One Retiree’s “Tech Rant”

When Your Car (or Smartphone or Computer or Soundbar) is Smarter Than You

Okay, I know I am not a “technology native,” but at least I have become more savvy as a well-informed “technology immigrant.” (Just don’t tell Donald Trump!) But, I just can’t seem to keep up! What is it about “our generation” missing that part of the brain that somehow intuitively informs us which link or button to push in a long series of options on a menu bar? (The ones that only have symbols or pictures really puzzle me!)

I bought a new Chevy (a used but current-model-year demo from the dealer), and I am struggling to understand it! Oh, not just the basics of the radio, three-zone HVAC system, cruise control, or all of the other nifty buttons on the steering wheel…

Chevy-Mylink-Banner

But, this car talks to me. It tells me when I am not driving straight within the lane. It reprimands me when I am following too close to the car in front of me. In case I forgot to notice the speed limit sign, the reminder pops up next to the speedometer. It even tells me to stop reading the dashboard while I am driving (which is somewhat ironic since the notice comes up randomly while my car is moving).

Our devices are all becoming more interconnected and even “seamless!” For example, my GM vehicle offers OnStar, turn-by-turn navigation, and Sirius/XM-Radio. When I plug my iPhone into the special interface next to the cigarette lighter, the home screen shows up on the main window of my car, making it a cinch to play music from my iTunes library!

If I need to hear female voices “tell me where to go” (besides my wife, of course), I have the opportunity of either letting Siri give me the street directions or listen to another digital woman (who or where she comes from I do not know – a Google Maps cyborg?). One trip, I turned them both on. Number 2 came through the car speakers, while Siri spoke through the phone itself. They both nearly simultaneously gave me the wrong directions to Hershey Lodge (Harrisburg), having me exit the PA Turnpike two exits too soon. (Go figure. I should have taken the advice of my wife who said, “Harrisburg East.”)

This “trouble in tech paradise” is not limited to automobiles. Every appliance is becoming smarter than me! Here’s another example that I may have bought “too many toys” for my own good. Both my Samsung TV and soundbar seem to automatically update themselves using my household WIFI network. The funniest moment in my installation of the Bose sound equipment connected to our cable box in the living room was when I downloaded their app for my iPhone, and inadvertently turned on from a remote location a streaming country music service blaring throughout my house. (Scared my wife to death!)

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This is an “equal opportunity” rant, and I do not discriminate: Apple vs. Windows OS, Apple vs. Android iOS, or Apple Genius vs. Best Buy Geek Squad. It makes little difference… embracing the tools of “new age” media and scientific innovations are complicated! For example, why does one need to have a PhD in computer science to use Mail Merge and print labels from Excel and Word on either platform? It should never be that hard to prepare your Christmas card mailing list!

Nearly the only time my “marital bliss” with my wife has been challenged is when something BAD happens to a file, app, or program on our iPhone, iPad, or Mac computer… and we try (with loads of mistakes) to fix it “together.” Even the dogs know to stay away from technology when we are in the middle of a hardware or software “bug!”

 

Your worst fear – a “crashing” computer

It’s hard to know who to trust in this technology-overloaded environment. Several weeks ago, when my wife’s Mac crashed and was “trapped” in an endless loop of restarts, we picked up our entire 27-inch, awkward-shaped/sized piece of equipment and carried it to the Apple Store for a consult with the “Almighty Apple Genius Department.” We brought with us the printed error message that said the problem was due to a “kernel panic.”  Placing our faith in AppleCare, we accepted their experts’ prognosis, and allowed them to erase half-a-million documents from her hard drive, strip it clean, and re-install the operating system. Big problem, but an even bigger mistake.

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Here’s the short version of our sad story (the retelling of which raises my blood pressure). After seven trips to the mall over five days, “they” (who are supposed to know better) discovered that our backup external hard drive, the Apple Time Capsule bought 18 months ago (now out-of-warranty, but of course!), was the source of the problem, not the Mac. man-857502_1920_Tikwa(Getting a little revenge? On trip #6, when we hooked up to the Apple Store’s computer, our Time Capsule crashed their hardware.) With all of my wife’s documents long-gone from the computer and a couple terabytes of data on the Time Capsule now inaccessible, we were “saved” by our subscription to the cloud-based backup program Carbonite which did restore most of her files… but took five days 24/7 via WIFI to bring them back!

However, we “learned” that this process is excruciating slow if you have a stray colon or backslash within the title of any document. Many of these files had to be reloaded by hand. And, to date, we still have not been able to get our Family Tree application to work!

Morale to the story: Don’t always believe in the “geniuses!”

