Saturday, August 20, 2011

Implosion, division and entropy

The process that began with the slow-motion firing of my ex-boss three months ago has led to a dramatic phase: complete reorganisation. Looking at ourselves this week perhaps the staff looks much the same to three months ago: next week two people effectively leave, the week after a new centre opens moving two people over and in that same week, too, another teacher departs. Compared to April, the school has effectively halved its staff, the schedule will be ripped to shreds and weekends splayed all over the place.
I have been a perceived loser in this process. For most of this time I've been seen as the odds-on senior teacher to go to the new centre, something that was seen as a developmental opportunity: I'd have been the main manager with a Director of Studies only in my school once a week. I'd have had the freedom to manage and organise staff as I would have wished. It would be the intermediary step to becoming a Director of Studies (one of my announced intentions of being in China – to get the experience to be an academic manager). It'd have been a challenge, to be clear. But it is not one that I've lost any sleep in losing. I need more time to get my style and ideas together. I even need more time to get my administration together and teaching consistent. This is my project after all. And teaching is going to be one of the main things I'll be doing over the next few weeks as a shortfall of teacher bites. But there is always a plan for us in this life.
I've been thinking more about those three who were leaving. One of them seems to be in some sort of strife now (something I'm not privy to), but when it gets down to it I still cannot really figure out how he led himself to this path. Of course, I really don't understand him well enough to speculate but I find myself doing so. Speculation is the son of Partial Ignorance and Curiosity. He seemed for a long time out of place, taking time to establish friendships, or perhaps needing time for his workmates to get used to his idiosyncrasies. Idiosyncratic is a good word for him. But nestled in his make-up as a person was an essential negativity or outward facing critique. A lot of the things he verbally has expressed frustration about have been the things that our old boss introduced, ironically where he has been persuaded to leave to.
There were several boiling critiques of particular policies and another department in meetings. There was an oblique suspicion of his drinking during working hours.  (It was an unconfronted issue, addressed indirectly to the whole staff – whether he was embarrassed about it, I don't know.) And there was one flashpoint involving me: I'd noticed that he was late for a Lounge Chat and there were students there waiting, and went over to remind him. He said he'd get to it in a minute. Minutes later he left the office and the building all together, not going to the Lounge Chat, to who knows where. Over lunch with my boss, I speculated that it might have been him reacting to being called out on it. It was about that but moreso that another workmate also appeared to be scheduled for it at the same time as him. It was a mistake on the schedule that I knew about already that day. He saw his workmate was just sitting there watching online TV not going to Lounge Chat and felt he was the being picked on. He hadn't spoken to his workmate to make arrangements to share the duty. He hadn't queried me for why I was speaking to just him. He just did the rather extreme action of leaving without a word and aggravated the situation. He resigned the next day. Yet we know that he didn't resign over this issue. One of the interesting things that my ex-boss taught me was that when someone has resigned or is about to resign yet is doubting themselves, they may subconsciously create a conflict situation that will consolidate their will to leave. Leaving with anger where one can clearly state to themselves and others why they're leaving helps one come to terms with such big decisions. His attitude was one of the reasons that he wasn't approached by management for some flexibility in departure times. He took the fact that he was the only one who wasn't approached to reconsider his resignation as indicating that we always wanted to get rid of him and expressed his feelings to other staff in and outside this department. The most irking thing for me really is that despite all this, thinking back through time, I can't think of any incident involving him apart from the minor. He has had a pretty decent time here from my outside view. I've had no incident with him either – I was disturbed that he'd leave the building over a perceived slight given that we had nothing but a clean past. Given time, he'd have progressed more as a teacher. Our school is pretty good at developing teachers. Or maybe it was just the city. An NZ colleague left the company early in his contract last year stating one of his reasons as Guangzhou itself…
I don't know if he'll regret any of this in time or have introspection on the point. He is still in his twenties, and perhaps that is an interesting range of ages to consider deeply from across the fence of thirty. Most teachers are either in their twenties or thirties and there are those common characteristics for each group. To manage a school you need to have a grasp of those different age groups and work subtly with their psyches to avoid these things coming up early.
The departures of the other two I'm quite sad about: a teacher I've helped mentor and a teacher who was widely seen as the most promising local teacher. I've enjoyed working with both, but I think it's unfortunate that they've chosen to be part of a simultaneous resignation. Does anyone want to be part of an evil plot to harm? Of course, it was expedient for my ex-boss (probably used as bargaining leverage) to get them to leave at the same time, but inflicts a rather savage blow to their former employer, and it's a blow that is not borne cleanly by those who my former boss would like it to hit.
Of course, the other side of them leaving was the option given by the other side. We can only imagine. My colleague thinks that a picture has been painted of what is possible over there. Our school doesn't offer part-time work. For people interested in travel and study (and that is a lot of us, including me if I weren't also interested in accumulating savings) there isn't an option; all three who left my ex-boss knew were interested more in those other areas than in career building. My boss thinks it was the birdy in the ear chirping how bad things were here and how over there it would be better. The birdy in this case is not my ex-boss but a disaffected teacher from the past, someone who general opinion has a very colourful view of.
Our company in this region is haemorrhaging people. Ours is not the only dismantling going on but I always think of ours as mundanely Shakespearean (well I was analogising to the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, wasn't I, just a post or two before?) Either way, I hope the promises of the promised land aren't desert mirages for all three. I'm going to try and keep in touch. In crisis there is opportunity and in the haze of this sandstorm, I've been offered a parallel move to another centre. Let's see what comes of it.

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