Retirement… It’s a Private Matter!

 

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

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

When are you going to retire?

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

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

And, it’s none of their business.

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

You will be compelled to officially state your intentions.

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

What is your legacy?

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

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

You truly “made a difference.”

PKF

© 2018 Paul K. Fox

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

 

 

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The Professional Website

Pre-Service Music Educators Looking for Employment: Build a Web Platform to Promote Your “Brand”

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According to Wikipedia, “an electronic portfolio (also known as an eportfolio, e-portfolio, digital portfolio, or online portfolio) is a collection of electronic evidence assembled and managed by a user, usually on the Web. Such electronic evidence may include input text, electronic files, images, multimedia, blog entries, and hyperlinks. E-portfolios are both demonstrations of the user’s abilities and platforms for self-expression. If they are online, users can maintain them dynamically over time. One can regard an e-portfolio as a type of learning record that provides actual evidence of achievement…”

A couple years ago, I wrote a blog about the “perfect portfolio” for getting a job at https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/2015/11/15/planning-the-perfect-professional-portfolio/. As a review, these elements were endorsed for inclusion in an e-portfolio:

  • Educational philosophy
  • Résumé or Curriculum Vitaeinternet-1181586_1920_the digitalartist
  • Letters of recommendation
  • College transcripts
  • Praxis® exam results
  • Copy of teaching certificate(s)
  • Artifacts of student work
  • Classroom observation documents/evaluations
  • Statement about class management theory (discipline) and the steps that you would take inside your classroom to create a safe and orderly environment
  • Letters from parents commending the work you did with their children
  • Samples of student assessments/rubrics
  • Excerpts (short video or audio recordings) of you performing on your major instrument/voice, solo and chamber recitals, piano accompanying, playing in college ensembles, and especially teaching in as many settings as possible: small and large group instrumental (band and strings), choral ensembles, elementary classroom lessons, extracurricular activities like marching band and musical, private lessons, etc.
  • Pictures (quote from http://www.theeduedge.com/top-five-must-haves-top-five-could-haves-your-teacher-interview-portfolio/): “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 business-15822_1920_PublicDomainPicturesmusical or athletic events, coaching or working with children in a coaching capacity, as a leader and role model.”

As I said in my article, all of this is “perfect fodder for marketing yourself” at future employment interviews. Do you have “what it takes” to be a professional music teacher?” In your opinion, what makes you qualified (“a good fit”) for a position in our institution?”

I also recommend you revisiting my blog-post “Tips on Personal Branding” at https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/2015/12/16/tips-on-personal-branding/ for steps on warehousing the elements of your “professional brand.”

If your college does not set you up with a free online site, consider a “do-it-yourself” website creator from one of these, and read the rest of this blog-post:

  • WordPress.com
  • Wix.com
  • Weebly.com
  • SquareSpace.com
  • Web.com
  • Yola.com
  • GoDaddy.com
  • eHost.com
  • Site123.com

WordPress is a popular “open source” solution. This means you will need to independently set up a server, download a third party template, manage updates, set up a domain name, and configure everything on your own. This is what I did for this paulkfoxusc blog-site, and I paid zero for a domain name… but more on that later.

 

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The Essential Step-by-Step Guide to Making Your Own Website

One of my favorite online “instruction manuals” for building a website comes from Christopher Heng’s “How to Start / Create a Website: The Beginner’s A-Z Guide” at  https://www.thesitewizard.com/gettingstarted/startwebsite.shtml. Their steps:

  1. Get Your Domain Name.
  2. Choose a Web Host and Sign Up for an Account.
  3. Designing your Web Pages.
  4. Testing Your Website.
  5. Collecting Credit Card Information, Making Money (not needed for us?).
  6. Getting Your Site Noticed.

This should be required reading… but take it slow, and click on all of the secondary links.

Some website builders and managers offer e-commerce and other special features. For a professional website to post your experience and accomplishments, you can avoid the extra cost of these nonessential additional web tools.

web-1738168_1920_CyberRabbitIf you can afford it, purchasing a simple domain name like your first and last name (something easy to remember) would be a great idea. Prospective employers will not have to write down a bunch of numbers, know your birthday, learn your nickname, etc. to find your e-portfolio. If you have an unique middle name or surname, you might luck out and be able to snag (and register) the perfect domain name. This was not possible for me! Do you know how many Paul Fox’s (even Paul K. Fox) are “out there” already taken?

In the process of obtaining an available email label, if needed, try rearranging your name (e.g. listing the last name first?), placing dots between the first and last name, etc.

 

Strategies for Saving Money and Seeking Tech Help

If you are like me, lacking a little confidence about advanced online technology or mastering a complicated website building program, read the following article for a general review of the process and terminology. Take the afternoon off (order a pizza, too) and totally consume it and “A Beginner’s Guide to Creating a WordPress Website” at https://www.smashingmagazine.com/2016/02/beginners-guide-creating-wordpress-website/#article-wpcom-wporg.

I suppose it would be fair to say that college students are not “made out of money,” so going to a professional website designer is probably “out of the picture,” even though this is one of your most essential tools for successfully communicating your brand! Are you going to lay out some big bucks for an impressive looking resume and business card?

