Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks:
Going into a New Position After Years in a Previous One


First of all, it's been more than a year since I have posted in my blog or kept up with my store. But the good news is: I have finally completed my Ph.D.! It was a terrific, terrifying, rewarding, and revealing process for me, one about which I will blog later. As I was working on my dissertation, many other things had to take a back burner, and that's OK!

So, 2018-2019 has brought quite a few changes for my family. My oldest daughter and her husband will be moving closer to home. My youngest got married in fall, 2018 (so I cheat on the year a little). We adopted an adorable 2-year-old mama dog in 2018. I completed my Kodály Level III in 2019. AND, I graduated with my Ph.D. AND retired! Well, maybe not.....

The game plan my husband and I developed for me several years ago was to get my Ph.D., work three years, and then retire with that nice bump in retirement salary (our three highest years figures into our retirement). Because it took longer to complete my Ph.D. than I thought, I retired when I obtained it. Unfortunately (or fortunately?), higher education positions were not readily available for me. So, as I decided to pull my Missouri Public School Retirement on the good old rule of 80 (age+ number of years in), I decided I wasn't quite ready to retire from teaching. I had some things left I wanted to do. So, I decided to apply for a position in the St. Louis Public Schools, which has its own retirement system. And obtained a position!

I'm excited and a little nervous. I'm leaving a district in which I taught for 25 years. I'm leaving rural/quasi-suburban teaching for urban teaching. I'm going from beginning a career in which the worst discipline issue was talking to just leaving and subsequently walking into issues of anger management, trauma, and other issues no children should see. Why? I love kids and music teaching, but I digress. How does one handle such a situation when one was pretty much set in a routine? I decided to ask some music teachers how they handled it.

Sarah and her family moved to be closer to her family after 10 years in the same district. She found scheduling very difficult, because she had to get used to a new routine and new ensembles. Sarah found a planner to be a lifesaver. She also suggests finding new colleagues who know the routine, but are also very supportive. If you can find fellow music teachers in the district, that's perfect! If not, in my own life, I find other specials teachers or classroom teachers who have kids involved in music to be very sympathetic and understanding.

Dana also started a new position after having been in the same district for 10 years. Her words of advice: do not compare your new students to your former students. It is not fair to the new students,obviously, and is along the same lines as your new students comparing you to the former teacher. She also suggests developing new lesson plans, because the old lesson plans may not work. My insert:find ways to discover new, unique individual traits in your students and your position. Depending on who was there previously, you may need to revamp your scaffolding (this from my friend, Lisa). This might be the opportunity to delve into something new that you've wanted to do, but had difficulty implementing because of the routine you had established in your old position.

Monica transferred to a private school position after teaching 9 years in a rural Title One school and found quite a few surprises. Her suggestions include:

  • Finding what is "tradition" in the school.Ask parents, teachers, and administrators, and do it "their way" for the first year, gradually implementing your own ideas.
  • When you do make changes, consult the administration and explain why you are implementing changes
  • If you get a classroom, set it up your way. As she explains, it's your day-to-day environment that is very helpful in the transition.
  • Always response positively to comments about your predecessor, whether the comments are positive or negative.
Genevieve was unexpectedly transferred after 6 years. She had established a pretty solid program in her previous position and had to readjust. This type of job change takes more emotional adjustment. She suggests:
  • allowing yourself a grieving process. As she notes, music teachers develop strong relationships with their students over years. In her case, she was not allowed closure, and that is especially difficult for the teacher and the student. 
  • understanding that, although you may not feel like being fully engaged with students or colleagues in your new position, the best teaching relies on those relationships. Reach out to understanding people.
  • acknowledging that even if your teaching will look different than it did in the past, the children WILL still love you and you will have adults who appreciate you. And she emphasizes "You CAN do it!"
As I read these words of advice, I realized, an old dog can learn new tricks. For those of you who are facing the same type of situation after years in one position, you can do it!

If you are someone who has been in the same type of situation, whether by choice or by life obstacles, please feel free to share your experiences in the comments. We can all benefit from each others' learning.

And, may I say....it's great to be back in the game again! I'm looking forward to life post-dissertation/Ph.D. program!
DR. Stafford 😊


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