement/2012/12/07/3-ways-to-successfully-transition-into-retirement

Journey Through the Six Stages of Retirement – Investopedia (by Mark P. Cussen): http://www.investopedia.com/articles/retirement/07/sixstages.asp

Transition into a Healthy Retirement – SPARKPEOPLE (by Rebecca Pratt): http://www.sparkpeople.com/resource/wellness_articles.asp?id=396

25 Things to Do When You Retire – U.S. News and World Report Money (by Phil Taylor): http://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/on-retirement/2011/02/11/25-things-to-do-when-you-retire

Emotional Stages of Retirement – Ameriprise Financial: https://www.ameriprise.com/retire/planning-for-retirement/retirement-ideas/emotional-stages.asp

Life After Retirement – What Do I Do Now? – Forbes (by Mike Lewis): http://www.forbes.com/sites/mikelewis/2013/10/22/life-after-retirement/

Thinking About Retirement? Time to Think About Your Psychological Portfolio – American Psychological Association: http://www.apa.org/research/action/retire.aspx

Behavioral and Psychological Aspects of the Retirement Decision – U.S. Social Security Administration: http://www.ssa.gov/policy/docs/ssb/v71n4/v71n4p15.html

Psychological Effects of the Transition to Retirement – University of Alberta (by John W. Osborne): http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ969555.pdf

Recommended Books to Read

How to Retire Happy, Wild and Free by Ernie Zelinski

How to Love Your Retirement: The Guide to the Best of Your Life by Barbara Waxman

The Joy of Retirement: Finding Happiness, Freedom, and the Life You’ve Always Wanted by David Borchard

The Joy of Not Working: A Book for the Retired, Unemployed and Overworked by Ernie Zelinski

65 Things to Do When You Retire by Mark Evan Chimsk

PKF

© 2015 Paul K. Fox