 

Don’t give up on your existing tech skills

Regardless of our age, many of us music teachers are a little more fortunate to have been exposed to innovative software and other technological tools during our teaching years.

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If you were a band director, you might know Pyware 3D Drill Design or some of the video editing programs to compare your the halftime show on Friday night with the schematic drawings “count by count” on how it should look. If you were involved in printing programs, senior yearbooks, posters, or other graphic media, you’re probably not afraid of desktop publishing projects. Those versed in Sibelius, Finale, or other music creation programs, or who introduced MusicFirst or SmartMusic applications to your music students, are much further along than many of the other teachers from our generation. If you’re retiring or have retired in the last five or 10 years, you were probably trained in your school district’s proprietary grade-book programs or attendance record system, and even may call yourself well-versed on creating/posting material on a website like “teacher pages,” skills that can be easily transferred to applications like WordPress or Wicks.com. So, don’t be afraid to venture out of your “comfort zone!” Unlike your father or father-in-law, who may have only had a taste of Applesoft Basic programming or a little TurboPascal coding before they retired, you may be “ahead of the game!”

Here are a few more gleams of “tech illuminations” that I have learned from being baptized and then thrown into this 21st-century topsy-turvy madhouse.

 

Turn yourself into a “tech-streetwise” retiree

LeoOne way to help educate yourself on all of these 21st Century “innovations” is to watch the podcast “Leo the Tech Guy” at https://techguylabs.com/. Leo Laporte brings all of this confusion down to our level… simple/easy terms and step-by-step instructions, and his reviews on future computers, smartphones, tablets, televisions, home security, software applications, and other technology are excellent. His FREE talk show airs every Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. Pacific Time, but all of the episodes are archived and you can search on specific topics.

The subjects he returns to on a frequent basis include:

  • Backup and Recovery
  • Business
  • Gaming
  • Hardware
  • Home Theater
  • Internet and The Web
  • Media
  • Mobile Phones
  • Networking
  • Peripherals

 

Backup the backup

Leo says we should have at least three copies of every important file… one on our hard drive, one on an external drive, and one in the cloud. If you don’t believe this, reread the agonizing anecdote above (“…crashing computer”). Backup #1 was erase by Apple Genius. Backup #2 was damaged or made inaccessible by the “kernel panic.” That left us with Backup #3… Carbonite. Thank god!

thumb-drive-864831_1280_skeezeThe original saved document is considered Copy #1. You need to then transfer this to an external location, outside your hard drive. Copy #2 could be sent to a flash or jump drive (just plug it into your USB port), or an external hard drive. (Understandably, my wife is no longer willing to trust the Apple Time Capsule which uses a program called Time Machine that automatically backups every file you save via WIFI… but there are other brands you could consider.)

However, keep in mind that if a fire occurs in the room you store your computer and external hard drive, all could be lost! The final copy #3 should be the automatic online back-up created by a cloud-based application. Carbonite saved my ***, but there are many subscription services out there that offer file syncing, encrypted backup, and data restoration at a reasonable cost:

  • Acronis True Image
  • Backblaze
  • Carbonite
  • IDrive
  • SOS Online Backup
  • SpiderOak One

What is the core reason that all of this is worth the money? Cloud-based programs do their magic behind-the-scenes (automatic redundancy saves the day) and won’t let you you forget to backup! If you are looking for an assessment like Consumer Reports on these products, advisers say, “Go to a computer nerd!” Perhaps PC Magazine comes the closest in being comprehensive: https://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2288745,00.asp.

 

Manage passwords carefully.

key-1013662_1920_3dman_euFrom password management to virus protection, and simply knowing not to click on any random link or attachment in email are essential. Online security has become a very important issue. The experts tell us we should not have the same password for all of our applications, and it should not have any portion of our name, phone number, or other easy-to-guess info. My solution to resolve the conundrum of being safe and catering to a “senior citizen’s memory” was to create a core password that I could remember but no one else could figure out, and then add a prefix or suffix of a couple additional letters that describes the name of the applications. (Whatever you do, don’t use “123” as a password!) You should write down on paper an alphabetical listing of your user names and passwords, store the journal in your safety deposit box away from fire, flood, or theft, and share another copy of it with your spouse or at least one other family member. But, don’t forget to update the catalog frequently! (Passwords should change from time to time.)

I also found there are several ingenuous apps out there to help you with creating really random passwords, storing and accessing them with one “master password,” and even the provision of a “digital will,” designating a trusted friend and family member access to your virtual password vault in the event of an emergency or crisis. Now, all that is left for you is figuring out how to download one of these on all of your devices:

  • LastPass (my favorite)
  • Keeper Password Manager
  • DashLane
  • Sticky Password
  • Password Boss
  • RoboForm
  • True Key, etc.

