role playing

R – Role playing… I think that we as music educators do this better than anyone else I can think of. The variety of hats we wear seems to transcend anyone else’s definition of “normal” except for ours. Think about it: our discipline often plays the role of both curricular and co-curricular. Our expertise exists simultaneously in music performance, creation and responding. We are performers and conductors both. We are educating our students, administrators and communities. Juggling all these and other roles can be daunting under any circumstance. For our profession, doing it all and doing it well is ingrained in us and we pay a price for that. I remember as an undergraduate going to the infirmary my Junior year. I was feeling awful physically and I knew someone had better do a quick check up on me. When I arrived, I told the nurse my symptoms and that I had been really quite busy with my studies. I’ll never forget that when I finished, she looked at me for a moment in silence and then said, “Let me guess – you’re a music student, right?”

Finding a balance in our role playing is the key to our success – and survival. Here are a few suggestions for appropriate hats to wear and strategies for keeping invigorated in the process.

Know your job. Compartmentalize those issues that are absolutely expected of you in your school. There are many roles that are “understood” that we have to do, but do they align with reality? Remember that EVERYTHING you do must fall under your contracted or stipended responsibilities. You may choose to go above and beyond, but you must make it clear to yourself what roles you are playing. Burnout occurs at a faster rate when you take on assumed responsibilities against your wishes or better judgment. Don’t. Take a stance and make it clear whose role it really is that others are expecting you to take on. For example, you are hired to teach music and putting on concerts is a related component – NOT the other way around. Take a stand! If your school doesn’t give you enough time to instruct authentic music education and put on a reasonable concert, make sure it’s the concert that gets eliminated, not the quality of instruction (and see how quickly the time issues then get addressed!). Know your job, know your role!

Go outside the box. Find at least one professional piece to add to your resume and body of experiences each year. Selfishly from my perspective this is a wonderful reason to be involved in NAfME, the Arts Assessment Initiative or District activities, but the gamut may run from managing a District ensemble to performing on your primary instrument in a community or semiprofessional ensemble. The benefits are many by doing this: meaningful engagement with colleagues, giving back to an organization or ensemble of your abilities or talents, peer mentoring, working with students in a new environment. You can’t use the excuse that there’s no opportunities for this – give me a call or send me an e-mail and I’ll set you up with something! But honestly, being involved outside of your school or studio enables you to incorporate unique perspectives that will keep you fresh in the long run.

Know your life… and your job is not it! Among the bad habits I have fallen into again and again over the last 25 years is failing to keep my professional world separate from my personal one. It isn’t that there aren’t overlaps, it’s that they aren’t one and the same thing. I’ve attempted to incorporate some healthy habits along the way. For example, with only a few exceptions each year, I refuse to bring schoolwork home with me. My home is just that, and I don’t believe that isolating that space from my job is being selfish. I may stay after school quite a few hours to get my schoolwork done if I choose(!), but I won’t bring it home. Foster your life so that your role outside of school is unique, rewarding and revitalizing. Without this role firmly isolated and in place, I submit that you will never find that healthy balance.

None of these three points are radical or new ideas. But as I look at my peers in the field, I have been moved by the professionalism, initiative, conviction and commitment that is displayed in so many ways. My concern for the future of Music Education in Maine lies not in the willingness of the membership to fight the good fight, but rather to see that the membership stays mentally and physically fresh while working so hard. I hope you will use this school year to develop strategies for playing your variety of roles while maintaining that great balance we all strive for.

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