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How to Leave a Job

I've been thinking a lot about the unwritten rules of leaving a job (not because I am leaving, but because I know a number of colleagues and former students who are leaving or have left good programs in the last couple of years). I think a lot of us aren't really great at leaving, especially when we feel a strong connection to the job. The more growth that your program had under your direction, the harder it is to leave, I think.
I believe that it is critical to your singers' future success that you not leave passively. The outgoing director must prepare his choir for the new person, and take active steps toward helping them transition. This will help the incoming person transition more smoothly, and ultimately will help to protect the singers and the program that you spent so much time and energy building. So, some guidlines:
  1. Never go back! (Well, not really never)
    1. Stay away from the school, the kids, the ensemble for a good long time. High school, and minimum of 3 years before you can go back. Middle school is 2 years.
    2. College should be the longest, because the kids you recruited when they were seniors will come and you won't be there, and that is a thing. 4-5 years.
    3. Don't stay connected on Facebook. I don't know the ins and outs of Facebook too well, but it's just another way of staying connected, and that will only harm the current situation.
  2. Actively prepare your kids for someone new.
    1. ​People are different with different styles and values. The new person will inevitably value something different than you do. Push the singers to be open, and to be open to the difference all year.
    2. Teach them maturity and leadership: “Give the new person a chance,” and “help them be good at this new job.”
    3. Remind them how crucial their cooperation is to having a successful year. Without their positive, helpful, and enthusiastic attitudes, no choir situation would work (even if you weren’t leaving).
    4. Drill and repeat. Often. Don't let it slide.
  3. After you leave, don’t go to the concert, don’t communicate with the singers, don’t offer free advice to the new director, no matter how well intentioned, unless they ask. And even then state your opinion in a limited fashion, and be prepared for them ignore your advice.
  4. If you do accidentally have some communication with a singer...for example, you see someone at the grocery store or not offer any opinions, implied or explicit, about the current situation. If they try to engage you ("it's just not the same as when you were here."), remind them that this is new and that their job is to help the new person find their way and make the program great, and don't engage with their opinion.
  5. Q: What good can come from staying connected? A: None!
    1. Jealousy on your part that the program is doing well, or anger and disappointment that things aren't going well.
    2. Bitterness on the new directors part on you staying around, making his or her job harder.
    3. The singers will be either pining for you and not focusing on the current situation, or realizing that this person is better. Either way, not good.
    4. Think how you would feel if someone else were doing it to you…you’d hate it, no matter how much that person’s heart was in the right place.
  6. ​Take the time to organize all your files in a simple and easy way, so that the new person has easy access to everything. This also includes all the passwords to websites, Facebook pages, and Google accounts. Put them all on a thumb drive and give it to your administration.
I'm sure there are other rules. And some will undoubtedly disagree with some of my rules above. I've seen a lot of people...good people, leave a job and somehow stay involved, ostensibly to "help," or the passive departure, which leaves the singers on their own about how to deal with the changes in the program. Either way, it invariably leads to complications for the new person. I know people who have retired and stayed in a relatively small community, and have been a continuous thorn in the new director's side for more than a decade. But that is worst case. And I am not casting stones here...I built a really good middle school choir program about 15 years ago, and I (stupidly), went to their first concert after I'd left. I was a huge distraction, and I'm sure that director was annoyed at me for being there. I shouldn't have been. So this is also a way for me to make amends.
OK, that's it. Fire away! :)
on October 19, 2013 12:49pm
You haven't mentioned church jobs in this piece. Most of your points can apply to leaving a church job as well.  It's a bit difficult to stay away and not have contact if you live in the actual community where your former job was! And adults are adults--they're going to still be there unless they've moved or changed churches. Many of my former singers have asked me to come back to church to worship or sing with them and I am *always busy* since I would feel a little strange going back--I even declined to come back for an anniversary celebration because I felt weird doing so.  My biggest regret was finding out one of my favorite altos had passed away and no one thought to let me know so I could attend the wake or funeral--and I cried about it.
I left a fairly big job about 9 years ago--four choirs, which I directed: adults, kids, bells and a dance troop--simply because I was burnt out.  I continue to see my singers (and their parents)in the community at concerts, the grocery store and other places.  Since I conduct a community chamber choir in this community, several of my former singers come to my concerts and my current choir has sung at several larger choir fests where my old choir also is singing. 
Interestingly, the current director scowls every time he sees me, eventho he is *several times removed* from my tenure there. There is now only a bell and adult choir--no kids and no liturgical dance group--and that fact has been mentioned in his presence and mine. Not my fault and I try to ignore it when it is mentioned.  I'm sure he would like it if I slinked out of the community with my tail between my legs but that ain't gonna happen--and why should it!
I live my life and try to be above reproach but if I accidentally run into a former singer, I'm pleasant and do not bad mouth anyone or their current director.  And sometimes, I have to bite my tongue doing so.
on October 19, 2013 3:49pm
Sure. Sometimes it is unavoidable. For me the biggest piece is the aggressive, proactive approach, combined with the "stay away" as long as you can thing. I didn't discuss church choirs, as I have less experience, but it seems to me would be another level of unavoidable contact, but basically similar issues. Also, the smaller the community, the harder it is, I think.
on October 19, 2013 2:54pm
Joshua, great compilation of the most common, unspoken understanding of departures.
Most of the same rules apply for clergy, and is understood by departing clergy, for which the three-year rule applies.
I have colleagues that did not allow anytime to pass. They never departed, and ruined tenure opportunities by being visible, front and center, from day one following their retirements.
Another issue I have heard discussed among colleagues is in regards to a retired director moving into the community, joining another director’s choir, and conducting the choir verbally from within the section. Then to make matters worse, following the rehearsal, they have the need to tell the conductor how they think things should be done.
Just common consideration is always apropos. One might consider applying the following – “how would I feel if someone did that to me?”
on October 19, 2013 3:54pm
I never thought of clergy. Is the three-year rule explicit or implicit? and this: 
retired director moving into the community, joining another director’s choir, and conducting the choir verbally from within the section. Then to make matters worse, following the rehearsal, they have the need to tell the conductor how they think things should be done.
my worst nightmare. I directed a synagogue choir (I am Jewish), and my least favorite thing to hear after rehearsal was "yoshua, I don't mean to complain, but..."
on October 19, 2013 5:14pm
Most denominations are "explicit, some are "implicit”. Where clergy experience a snafu, is when the former is asked by a member to officiate at a funeral or wedding.
on October 23, 2013 6:05pm
Just wanted you to know that I apprecaite your putting this all together! I've had to leave a number of positions for various reasons (becoming a parent, spouse's job, etc), and I have found it very challenging especially since I have loved all of my positions and communities. I resonated with your ideas very strongly!
on October 23, 2013 6:26pm
My pleasure. I seen it done wrong so many times, and I think it's really a very hard thing to do in a way that is best for the people and the program you are leaving. Which is the whole point, really. I've seen decent, good-hearted people stick around a bit too long, for whatever reason, and become a problem for the current director. I've even done it myself. Some difficulty is unavoidable, but we owe it to our singers to guide them in the appropriate response.