People change jobs for various reasons. When the time comes to change jobs, business and stress can take over. As with many new experiences, there isn’t always an owner’s manual for what to do.
Furthermore, emotions on different sides cloud judgment and make the process even more difficult. Below are some things to consider when pursuing or accepting a new job.
Leaving a position can be difficult, while starting a new job can be exciting. Many people want to share the news. My advice is to keep it to yourself as long as possible, and when you start to tell anyone, start with your inner circle.
I subscribe to the thought that only one person can keep a secret. One time, I met with a trusted administrator, asked them for a letter of recommendation, and requested that they keep this under wraps. They assured me that this would be confidential. By the end of the day, the entire admin team and most teachers knew that I was applying for another position. I then had to deal with some additional meetings, rumors and other distractions that took away from my primary focus.
We are working for businesses that don’t want to spend more money than they deem necessary. Do your research before becoming emotionally invested in a potential new job. For example, the new job may start you at the bottom of the pay scale. Also, look at the max number of years of service credit the school offers — on the high end, this might be 15 years. Run some financial projections on what you would be making, gaining or losing, and determine what you can handle before getting too excited about the new position.
Salary and personal/professional satisfaction do not always go hand in hand. There are certainly schools that may pay you more, but schedule, benefits and overall building climate are less than ideal. In other cases, the work environment is excellent, but the pay is low. Ideally, you want great pay and a great working environment, but you may have to choose. Ask yourself which is more important.
There isn’t much room to negotiate in terms of education pay and benefits in public schools, but you can always ask about years of service. I have heard of some districts granting teachers all their years of service.
Some loneliness can set in at your current job after you announce that you are leaving. Your colleagues will undoubtedly care, but they also have to continue their careers and life paths as well. I have had coworkers stop talking to me once they learned that I was leaving. You may find that some colleagues will be upset with your decision to leave. Their attitude may be because your resignation or other choice reflects on them, and they may subconsciously question their own decisions. Their attitude doesn’t matter because they aren’t paying your bills. Continue on your path — not everyone will understand.
Remember that oftentimes friendship is easy when it’s convenient. In other words, it’s easier to be friends with people who are physically close to you like colleagues and neighbors.
Don’t be surprised if you have little interaction with people from previous jobs who you thought were good friends. It will be on YOU to continue fostering these relationships if you choose to. These people are not bad — you have exited their environment, and many relationships rely on convenience and proximity.
Changes in friend groups can be difficult to deal with. Luckily, a new job comes with so much responsibility that you may be too busy to suffer the loss. And, a new job comes with new people. Luckily for you, people always want to meet the new music teacher.
One of my mentors, Mike Fiske, retired director of bands at Joliet Central High School in Illinois, offered the best advice about changing jobs: “When you leave and go somewhere new, all of your credibility is left behind.” This can be a tough pill to swallow when changing positions, especially if you were successful at your previous school.
Parents and students at your new school will test you — don’t take it personally. Like you, they are also dealing with change. It would be best to play by their rules before establishing new traditions or bringing new flavors to things.
Students might challenge many of the changes you want to implement. It helps to be aware of the teacher you are replacing and the program’s history. If the program was successful and everyone loved the previous director, don’t change too much at first. If you do, be ready to hear complaints from students and parents. Again, it’s not personal — people tend to think about what they’re losing rather than what they will be gaining. Be patient and guide them through this.
Even with many years of teaching experience, you’ll feel like a rookie at a new job. However, you’ll be able to navigate the waters quickly. I’ve worked at four schools. They all had different procedures for securing buses, entering financial transactions and requesting field trips, but the process for each was the same. (And most of these things will be covered in the new teacher training.)
Ask questions, be aware of the process and use the new school’s procedures. Many people waste a lot of mental energy wishing the new procedures were the same as the old, familiar processes. Acceptance is the way to move past this.
When I started my first teaching job, I didn’t know the answers to questions, and I didn’t know what questions to ask. In the next two to three years, I still didn’t know the answers to questions, but I did know what questions to ask. In other words, during the first few years of your teaching career, you don’t know what you don’t know.
Administrators at your current school may want to quickly start the hiring process to find your replacement. They have a lot of work to do, so I don’t blame them for this. However, you need to do what is best for you. Do not get rushed into submitting a letter of resignation until after you are board-approved by your new position.
When I changed jobs the first time, I wasn’t sure how to “quit” my job. I stressed about writing the perfect letter of resignation. In reality, the letter serves to leave the job and protect your remaining pay and benefits. My advice is to be direct, to the point and give a quick thank you for the opportunity.