Again, an analysis courtesy of PC Magazine provides additional insight: https://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2407168,00.asp.

 

Sanitize your smart devices.

They used to say that a tie is one of the most germ-ridden articles of men’s clothing. (In some hospitals, they recommend that doctors “lose the tie” as part of their dress code.) What do you see at the entrance of most grocery stores… disinfectant wipes for the shopping cart handles? Perhaps your cellphone tops the list of tech articles you rarely sterilize. When was the last time you cleaned your tablet? Your door knob to the bathroom probably gets more attention! Can you imagine anything containing more bacteria than the surface of your computer’s keyboard?

Whatever you do, be careful not to immerse your tech tool and cause harm to the internal circuits! Even if they say your phone is “water resistant,” don’t test it!

There are a lot of products out there to help you kill the microbes… specialized wipes for touch screens and others for hard surface areas. Read the precautions. What do you use Purellfor your eye glasses to avoid scratching the lenses?

Be aware of “operator error” in making this worse. How often do you wash your hands prior to picking up your wallet or smartphone? PURELL Hand Sanitizer was invented in 1988 by GOJO to meet the needs of healthcare providers and restaurants operators looking for ways to reduce the spread of germs. I have a container of PURELL sitting next to my computer.

Merry Maids offer these tips on cleaning your electronic devices: https://www.merrymaids.com/blog/quick-tips/clean-and-disinfect-electronic-devices/.

I also liked Design Mom’s “Eleven Secrets to Cleaning your Tech” at https://www.designmom.com/living-well-11-secrets-to-cleaning-your-tech-devices/.

Again, read their advice and all warnings. For a low budget solution, I would look into buying an antibacterial micro-fiber cloth and for the keyboards, consider using a very light application of isopropyl alcohol (on a rag, not directly on the device!).

 

Speaking of sanitizing… clear your “cookies” and “cache!”

What a strange language we use for our tech tools! Well, in the middle of writing this blog, I found that my Firefox browser was “giving me fits” for doing an online credit card transaction. Taking time out to find out why there were error messages (calling the 1-800 customer support people), I confirmed they always seem to ask you three questions:

  • What is the make, model, and year of your computer (or other device)?
  • What is the version of your computer’s operating system? (Mine is almost always updated to the most current edition. This is normally good advice for surviving the always-fluctuating tech landscape.)
  • What browser are you using?

For some reason, the techies will recommend you clear your browser history, including all forms, downloads, cookies, and cache… “translate” this mumble-jumble as cleaning out some of the temporary files and other “things in the buffer.” If you are having trouble reaching a known website or filling out digital applications or other forms, give this a try. It works for me almost every time. When in doubt, sanitize!

 

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When you’re in real trouble, be quick to reach-out for support

Remember that game show, “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” In the original series, one of the “lifelines” to help the “stumped” contestant deal with a difficult question was the option to “phone a friend.”  Latch onto a “technician tutor,” perhaps a student graduate or close family member. With how fast technology is evolving, I have been so appreciative of a former student stage crew member who came back to the school district employed as a tech aide, and was willing to do “house calls” and set up and improve the overall security of my network, install multiple routers, computers, printers, smart TVs, etc.

 

What about becoming a “web(inar) maestro?”

Finally, have you considered making an education video or presenting a webinar? Do you think you, another “technology immigrant” and retired music teacher (like me) would be the last one to ever venture out to do this? Well, perhaps not!

Think of all of that expert “stuff” you have swimming around your head. Pass it on… it’s all about leaving a legacy. You should share your experiences and knowledge earned from that old “school of hard-knocks!”

And, it isn’t that hard to do. If you are comfortable with PowerPoint, Keynote, or Prezi, all you need to do is find someone who has a subscription of Zoom or Go-To Meeting. If you are a member of a state education association like NAfME or an affiliated state unit like PMEA, they could set you up to host a webinar or record a professional development video. It’s “easy peasy!” Most would welcome your contribution to their online professional development library, like the NAfME Academy.

You might even have a few ready-made presentations sitting idle on your hard drive. What about those old music appreciation lessons, marching band leadership seminars, Orff/Kodaly/Dalcroze workshops, string pedagogy tips, or ??? Dust them off, review/edit/update, or as they say, “repackage” your work. What’s that quote? “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.”

