When I Left That School (2)
(2nd of 5 parts)
“Where do you go from here?”
That was another question I repeatedly heard. My better half asked me another question in her pointed and direct fashion, “What will happen to us when you leave that school?” It seemed that my wife had forgotten that I don’t make hasty decisions when it comes to anything that would affect my family and my career. That’s the thing about major decisions. I know it would affect not only me but also my loved ones.
I also have parents depending on me so I could not afford to mess up. Even my siblings come to me once in a while to ask for help. In short, I always need to be gainfully employed. To ensure that, I need to have set goals and a definite plan of action to achieve them. I always tell my students and friends that planning on anything involves the preparation of possible alternatives so that when, for example, plan A doesn’t work then you still have a plan B or a plan C. The more alternatives, the better.
I have a three-pronged career path to follow. Such is the offshoot of my dreams, education, training and experience.
First – run a school of my own. That’s my dream. I want to have a school of my own. That, I guess, is the dream of many educators.
Second – occupy the highest academic position… dean of a department… college dean… or probably president of a college or a university. Why not? We’re free to dream. I want to supervise at a school and, yes, teach at the same time. I simply cannot be divorced from teaching.
Third – work overseas as an English teacher. It was because of the constant prodding of my father that I included teaching in another country as part of my career-pathing. He kept telling me before to look at how successful are my cousins and their spouses because they decided to work overseas. But I told my father that if ever I would have a chance to work in another country, I should be a teacher – not anything else.
“Trust me. I know what I am doing.” That’s the way I reassured my wife when she got too worried about me leaving the Catholic institution. Any of my decisions relative to work should always fall within the sphere of my career path, and include those other things important to me. I did not veer away from that path with the important decision I was about to make.
I walked the career path I paved for myself. I became a part of the management teams of the schools where I worked during my mid-20’s. The first administrative position I had was director of academic and student affairs. But my dream school remained in the pipeline. I needed an investor for it to become a reality. What I envisioned was a tandem of capitalist and industrialist partners with the latter being me. Most of my friends who have their own schools either inherited them from their parents or they opened schools supported financially by their moneyed parents or siblings. This was not an option for me.
I have no rich parents or affluent siblings or relatives capable of financing my project. The most viable option for me was to find capitalist partners. I actively searched for people I could convince to finance my dream school. All they needed to do was invest their money and I would take care of everything else, or so I thought!
During the early 1990s, the town adjacent to my father’s birthplace was a good site for a computer school. There were none there then. With information technology starting to take a hold in the world at that time, there was strong demand for expertise and skills related to computers and IT. That was the time when computer schools started to mushroom all over the country. It was the best chance for my dream to have a school of my own to become a reality. I created a feasibility study and presented it to several people I knew had money. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to convince any of them.
Just a couple of years after that, a local businessman opened the first computer school in that locality. The big players in computer education also opened branches soon after.
The school I wanted to have was not within reach. I would have a couple more rejections after that. So, I focused on my teaching and supervisory job and put my dream of having a school of my own on the backburner for a while.
Then I received an invitation from a religious to join her team and lead their Education department. It was an offer so difficult to refuse – salary and opportunity-wise. I resigned from my job and decided to work in the school ran by sisters.
Under the tutelage of the first Sister President I worked with, I learned so much. I swear that I learned from her much more than I had learned from several years in Graduate school. She was my mentor… one of the best, if not the best education supervisor I worked with. The seven years we were together were my Golden Age. She set the standards that unfortunately her successor could not measure up to. I felt that that institution had entered its Dark Age when my mentor left and before I could completely revert back to my barbaric ways I seriously considered leaving the school.
When the next Sister President came, with all the negative information about her circulating in the campus, I was afraid that things wouldn’t be good. I suddenly actively pursued my dream of having my own school again. I targeted a school site in a town in the province where I had settled down with my family. I created another feasibility study and started presenting it to prospective capitalist partners.
My most heartbreaking experiences came a couple of years before the resignation I was planning to make. I came so close to the realization of my dream – so close and yet so far.
In 2009, I presented my proposal to a Briton. I was able to convince him of the merits of my plan and he asked me to start doing both the legwork and the paperwork, which I did. We were supposed to start operating the school June, 2010. He promised to provide the initial investment in November, 2009. Finally, my dream school would become a reality… or would it? The Briton lost his job in Oman in October, 2009. Much to my consternation, he decided to back out from our project.
Of course, I was so disappointed. I did not give up on my dream though. I had already laid out the plan and been working on the paperwork. I had also already talked to the owner of the building we were targeting as a site for the school, so I searched for another capitalist partner. I found another one, an Australian, who was working in a bank in his country and was the fiancée of one my friends in a local gym. He agreed to finance the project.
Unfortunately, I did not find the terms he set for the partnership acceptable. He wanted the initial profit sharing to be 80-20 with him getting the lion’s share. He also demanded that he got back in full whatever amount he invested after five years. I did not agree, even when he added that my share in the profit would increase annually until the profit-sharing became 60-40. My offer was nothing less than 50-50 and that he was not supposed to get back the amount he had invested. That was to be his investment. Mine would be to get the school up and running and operating successfully. Neither of us budged. Thus, even though I knew I was letting go of a dream that was about to come true, I did not pursue the project with him.
That was the closest I got to having my dream school.
Those were heartbreakers, but life has to go on, I moved on and vowed that I will just keep trying. My dream to have a school of my own did not die. For as long as I am breathing, that dream will remain alive. This brings me back to the Catholic institution and the important, possibly life-changing, decision I was about to make.
