Thoughts at 3 a.m.


For years, it’s been an accepted fact (backed up by research that I’m too lazy to locate right now) that teachers “burn out” at their jobs faster than any other profession. And within that group of people, secondary choir and band directors suffer the fastest and most pervasive attrition. I know a lot of former band and choir directors who are now administrators, or selling insurance, or working for educational tour providers or fund-raising companies.

Some of you can empathize. Others can sympathize. Still others might disagree. For instance, the Thriller worked for the IRS for 12 years. He would tell you that being a manager for a government entity hated by most of the populace is more stressful than just about any other job. He might be right, but still, the research bears out my claim.

I’m all for agreeing that there are jobs with incredibly high stress levels; I just think it’s worth mentioning that teachers — especially those whose work is put out for the general public to evaluate at will — do the high stress with really low pay. Sometimes (not always), that makes a diff.

But as I’m sure you know, most teachers aren’t in it for the money. What a silly statement, actually. Saying you’re in it for the money would be, well, silly. ‘Cuz there ain’t any.

All that said, I know I am fortunate, in that I have a job in this economy. I also have relative job security (insofar as I am tenured, which would likely do diddly in a huge budget avalanche, but…), and as far as I can tell, I’m managing to put out a decent product/result. Or at least not poor enough to get fired. I’ll even go further and say that my situation is excellent. I have supportive bosses, colleagues and parents. I basically want for nothing (well, except a decent performance space).

Another profession that comes to mind when thinking about low pay and high stress is that of social work. If I was cornered, I’d have to admit that social workers have it worse than teachers. I don’t know what their attrition rate is, but many of them don’t make more than the average public school teacher, and the emotional carnage they have to witness every day makes me admire them all the more. Pastors also fight the good fight for not much pay. And while we’re at it, let’s include food service workers and retail employees. How do they support a family?

Still, I can only speak from my own experience. I don’t “leave work at work.” I think that’s a biggy for me. My dad was a cost accountant. He did his job well (and was paid well for it), but at 6 p.m., he left the office and came home and relaxed. I allow my work — and everything associated with it — to follow me home. I know a lot of you do as well, regardless of your career choice.

Somehow, we have to learn to quit doing that, because it makes your brain start up at 2:50 a.m. Then you’re up for the day.


Fink out (to the kitchen to make the coffee).

8 thoughts on “Thoughts at 3 a.m.

  1. Suzanne

    I would guess that, in addition to bringing work home with you, a lot of the hard-earned money you earn goes right back into your classroom/choir or band room/stage for supplies etc etc. I can think of no other job where this happens.

    1. Rat Fink Post author

      Girl, you ain’t just whistlin’ Dixie, either. Spoken like someone who’s been there! And you elementary music people do it even more than us secondary folks.

      In all honesty, with my level of ed. (going on a 2nd grad degree, which ain’t cheap), if I were in another field, my car and my BlackBerry might be provided for me at company expense. Now, of course, I wouldn’t be able to text snarky messages to Michael down in Florida, but…

      Anyway, you’ve been there, Suz, so I know you are speaking from experience!

  2. Stein

    Is there any of this research saying that this can happen to us secondary music folk on a year-to-year basis as well? I know this is only my first year in the biz, but I think that we can get burned out on the year, take our month off, maybe, then come back the next year with a new ferver. But hey, maybe people with more experience know better.

  3. kodye

    I promise that when I make my first 10 million bucks, I’ll pay for the building of a “decent preforming space”… under the condition that it get named after the greatest actor of all time… Ben Affleck. :)

  4. BoomR

    You know, when I was reading your posting about going postal on your crew@ rehearsal, I had cold shivers down my spine remembering those days. A pit in my stomach remembering the building pressure & stress to have your performing groups knock it out of the ballpark every time you go to bat. It’s bitter-sweet for me in that I miss it… but I don’t. And I can tell you that the nightmare that I went through my last year at the HS there **DID** burn me out…

    I tip my hat to you for your ongoing dedication & patience with the kiddos!

    1. Rat Fink Post author

      Thanks, sweety! And I remember your last year at that place. You were sick 24/7. The stress level must have been horrible.

      And “building pressure” is the right descriptor, definitely. Last night we had our first run-through of the whole show. In between the really bright and really dark places in their work, I became painfully aware of the monumental stress I allow in my life where these shows are concerned.

      People not in our line of work might wonder why we do it, and why we even bother getting stressed. I’ve heard people say, “They’re just high school kids. Get over it.”

      After they get up off the floor, rubbing their jaw, I tell them that it’s just that attitude that gives high school kids nothing to aspire to or work for; nothing to pull them out of their 16-year-old skin and give them something beautiful and meaningful to remember for the rest of their lives.

      I’ll quit because I’m preaching to the choir, I know! But I know you feel my stress. Hopefully when it’s over for another year, I’ll be able to breathe and I won’t have to go get a Lasix prescription. :-)


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