 

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This started out as a “rant” lamenting the fact we have all but lost what seemed to be a calmer, simpler lifestyle. But, technology is here to stay, and we either learn to cope with it, or go back to the caveman era and put our heads in the sand (to mix metaphors). At least, be happy to know you are not alone in riding this “bucking bronco” of the digital age. Here are even more online hints on surviving technology:

 

P.S. My wife says she’s still mad at Apple! Well, we do have to move on… a little wiser, more resilient, and possibly less gullible in trusting future “experts.”

PKF

© 2018 Paul K. Fox

Photo credits in order from Pixabay.com: “banner” by geralt, “imac-ipad-iphone-macbook-laptop” by Tim_H, “computer problem” by OpenClipart-Vectors, “man” by Tikwa, “thumb-drive” by skeeze, “key” by 3Dman_eu, “maze” by qimono, and “smartphone manipulation” by Funky Focus.

 

 

Summertime Prep for Music Ed Majors

Collegiates: You snooze, you lose!

After a well-deserved break from your academics and other college or work deadlines, music-2674872_1920_kevinbismnow would be the perfect time to explore supplemental resources and get a “head-start” on additional pre-service training for next fall. These tips are especially valuable to anyone entering his/her senior or final year as a music education major, finely honing in and marketing your skills as a professional in order to be prepared for finding and succeeding at your first job.

Actually I hate to admit it, I enjoy assigning college students a little “homework!” But, most of this you can do from the comfort of your patio, beach blanket, swimming pool lounge chair, or couch in the game room. With the exception of “getting your feet wet” and diving into enriching music teaching field experiences and a summer workshop or two, all you need is a pencil to take notes and a device with access to the Internet.

There’s a lot to-do right now, and you only have the rest of July and August. Please try to “keep your eyes on the target” and squeeze in a few of these self-improvement plans around your vacation trips (seven lessons – see sections below) :

  1. Summer practicum
  2. Conferences
  3. Online research
  4. Skill gap-filling
  5. Ethics training
  6. Digital archiving
  7. Interview prep

 

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1. Are you really ever “on vacation” from music education?

Most veteran music educators would respond with “NEVER!” We maintain our professionalism by participating in workshops, reading teacher journals and online articles, perusing lesson materials and new music, practicing and advancing our personal musicianship, undergoing technology “tune-ups,” and focusing on other career development. This is a 12-month, even 7-day process, and academic breaks when they appear on our calendar allow us to “double-down” in areas we need the most help.

“Hands-on” training not only “fills-up your resume” with primary employment/volunteer sources, but more importantly, exposes you to realistic opportunities to expand your skills and knowledge of the “best practices” in music education and leadership training, while building techniques for handling student motivation and discipline best learned from “the school of hard knocks.”music-3090204_1920_brendageisse

These placements don’t always come “knocking at your door.” Go out and seek a little adventure! For leads, talk to your high school band, string, or choir director. Your purpose is to find something that allows you some contact with children… free (usually) or paid, in or outside the field of music and the arts. Here are a few ideas:

  • Coach summer band sectionals, field rehearsals, marching or dance practices, etc.
  • “Put up your shingle” and teach private or small class music lessons.
  • Offer to arrange music or or provide choreography for local school drum-lines, marching bands and/or auxiliary units, or theater groups.
  • Sing in a community or church choir, and offer to help accompany, vocal coach, or conduct.
  • Sign-up to assist in local youth ballet, modern dance, or drama programs.
  • Sing, play, or teach solo or chamber music for summer religion or music camps, childcare facilities, hospitals, or senior citizen centers.
  • Volunteer (in almost any capacity) at a preschool or daycare center.

 

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2. The tools of the trade – CONFERENCES!

Summer is a GREAT time to grow your network of valuable opportunities for future collaboration, do a little goal setting, and “push the envelope” with professional development of the “latest and greatest” and “state of the art” music and methods.  The primary source for professional development is the education conference. There still may be time for you to find one close to you, perhaps in conjunction with a little sightseeing or visits with friends and relatives in the same city, like the following:

Thanks to www.takeflyte.com/reasons-to-attend-conferences, we know that attending workshop sessions are “good for you!” Participating in a conference helps you to…

  • Sharpen the saw (sharpen your skills – Stephen Covey’s seventh habit of highly effective people)
  • Meet experts and influencers face-to-face
  • pmeaMix and mingle to improve your networking opportunities
  • Find new tools and innovations
  • Learn in a New Space
  • Break out of your comfort zone
  • Be exposed to new tips and tactics
  • Relearn classic techniques with greater focus
  • Share experiences with like-minded individuals
  • Discover the value of the serendipity in a random workshop
  • Invest in yourself
  • Have fun!

If you really need any additional rationale for spending the money, click on the blog-post “Getting the Most Out of Music Conferences” at https://majoringinmusic.com/music-conferences/.