However, have you considered the alternative of asking for help from your roommate, class buddy, or other student acquaintance who is majoring in communications? (Would “free pizza” be enough incentive for someone to sit down with you and get you started?)

The most cost-effective approach may be to sign-up for their FREE plan and self-hosting within the WordPress.com environment. (I am still amazed that this entire blog-site of mine, now archiving more than 73 articles, has been 100% free!)

If you desire more features, a free domain name, and no advertising on your site, you can upgrade to a monthly plan for WordPress (or any of the above providers).

 

 

WordPress.com plans

 

For me, WordPress was/is an easy application to use. You do not have to learn a programming language or fancy commands to format your menus and text. There are a lot of samples you can (almost literally) copy. The hard part is just… GETTING STARTED!

One of the first decisions you have to make is to establish a domain name. If you decide to be “cheap” (like me), just create a Google email account with a suitably professional name. If it is available, you set-up one like “first name” + “middle name” + “last name” + “music educator” or something else appropriate. Dots can be inserted as dividers in an email address. Shortly before I retired (and would lose my school email account), I found that paulkfox.usc@gmail.com was available. (USC is where I taught and continue to live.)

It should be noted here that “partying tuba player” and “crazy singer” are probably not good “professional names.” If you need help, just ask your grandmother what she thinks is appropriate. Remember: teaching is one of the most conservative of professions!

WordPressTo create your web site’s identity, WordPress will remove the dots and add their company’s moniker “.wordpress.com” at the end of your email name. That is how https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com was born!

Your next choice will be the theme, style, and features of your website… probably challenging because there are so many free templates available. Check these out:

As an example, for this site, I use the FREE “Nucleare” theme by CrestaProject. Their description is the following: “Nucleare is a classic blog theme with a crisp, elegant design and plenty of handy features. A built-in search box, links to your favorite social networks, four widget areas, and beautifully styled post formats make this an ideal theme for your personal blog.” Nucleare also supports the following features:

  • Site logo
  • Social Links Menu
  • Post Formats
  • Custom Menus
  • Widgets
  • Custom Header
  • Custom Background
  • Full-Width Page Template

 

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A Model Music Teacher Website

Educators love it when one of their students leave their classroom and choose to become a significant contributing member to our “exalted” profession! I felt blessed and privileged to have had the opportunity of teaching David Dockan, a trumpet player in both our Upper St. Clair High School orchestra and marching band. He validated some of my advice for marketing himself to land a job, and has created a super website. Go to http://www.daviddockan.com/ and use the password “Music” to view his e-portfolio.

His menu sections:

  • Home (Introduction)
  • Teaching (General, Choral, Instrumental, assigned schools, Private Lessons)
  • Philosophy
  • Musicianship (Performance, Conducting)
  • Resume
  • Contact

A trumpet teacher colleague of mine, Ryan Wolf, messaged me on Facebook after he read the initial posting of this blog. He said he had great success hosting his professional website on Yola.com, but he maintains his e-portfolio on his Google Drive to make it easy to share.

In conclusion, I offer a few more recommendations for your consideration:

  1. Proofread your online presence very carefully… misspellings, bad punctuation, grammar mistakes, or poorly formatted displays would be negative PR and a detriment to your marketing plan.
  2. Websites require frequent updates. Keep yours up-to-date at all times!
  3. Print the link to your professional website on your business card and resume.
  4. Consider placing a Q-Code on your business card that, if scanned on a smartphone, would redirect your contact or prospective employer to your website.
  5. Be careful to obtain permission in advance to video record students for your e-portfolio. During your field experiences or student teaching, ask your cooperating teacher (or his/her supervisor’s) permission. Some schools 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.
  6. maintenance-2422172_1920_geraltShowing your versatility, try to assemble a collection of still photos, audio examples, and videos that ideally represent all specialties in music education: choral, dance, general music, concert band and string instrumental, marching band, jazz, theater, etc., and demonstrate your proficiency in multiple settings at all grade levels.
  7. There are many blog-sites with tips on “curb appeal” – layout and design, style, overall impact, style, user-friendliness, etc. Since this involves a cross between artistry and efficiency, these advisors may not agree (one says use large images, another suggests smaller pictures mean faster loading speeds). A few samples:

If you were introducing a new “widget” to the market or promoting a sales campaign, you would spend a lot of time (and money) on advertising. A website and e-portfolio are a job hunter’s advertisement tool. Take advantage of any chance you have to present your personal brand, “sell yourself,” and connect with colleagues in the field of education. Archive your training, successes, and goals. Show off your professionalism, proficiency, and personality to prospective HR people and the decision-makers that hire future staff. Be sure to provide “live demos” of your traits of artistry, collaboration, commitment, discipline, even-temperament, initiative, leadership, mastery of music and education, organization, positive outlook, style, tact, and teamwork.

Good luck!!

PKF

© 2018 Paul K. Fox

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Photo credits (in order) from Pixabay.com: “men” by photoshootings, “beautiful” by PublicDomainPictures, “internet” by thedigitalartist, “business” by PublicDomainPictures, “turn-on” by geralt, “web” by CyberRabbit, “iPad” by fancycrave1, “maintenance” by geralt, and “people” by Akshay93.