Physical Training Jan 2012
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From the Teacher's Corner 19:
Under New Management

copyright © 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 dummies.

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 dungeon.

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 Gambler,

“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.

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