Finally, believe-it-or-not, you can bring the conferences to YOU! For the annual $20 subscription fee, you can view NAfME Academy professional development videos on almost any topic you can imagine. Check out the NAfME library of webinars: https://nafme.org/community/elearning/.

 

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3a. A winning website

The aforementioned Majoring in Music website is an excellent place to visit. It is amazingly extensive. You should read these articles for your “final year of prep.”

 

3b. These “awesome” resources are brought to you by NAfME

Besides the broad-based music subject matter and specific teaching skills, here’s some valuable advice, including how to “run a music program” (first link). I hope I am not stating the obvious: You should become a member of this national association for the advancement of music education.

 

Amplify

I also want to point you to the community discussion social media platform called Amplify, a benefit of NAfME membership. We are stockpiling a lot articles for college music education students, as well as sharing dialogue on everything from pedagogical issues to music equipment purchasing recommendations in both the collegiate member group and “music education central.” Go to https://nafme.org/introducing-amplify-largest-community-music-educators-country/.

 

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4. “Filling in the gaps”

Your music education methods courses and other college classes were never expected to provide 100% of the necessary tools to become a competent teacher in every setting. This spotlights the need for professionalism. Once you land a job, you will have to “catch-up” and seek additional training to improve those areas in which you feel inadequate or unfamiliar. You can begin NOW to explore a few of these areas while enjoying your less stressful off-campus schedule:

  • child-621915_1920_skeezeUnderstanding specific educational jargon and the latest approaches, applications, and technologies in the profession (e.g. Backwards Design, The Common Core, Whole Child Initiatives, Multiple Intelligences, Depth of Knowledge and Higher Order of Thinking Skills, Formative, Summative, Diagnostic, and Authentic Assessment, etc. – Do you know the meaning of these terms?)
  • Teaching outside your “major” area or specialty (e.g. instrumental music for voice students, etc.)
  • Comprehending behavior management techniques and suggestive preventive disciplinary procedures
  • Mastering the use of valid assessments (e.g. can you give specific examples of diagnostic, authentic, formative, and summative assessments?) as well as a variety of music rubrics and evaluative criteria
  • Knowing the provisions of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act and other confidentiality statutes, Individual Education Plans and service agreements, and accommodating students with disabilities

flute-2245032_1920_congerdesignYou need to ask yourself the question, “What are my greatest weaknesses in music education?” Or, to put it another way, “What school assignments would I feel the least confident to teach? After earning your state’s all-essential credential, your certificate will likely be general and only say “music Pre-K to Grade 12.” Administrators will expect you can “do it all” – introducing jazz improvisation at the middle school, accompany on the piano or guitar all of the songs in the grades 1-6 music textbook series, directing the marching band at the high school or the musical at the middle school, starting an elementary string program, etc.

Figure out and face your greatest fears or worse skill areas. Work on them now! Take a few lessons, join a new ensemble of the “uncomfortable specialty,” ask help from your peers, etc.

More about this was printed in a previous post: https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/2018/03/11/transitioning-from-collegiate-to-professional-part-ii/.

 

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5. The ABC’s of professional ethics

So far, have you been given any ethics training in college? Most pre-service educators only receive a cursory introduction to such things as codes of conduct, moral professionalism, guidelines to avoid conflicts in relationships with students, use of social media, confidentiality regulations, copyright infringement, pedagogical and economic decision-making, etc.

Now in my 46th year working in the field of music education (although retired from the public schools in 2013), I unblushingly admit I never had a full-blown course in ethics. Music colleagues have confirmed to me that it was barely (or not at all) touched-on in music methods classes, introduction to student teaching, school district orientation or induction sessions, or back-to-school in-service programs. choir-458173_1920-intmurrSince music teachers are all “fiduciaries” (do you know the meaning of the word?) and legally responsible for our “charges,” wouldn’t it be a good idea to review our state’s regulations and code of conduct, and hear about the challenges and pitfalls of ethical decision-making before we jump in and get “over our heads,” so-to-speak?

I can offer you two ways to immerse yourself into music education ethics. If you are a PCMEA or PMEA member and an “auditory learner,” you might prefer the FREE PMEA online webinar video (two-part) plus handouts at https://www.pmea.net/webinars/. Otherwise, visual learners and others may like this five-part blog series:

 

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6. “A picture says a thousand words” in marketing yourself

Have you been archiving your last several year’s of field assignments? Have you recorded numerous moments of teaching, music directing, performing, and working with students? Are you prepared for the coming year’s student teaching, getting ready to take still photos, audio samples, and video excerpts?

