Note: This post is an excerpt from an essay published in New Directions: A Journal of Scholarship, Creativity and Leadership in Music Education. The entire essay can be read here.
Maybe it started when I was teaching middle school. I had my persona of “Mr. Woody, Music Teacher” for students weekdays 9:00am to 3:30pm. But I considered myself just regular Bob evenings and weekends. During the week, my mind raced with concerns of curriculum and classroom management. As all teachers know, those thoughts could easily spill into my time away from school. I made a point to separate my work life from my personal life. I strived to “leave my briefcase at the door” literally and figuratively.
That’s when I remember first trying to compartmentalize my life, but in all likelihood, the practice began years before I was a working professional. Like everyone else, I grew up filling different roles with the different social groups I was a part of. As a teenager, I wasn’t exactly the same person around my parents and teachers as I was with my friends! Perhaps it’s because students tend to associate school with rules, I developed much different expectations for myself when in school versus when out of it. This included how I oriented to music as a teen. While at school, I did…well, “school music.” Primarily an instrumentalist, I played trumpet in the high school marching band, concert band, and jazz band. But outside of school, I listened to pop music, and lots of it.
Perhaps I’m dramatizing things a bit much here. I don’t presume that leading a musical double life is the kind of “breaking bad” that merits a television series. In fact, the “school music versus popular music” divide is pretty common among students and teachers alike. And there are other areas of life where we need to play multiple roles, some of which are difficult to juggle. Working mothers and fathers know this all too well. Now as a parent, I must admit that I’m not exactly the same person around my students and children as I am with my friends!
While multiple roles are a fact of modern life, I’ve come to believe that too much compartmentalization can be detrimental, at least for me as a music educator. In addition to doing this with my professional and personal lives, and with my alternate musical worlds, at times in my past I’ve also considered my role as teacher and researcher as independent responsibilities. In all of these instances, I’m now convinced that too much separation can be harmful to both sides of the divide.
I believe I’ve benefited over the last few years as I’ve allowed myself to blend roles and unify my worlds in certain ways. In this paper, I will reflect on how I’ve come to this realization, and share some of my favorite points in the process. By no means am I suggesting that I’ve got it all figured out. To be sure, this is just my outlook as I write this today. Not only do I expect it to change, I think I’d be pretty disappointed if it doesn’t. I hope, though, that some who read this will relate to what I share, and it will contribute to their own process.
Questioning the Value of Role Separation
The need to separate one’s personal life from their work life is well accepted these days. Can you imagine a media advice-giver like Dr. Oz saying we’d be happier and healthier if we just brought more of our work home with us? Not likely. The underlying assumption is that work means pressure, stress, and worry. Bring that home and it’ll strain marriages and relationships with one’s children. If you can’t unwind, relax and get a good night’s sleep, then your physical and mental health suffers and you can’t find fulfillment in your personal life. I’m literally feeling tension in my body just writing about it here.
As much as I joke with my friends about having a “cushy college professor job,” I would not say that my work life in music education has ever come easy to me. Many times over the years, I’ve scrambled to meet deadlines (missed a few, too) and had to deal with some difficult people along the way. I’m no stranger to stress from the job. Clearly there is nothing to be gained by bringing that home with me. But what if I didn’t characterize my job by its stressful times? I’ve wondered, is it possible to see my job differently? To not lose sight of the big picture? In my position, my primary task—that big picture—is to share music in ways that enrich the lives of others. I consider myself very fortunate in this way. Especially when I look for them, it’s not uncommon to experience moments of reward and joy in my job. Certainly it’d be alright to bring some of that home with me. Maybe I don’t need as much professional-personal separation as other people do. I am a music educator, after all, not a crime scene investigator.
Please read the rest of the essay here.
Copyright 2014 Robert H. Woody