In announcing his retirement, music legend Paul Simon told The New York Times:
“It’s an act of courage to let go. I am going to see, who am I? Or am I just this person that was defined by what I did? And if that’s gone, if you have to make up yourself, who are you?”
Who Are You?
Many music educators struggle with Simon’s dilemma – are we defined solely by our musical careers? Whether we are at the beginning, middle, or near the end of our career, will we only be known as “the band director at XYZ school,” and is that enough?
Let’s face it, many music educators believe their jobs are 24/7, leaving little time for outside interests unrelated to music, including personal and family time. But does it have to be that way? I hope not, because learning how to save time for yourself not only makes you a better person, but it also makes you a better teacher.
So how do you create a life outside of music? This article provides a general overview of six areas to consider.
Change Your Beliefs
First, examine your preconceptions about a career in music education. Do you hold any of these beliefs?
- In order to be a great teacher, I must devote every single waking hour to music.
- Outside interests take away from my efforts as a teacher.
- Every aspect of my life must revolve around music.
- Only inefficient, unorganized teachers complain about the workload.
- Developing a peak performing program can only be achieved through total dedication.
But how rooted in truth are these beliefs? Certainly, music educators must focus time and energy on teaching, but time spent away from the classroom will re-energize and revitalize your teaching. Additionally, paying attention to your personal relationships is important to overall life satisfaction, which in turn, enhances your professional life. Therefore, it is in your best interest to live a well-rounded life not defined solely by your musical career. To do so, consider the following suggestions.
Design Your Life with the End in Mind
How do you envision your life as a music educator? Is it filled with a variety of marvelous experiences and relationships that occur while you enjoy teaching music? If so, what steps are you going to take today to make that future vision a reality?
To get you started, make a list of ten things you’ve always wanted to do, but never had the time. The list should be simple, doable, and unrelated to your music career. Jotting these ideas down will get you thinking about the life you can have outside of your music career.
Next, subscribe to the belief that reserving time for you and your significant others is as important as your music career. To do so, carve out time to make them a priority.
Creating more time for you and others means that you must rank your musical responsibilities. Start by focusing on high-leverage events that benefit and showcase student musical growth. Does my group really need to sing or play eight songs for the concert? Is that fifth competition really in the best interests of you and your students? Can you pare down extra rehearsal time into a reasonable schedule that doesn’t burn out you or your students?
Become a Student Again
We went into a career in education because we love learning. But learning doesn’t stop once we start teaching. To bring learning back into your life again try becoming a student again. Develop new interests and hobbies and take courses unrelated to music. Adding a different dimension to your life will give you a renewed enthusiasm for teaching music and life in general!
Work Smarter, Not Harder
Realize you can’t do it all – you alone are not the savior of music education, so enlist help from your students. Give them more responsibility for the ensemble’s success by involving them in setting clear learning targets for rehearsals and practices. Also, know your group’s strengths and weaknesses and select music more in line with group abilities. Doing this will reduce frustration (for both you and your students) and make rehearsal time more efficient.
Start Small and Change One Thing
You can’t reinvent the universe overnight, so begin slowly. Consider, as did Paul Simon, the question – am I just a person who is defined by my career? Is that who you want to be?
If your answer indicates change is necessary, there’s no time like the present to take that first step toward making a positive adjustment in your life.