“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… 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.” – http://www.theeduedge.com/top-five-must-haves-top-five-could-haves-your-teacher-interview-portfolio/

As I mentioned in a previous blog, be careful to obtain permission in advance to video record students for your e-portfolio. During your field experiences or student teaching, little-girl-3043324_1920_Atlantiosask your cooperating teacher (or his/her supervisor’s) permission. Some school districts have “do not photo” rosters. (However, in my district, only a few elementary students were “on the list” and most defaulted to a “permissible” status unless the parent opted out. The principal’s secretary had a record of all exceptions.) It is also suggested that you focus your camera mostly on YOU and not the students, from the back of the classroom or rehearsal facility (possibly from afar), so that the student faces are not clearly discernible. To respect their privacy, in the recorded excerpts, do not use any segment announcing the names of your students.

What would be ideal to place on/in your website/e-portfolio? Show a wide spectrum of experience and training: elementary and/or middle school general music, band, choral and string ensembles (all grades), marching band, musicals, dance, music technology, piano and guitar accompanying, Dalcroze eurhythmics, Orff instruments, etc. Competency, versatility, and being well-rounded are the keys here.

 

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7. Teacher interviews – “practice makes perfect”

I have written a lot on the subjects of assembling a collection of your teaching anecdotes and stories, marketing your “personal brand,” and preparing for the employment screening process. (Have you wandered through the comprehensive listing at https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/becoming-a-music-educator/?)

However, I recently came upon several new-to-me online articles that summarize the basics. Please take a look at these:

After reading all of these (and compile your own list of interview questions), you should get together informally with your fellow juniors and seniors and hold mock interviews, record them, and jointly assess the “try out” of your interviewing skills to land a job.

Finally, have you recently updated your resume, and created (or revised) your professional business card, website, and e-portfolio?

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Okay, I admit it. I got a little carried away. You would need TEN SUMMERS to cover everything above. What’s that saying? “There’s never enough hours in a day…”

Hopefully these resources  and recommendations are helpful “food for thought!” You cannot accomplish anything by procrastination… or just “sleeping in!”

 

Many have said that aspiring to be a music educator is a lot like a “calling.” Using your summer “free time” is all about “professional engagement.” One of my superintendents said he expected prospective new music teacher recruits to show high energy, enthusiasm, sense of purpose, and dedication during the interview… even a supposed willingness to “lay down in front of a school bus” or “do whatever it takes” to make the students (and the educational program) successful. Regardless of the hyperbole, that’s engagement!

So, what are you waiting for? Pass the sunscreen and the ice tea. Then, after a quick swim, jog, round of golf, or game of tennis, get started on your summer assignments!

PKF

 

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© 2018 Paul K. Fox

 

Photo credits (in order) from Pixabay.com: “music” by ArtsyBee, “music” by KevinBism, “orchestra” by HeungSoon, “music” by brendageisse, “kids” by klimkin, “marching band” by sam99929, “guitar” by sunawang, “child” by skeeze, “flute” by congerdesign, “microphone” by klimkin, “choir” by intmurr, “band” by Pexels, “little girl” by Atlantios, “boy” by Silberfuchs, “children” by mochilazocultural, and “piano” by nightowl.

How Retirement Has Changed Me… Revisited

Part II: The reinvention continues… new perspectives, recent renovations, fun pathways, and more technology

Happy Thanksgiving to all! Enjoy your time with your family and friends next week!

I feel very blessed and thankful for my health, happiness, economic stability, and relative comfort. My wife and I have “weathered” the so-called “passage to retirement” with success and grace, and continue to explore finding life’s meaning to fulfill the three most important things a job usually provides (according to best-selling author Ernie Zelinski): purpose, community, and structure.

Back in July 2015, I wrote the introduction to this “personal trek” of post-employment transitioning, coping with life-style changes/altered expectations, and personal metamorphosis to “living the dream!” (You can review all of these articles by clicking on the “For Retirees” above.) Specifically on “how retirement has changed me,” nine months ago, I wrote “Part I – One retiree’s quest for learning technology, science, and history” (https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/2017/02/13/how-retirement-has-changed-me/), and can report “all is good” in progress on all of these fronts.

We all know personal growth is about curiosity, exploration and acceptance of change… so, now’s the time to report back. What have you been up to, Paul, since then?

 

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Writing, Collaborating, and Becoming a Better Techie

Here are a few quick check-marks to add to my post-employment technology portfolio:

  • I learned how to create a blog site and write blog articles
  • I learned how to use Zoom online and hold committee meetings on the web
  • I learned how to make a webinar video

To all current and future retirees, I strongly recommend venturing into the creative process of writing… and building a website to archive all of your “treasures.” Posting a blog is a perfect vehicle for getting something off your chest, promoting discussion on almost any topic, researching areas you always wanted to unearth, sharing your thoughts and experiences, and stating your opinion for the record using the Internet.