Here’s a sample script:
Let’s break down a few things with this letter. I resign from the position at the beginning of the letter. I then provide a heartfelt, but brief, thank you. I don’t burn any bridges, nor do I make any demands. I did the job, my time doing the job is coming to an end, and the letter is making it official.
But the crucial part is the date. As long as you are switching jobs in the middle of the school year, date your letter on the last day of your contract. If you’re unsure of this date, look at your contract or ask a trusted colleague. Why is this important? Benefits and access to your data. How do I know this? Because one time, I made the mistake of resigning from a position “effective at the end of the school year.” The school board accepted this and notified me that they would pay me to the end of my contract but that my insurance benefits would expire in May. My insurance benefits with my new job would not begin until August/September. My wife was pregnant, and we were extremely anxious about going three months without insurance. After some phone calls to the HR department, administration and countless other helpers in my current district, I was allowed to submit a corrected letter of resignation dated to the end of my contract. Correcting my error took a lot of extra work, but I greatly appreciated my current district administrators and staff for helping me — they didn’t have to do this.
When leaving a position, back up important files to a few different mediums, including online cloud storage, hard drives or thumb drives. Once these files are gone, it is challenging — and sometimes impossible — to get back.
If you have files on an online drive, make sure to copy them or change ownership of the drive. I have lost essential files because the school shut access to my old email address, and that was the only account registered to the files.
Usually, school districts will close your email either near the end of your contract or sometime soon after. If you have important emails that you would like to save, forward them to another email address. You can download some large files, but these can be difficult to open on different programs.
Finally, ensure that you leave access to essential files for your replacement. Documents such as your instrument inventory, music library and any crucial templates are extremely helpful to an incoming teacher. You don’t have to go overboard with prepping materials for your replacement, but try not to make the job harder for them.
One of the hardest things to work through when you leave a position is your students’ emotions, which are amplified for a teacher who has taught students over multiple years or has spent extended time with them in extracurricular musical groups. Your students will go through the entire emotional spectrum when a change happens.
I was prepared for students to be sad when I announced that I would be leaving, but I was not prepared for their anger. The students who were angry later told me that they felt abandoned and didn’t know how to deal with this. Yet, they pulled through and are doing OK. This is the important part — they will be OK. They are just emotionally invested in their program and YOU.
If you secure a new job before the end of the school year, you might be witness to a new candidate going through the interview process to replace you. This process could be anything from interviewing in a committee to doing a conducting interview in front of the ensemble. Be prepared for this. Although you are leaving the school, it can be tough watching the process of filling your position.
Push through to the end! When something new and exciting is on the horizon, you may feel motivation drop in your current position. Think about what you would tell your students and expect of them. I always want to be remembered as someone who didn’t “check out” before the school year was over.
When your last day comes, try to schedule some time for yourself at the school. Double-check that you have all your things, and before turning in your keys, spend some time reflecting in your soon-to-be former classroom. And when it’s time to leave, go and start your next chapter.
Another emotional situation to be aware of is buyer’s remorse. Buyer’s remorse often sets in when things are tough at the new job during the first few months, and you miss your old colleagues and the sense of familiarity at your old school.
Everyone is different, but for me, November usually marked the time when I came to accept that I made the right move. After winter break, I still had some work to do, but the second semester reset undoubtedly helped with this.
However, in one job, I could not convince myself that I had made the right move.I gave this position a two-year shot, but it was not the best move. I felt like I was stuck. However, …
Another one of my mentors, Dr. Charles Menghini, the former director of bands at VanderCook College of Music in Chicago, always told me, “It’s a job, not a life sentence.” You’re never stuck.
He was right. The more experience you have, the more difficult it may be to leave a job based on pay, location, etc., but there is always a choice. It just may be a difficult choice. In the situation described above, I chose to leave and find a position that I could be more comfortable with. This may seem like a short time to be at one position, but ultimately it was what was right for me.
You go in, you do the job and then you leave. Leaving may mean retiring after 35 years, or it may mean seeking a new job after two years. Don’t focus on whether you are blissfully happy day in and day out — every job has its ups and downs — instead, ask yourself if you are in a place where you can progress and make an impact on yourself, the students and the community. If you are, then consider yourself lucky!
Do you have any additional advice for music educators who are looking to change jobs? Email your tips and suggestions to email@example.com.