NEXT: “Do you think you can find a better school?”
When I Left That School (1)
(1st of 5 parts)
One of my favorite poems is W.E. Henley’s “Invictus.” The part I love the most are the last two lines – “I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.” It taught me one very simple yet strong guiding principle in life – that I am in-charge of my own destiny. It influenced me to subscribe strongly to the notion that “man’s destiny is the sum total of all the decisions he makes.” Thus, I never decide hastily.
Just like when I made a very important career decision. For the skeptics among my loved ones and friends, it was a very unpopular move. For me, it was something that I ought to do, something carefully planned. It seemed to be a leap of faith. The outcome, however, is something that I did not consider as unknown but anything – except failure.
“Why turn your back from a tenured position and a good salary?”
That was the common question my colleagues, friends, and loved ones asked me after hinting that I wanted to leave an institution ran by one of the country’s largest religious congregations. They didn’t seem able to tell me directly to my face that I was a fool. My wife did not disappoint me however. “You’re out of your mind.” Those were her exact words. “Why not wait another year so you can get the school’s share of the retirement fund?” she suggested.
I knew where my wife was coming from. She’s a very practical person. I was nearing the end of my ninth year in a Catholic institution at that time. Leaving the school without completing at least ten years would entitle me only to a refund of the total amount deducted from my salary over the years I had stayed there with nothing from the organization.
On top of that, travel time from our house to the workplace was only less than 20 minutes. That convenience I may be giving up should I leave and not find a work in the same area.
She told me, “Just for once put aside your pride.” My response was, “NO! This has nothing to do with pride.” Then we had a lengthy debate about the financial ramifications of my decision and the corresponding uncertainties it would bring. I had a full understanding of the decision I was about to make and what the consequences would be. At that moment there was something I valued more than convenience and money – my dignity as a person and my role as a professional in my chosen field as an educator.
What exactly brought me to the precipice of this major decision?
I had a lot of issues with none other than the head – the Sister President – of the congregation school where I thought I would be staying until my retirement age. It’s a conflict between the religious and the “not-so-religious” me.
As a I was leaving the Cashier’s Office one morning our paths crossed. “Good morning, Sister. I greeted her warmly. “What’s good in the morning!” She answered grouchily. You see! You might say that it’s just a minor incident. Maybe I got out of bed on the wrong side that morning, or maybe it was that this slight was just the last in a long line. Her response and attitude irked me. It confirmed what I thought were just hearsays about her shrewish tendencies. Images from History class about the abusive clergy during the Spanish occupation flickered through my mind – so long gone, or so I thought. She had hit me hard where it hurts.
That response was cliche for me. I had read it in stories and even heard it said many times. I never thought somebody would actually blurt it out right in my face. Those words were delivered not jokingly. At that moment she was like a boxer swinging a mean uppercut to my unsuspecting jaw with the intention of knocking the living daylights out of me. She almost succeeded. It was not quite a knock-out-punch. I didn’t crumble to the ground but rather stood there momentarily stunned at how rude a woman wearing a habit could be. By the time all of this transpired she was already a meter or so past me. Before the referee could finish the standing eight count, I regained my composure and some small shred of my pride. I was deemed fit to continue to fight. I followed the Sister to her office.
The secretary tried to stop me from entering the President’s office for protocol requires that I should have a prior appointment before I could see the head of the institution. That day nobody could prevent me from doing what I wanted to do. I ignored her and went straight inside. The Sister President was seemingly surprised to see me standing in front of her. We entered into a tepid discourse.
I refused when she asked me to sit down. “What’s the problem, sister?” I asked calmly but emphatically. “Why did you respond to me that way in the hallway earlier?”
“Sir,” her use of the honorific successfully retained the ambient temperature of our conversation, “I was just trying to discourage you from discussing any matter earlier. You’re holding a stack of paper so I thought you would talk to me.” I responded by saying that common sense dictates to me that I should not discuss any matter with persons in authority in the middle of nowhere unless they otherwise ask me to do so.
When she told me I was so sensitive, I said, “I am Sister. Please don’t do that to me again.” That was my own version of a mean uppercut and I added the following as if delivering an overhand punch for a coup de grace, “I’ve got job to do. I must go. Thanks for your time Sister.”
I saw how her face turned crimson as I delivered those parting shots.
I knew I had just voluntarily written my name on her list of endangered species – that I had become a marked man, but I had to do what I ought.
Our encounter that day became news all over the campus. Somebody told somebody who told somebody else. It wasn’t me. It was either her or the secretary… or perhaps there was a hidden CCTV camera that caught the action and beamed the drama live all over the campus.
Later, one of my colleagues gave me an unsolicited advice, “Bear in mind that the sisters don’t stay in a particular school forever. Sooner or later they will be transferred to other schools within their congregation. Just learn to co-exist with that sister until such time she leaves.”
That I know. She may be transferred to another school – or get an extension of another three years (and maybe a bonus of an extra year) just like her predecessor, whom I wished had not been replaced.
I found myself responding, “I can’t bear another year with her. What if she gets a term extension of three years?” For me, that would be like an eternity.
I felt like I stopped growing personally and professionally since she took over as head of the institution. Her leadership style and interpersonal skills, for me, was plain awful and downright unacceptable. I could not stay longer and expect to be productive and effective in the performance of my job. I kept questioning her policies and her moral ascendancy to lead. So, one of us ought to go. And of course, it wasn’t her.
NEXT: “Where do you go from here?”
Make Up Your Mind
Can’t be in-between.