“The sky’s the limit” for the subjects you could present. What do you like to write about? It is probably easier to dive into the things that are closest to you, your “pet peeves” and passionate viewpoints, or perhaps drawing from the vast store of knowledge and competencies you developed in your music education career. My own “categories” on my website are “Becoming a Music Educator” (for pre-service and new music teachers), “Creativity,” “Ethics,” “Firesides” (epistles I have given to my students), and “For Retirees.”

Look into one of the free, “do-it-yourself” online sites like WordPress, Wix, Web, or Weebly.com. Unless you really want to, it is not necessary to pay for a domain name. However, if you want an easy-to-remember tagline (something everyone can remember), be creative with the title of a new Google email account (from which these web-creation services usually generate your website’s domain name). My professional email is paulkfox.usc@gmail.com, so WordPress removed the dot and created my website moniker as “paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com.”

My quest for further education in stimulating personal technological advances have included using services like “Doodle,” “Wufoo,” “Zoom” or “Go to Meeting” for collaborating with members of the Council for Teacher Training, Recruitment, and Retention, and submission of several videos which have been archived in the NAfME Academy Professional Development library (of which I am most proud):

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  • Marketing Your Professionalism for Collegiate Music Education Majors: Tips and Strategies to Prepare and Present Yourself for Interviewing and Landing That First Music Teacher Job (two-part video)
  • Preparing for a Smooth Transition to Retirement
  • Supercharge the School Musical

 

Non-Technological Developments

No, I’m not dead yet. Retirement has provided me many rich new set of pursuits and brain-stimulating activities. Some of these activities are intellectual, some physical, and some just wear out my wallet!

How to spend large amounts of our monthly pension? In other dimensions of personal development, my wife and I are slowly renovating our house, finally getting around to making decisions on colors, styles and its overall presentation. When I was a full-time music teacher, I didn’t spend a lot of time at my home. Now in retirement, I have discovered how much it costs to frame a picture, especially if the only criteria when choosing a frame is the beauty of the wood grain and how well you match the double matting to the lithograph. (Without asking the price, I bought a $800 frame for my $125 Charles Wysocki print!)  Taking the high road, we hired a professional to securely hang things on the wall, another very expensive process when your interior decorator ($75/hour) accompanies your installer ($50/hour) to do the job, but all is “perfect” and no marital disputes erupted! After refinishing the floors, installing new windows, painting all the walls, “staging” several rooms (new transformations), and finally finishing the wall-hangings, it looks like the Foxes have a “showcase” residence.

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Raising two cute dogs have become a centerpiece of my life. We need to walk them several times a day, something on which you can’t procrastinate. One would think this regular physical exercise is part of an aerobic routine that is keeping me super-fit!

I have learned so much from my day-to-day dealings with my pups Gracie and Brewster (see previous blog-post https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/2015/09/22/what-i-have-learned-from-my-dogs-in-retirement/), although inspiring a few questions:

  1. How do they always know my mood and needs better than I?
  2. No matter when you glance at them, what moves them to show you unconditional “love at first sight,” instantly lowering your blood pressure, nurturing your peace-of-mind, and improving your disposition?
  3. Since dogs have no lips, how are they so aptly able to express a loving kiss with a simple lick of our hands?
  4. How is it that they are always available (24/7) to cuddle, play, sleep in your lap, explore the mysterious ends of their leashes, and follow you everywhere?
  5. Regardless of the mistakes you make, why are they the first to forgive you?

And all they ask in return is to “hang around with you!”

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Just for fun, check out illustrator Kelly Angel’s representation of “how your dog views you” at https://www.boredpanda.com/how-you-see-yourself-vs-how-your-dog-sees-you/.

Although I volunteer as the founding director of the South Hills Junior Orchestra and teach “kids of all ages” on Saturdays every week, one of my other volunteer pursuits centers around pushing wheelchairs at the local hospital. The good news? I see so many of my students and their families at St. Clair Hospital. My favorite trip is going to the family birth center and discharging a new mother and her baby… and with surprising frequency, reuniting a former student or colleague with their “old” school music teacher or community orchestra director. Any bad news? Well, I am still puzzled why I have lost a little of my stamina and endurance since retiring. After only a little more than 3 1/2 hours of pushing wheelchairs (some of whom contain very large patients), I notice I am ready for a power nap! This does not mesh well with my employment days when I was teaching full-time, arriving to school by 6:45 in the morning, and often did not make it home until 9 PM (after-school rehearsals, meetings and performances of the marching band, fall play, and spring musical. What’s up about that?

