© 2012 Douglas Tong, all rights reserved.
In June, near the end of school, I was talking with one of my
colleagues and he surprised me when he said, “Next year, I’m looking
for a new school.” I asked why? He had been at our school for 10 years
and was a successful and well-liked teacher. He seemed to like the
school and the kids there. He told me that he didn’t like the new
administration. He told of the instances where he had had some heated
discussions with the new principal about various issues in the school.
The new principal had also promoted another male teacher to the
position that he had long cherished, even though this other teacher was
no more qualified for the position than him. The vice-principal had
criticized his teaching technique and philosophy. The list went on and
on. The Board had moved our previous principal to a new school and
brought this principal into our school this year. It didn’t help that
our previous vice-principal went on maternity leave and consequently
this replacement vice-principal was brought in to stabilize things.
I must admit that it has been a little bit of a rocky road lately with
the new administration, as they try to get a handle on the staff and we
try to understand them. And obviously, with a new management team, the
old privileges and understandings are swept away. The staff were tense
and unsure. New relationships were being formed between certain
teachers and the new administration. People who were left out by the
old principal are now jockeying for position with the new principal.
People who in the past enjoyed a privileged position as a confidante of
the principal suddenly find that they are now out in the cold.
Different people are promoted to greater responsibilities in the school
and teachers who had greater responsibilities or positions of power and
influence in the past now are reduced to ordinary status. The whole
structure of the school is being turned upside down and people are
scrambling for the life-jackets.
Likewise, I am sure the new administration does not have it easy either
as they try to figure out how the school works and who everyone is. Who
are the good teachers, who are the influential ones, who are the
troublemakers, who will support you and who will try to undermine you.
And in this great time of tumult and chaos, this is when you see a lot
of turnover in the staff. When things are rosy, no one leaves. When
things are in turmoil, teachers become like the proverbial rats: the
ones that are the first to leave the sinking ship. The rats are not
So how does this apply to martial arts? Well, when there is a changing
of the guard so to speak, when there is a new boss or a new headmaster,
this is when you will see a lot of turnover and movement in the staff
and the student body.
Why? It’s quite natural in the grand scheme of things. When a new
administration comes in, they are going to clean house. They are going
to clean out the old, entrenched senior staff and they are going to
promote new, loyal staff, who get along with them the best.
One of my students recently had a similar thing happen to him. A new
art director took over at his company because the company was
expanding. The upper management asked this new art director, who can we
let go? In other words, who is expendable or needs to be replaced?
Essentially, with any change of management, there is going to be a new
vision, a new philosophy. The new boss will mold things into the way he
believes they should be. And in martial arts, this invariably means
changes in technique, in philosophy, and in group (or team) composition.
If he is the head of an organization with many foreigners in the ranks,
the new headmaster will have satellite dojos, a group of dojos. He will
then have to take a look at the entire group of them and see who fits
into his new vision and who does not. Remember what I said about a new
principal figuring out who are the good teachers, who are the
influential ones, who are the troublemakers, who will support you and
who will try to undermine you? Basically, it’s the same thing.
Everyone has to change, whether they like it or not. Everyone is
invited to change, or they are let go. Like our school situation, if
you don’t like to change or are not willing to embrace the new
philosophy, you will eventually leave of your own accord.
It is a tough thing. The new headmaster has a tough time re-structuring
and the student body has a tough time re-adjusting. The older the
student, the more difficult the change will be. You can’t teach an old
dog new tricks, as they say. And I generally find that when there is a
change of leadership, the young students thrive more under the new
circumstances than the old ones. The old ones fall by the wayside. Some
are left out in the cold subtly (e.g., reduction in influence or
responsibility), some leave of their own accord, and some are kicked
out (e.g., they say “let go” nowadays).
So back to my teacher friend. He was feeling bitter. I guess he was
feeling unappreciated and unwanted. How to advise him? Should he stay
or should he go? Well, if he stays, he will not be happy. He doesn’t
embrace the new philosophy. And the new administration doesn’t seem to
embrace him. So maybe the smart thing to do is to leave. There are
greener pastures elsewhere. Maybe a change of scenery is not such a bad
thing for our sanity and our wellness, much better than staying in a
It’s the glass half empty and glass half full kind of situation. It
depends on how you look at it. You could think of leaving as a negative
thing. I have spent so much time and effort here that to leave it,
would be to waste all that experience and knowledge, not to mention the
seniority and the relationships that I have built up in this school.
On the other hand, leaving could be seen as a positive thing. A chance
to do something new, a new adventure to pursue, with new opportunities
and new challenges. A chance to grow, meet new people, expand our
knowledge base, and broaden our experience.
Some experienced teachers I know say, “Well, I’ll outlast this
principal too.” True, it is generally well-known that principals are
moved every 4-5 years. So, you could wait it out. Happens in martial
arts too. The new headmaster will not last forever. And when that
headmaster passes, a new round of turbulence and upheaval will ensue.
Is it worth the grief? Like Kenny Rogers sang in his famous song The
“You got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em,
Know when to walk away and know when to run…”
Sometimes the fight’s not worth fighting. There’s nothing to be gained
except more bitterness and resentment.
Like something one of my colleagues said to me, “Sometimes things have
run their course and it’s time to move on.”
Like the Toronto Blue Jays in 1992-1993. They won two World Series but
the team slowly but surely fell apart after that. They had some great
times but things had run their course. It was time to move on.
Same with the San Francisco 49ers, the Dallas Cowboys, the Edmonton
Oilers, or any other sports dynasty that has tasted glory. There is a
time of success and glamour and then there is the inevitable demise.
“Empires wax and wane;
States cleave asunder and coalesce.”
San Kuo Chih Yen-I (Romance of the Three Kingdoms)
That’s what I’ll tell him: It’s time to move on…
Mr. Tong has a Master’s in Education in Curriculum Studies.