 

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Philosophy of Post-Employment Professional Engagement

“Ask not PMEA can do for you, but what you can do for PMEA.”

Where have you heard that before? Sounds like something from the soapbox of the PMEA Retired Member Coordinator? (Check out “PMEA in Retirement”).

The most important part of my long-term goals is to try to make a difference in other people’s lives… colleagues, collegiate or pre-service educators, and others.  As for PMEA, I’m throwing my hat in the ring as your Coordinator of Retired Members. In addition, I accidentally walked into a summer meeting a little more than a year ago and was voted in as chair of the Council for Teacher Training, Recruitment, and Retention. This is an exciting time in during PMEA’s new governance and recently ratified five-year strategic plan. We have the opportunity of doing some real meaningful work for music education in the state of Pennsylvania.

I hope that you continue to participate in PMEA and NAfME yourself. Obviously, once we “Cross the Rubicon” into retirement, we need not to worry about the hectic day-to-day schedule, politics, and stress of a full-time teaching position. However, we can make a difference, acting less engaged but still on-board helping our professional associations and advocating for the success of music education. PA music teachers (the focus of many of these blogs), please consider keeping your membership up-to-date, joining the PMEA Retiree Resource Registry, volunteering for guest conducting, presenting sessions, doing other jobs for PMEA, an/or attending official events.

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In a recent Retired Member Network eNEWS, I mentioned that as unofficial mentors and sage advisers, there are many ways retired members can “return the favor” of a career full of wonderfully enriching professional development and music festival resources, simply by helping PMEA out a little:

  1. Review the five-year PMEA Strategic Plan – posted online at https://www.pmea.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/PMEA-Strategic-Plan-2017-21-Final-1.pdf. Focus on possible things in which you may have the skills or interests to contribute to our profession, and propose something new “for the good of the order.” Here are sample objectives – any of these “strike a chord” with you?
    • 1E. Continue to improve and find new and innovative ways to engage PMEA members in advocacy efforts including Advocacy Day in Harrisburg and Music in Our Schools Month activities (“team-up” with retiree Chuck Neidhardt, PMEA State MIOSM Coordinator).
    • 2A. Explore topics of lifelong learning (music therapy, community music, service learning…)
    • 2E. Focus on topics of Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access by providing space for dialogue, reaching more students beyond traditional ensembles, and identifying and promoting success stories and appropriate practices.
    • 3B. Investigate possibilities of various partnerships with other music associations.
    • 3E. Develop leadership (e.g. retreat and training sessions).
    • 4B. Promote and expand the Music Performance Assessment program (e.g. solo and chamber ensemble opportunities, virtual MPA’s, and traveling adjudicators).
  2. Still have your “conductor chops?” One way to encourage your colleagues to think of you in becoming a guest director or accompanist of a PMEA festival is to join the PMEA Retiree Resource Registry (see the retired member section of the website at https://www.pmea.net/retired-members/) and send an email sharing your interest and availability to the District President and the local Festival/Fest Coordinator.
  3. Did you know that anyone can suggest a session for a local workshop or PMEA spring and summer conference? (See the PMEA website.) What’s on your mind? What do you think is important to explore, collaborate, or exhibit? I know of few PMEA retired members who do not have a “special expertise” and passion about an area in music and education. Go ahead, “let the cat out of the bag” while it is still “fresh” in your mind!
  4. Submit articles or reviews to our PMEA News editorial committee chair Doug Bolasky (also a retiree) for publication consideration in our state journal. Like #3 above, this is an excellent outlet to “get something off your chest,” promote discussion on almost any topic, research areas you always wanted to unearth, share your thoughts and experiences, and state your opinion “for the record.”
  5. Offer to serve on a PMEA committee. For example, volunteer to serve on the listening or session evaluation committee. Prefer to stay “close to home?” Ask your District President if you can be appointed to (or be placed on the ballot for) one of the many leadership positions in need of caring, committed, and competent representatives. Also, PMEA always needs guest lecturers, panel discussion members, presiding chairs, and info booth volunteers for the spring conference.

 

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In short… we need you, your collective wisdom, experience, and the ability to dodge problems before they become big. Sure, relax a little, personally reflect, refocus, and revitalize your goals during your retirement, but don’t retreat from “doing your bit” for “making a difference” in music education.

PKF

© 2017 Paul K. Fox

 

Photo credits from Pixabay.com: “grandparents” by Marvin Roaw and “senior” by RitaE.