Those who assume that the academe is an ideal workplace where everybody thinks, acts, and talks within the bounds of professionalism and fair play are in for a big disappointment. It is a mistake to think that the school is an organization without faults and that those who work there are infallible. Schools are similar to all other institutions in our society. They are not perfect. And the people who work there – as educated as you may think they are – are human beings susceptible to human frailties.
The foregoing are the things I discovered having served in 8 different schools in 2 different countries. If years were feathers on a cap called academic career, I already have more than 30 of them. And those years I spent in the academe, both as a classroom teacher and as a school administrator, gave me the opportunity to mingle with different kinds of students (and their parents), teaching and non-teaching personnel, administrators, and school owners.
Imagine the wealth of experience I gained during those years supervising teachers and being one of them as well. Indeed, I experienced a lot, both good and bad. On top of being able to hone my pedagogical skills, I learned how to deal with different personalities, both good and bad also. I obtained a lot of insights about school operations and organizational behavior… insights that could not be read in books.
I learned a lot of lessons, very valuable ones. One of the most significant lessons I learned from the past years of my stay in the academe, is “Be not a Don Quixote.”
Don Quixote, in case you don’t know him, is a fictional character introduced to the world by the Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes through his epic novel “The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha.”
For you to know him better, let me (not paraphrase but) give you exactly how sparknotes.com describes the character.
“The novel’s tragicomic hero. Don Quixote’s main quest in life is to revive knight-errantry in a world devoid of chivalric virtues and values. He believes only what he chooses to believe and sees the world very differently from most people. Honest, dignified, proud, and idealistic, he wants to save the world. As intelligent as he is mad, Don Quixote starts out as an absurd and isolated figure and ends up as a pitiable and lovable old man whose strength and wisdom failed him.”
In any kind of workplace, people in the organization are classified as employees, middle managers, and employers. Let me call the employees “people downstairs” and the middle managers and employers “people upstairs.” In the schools where I served in the Philippines, most of the time I was “upstairs.” Here in South Korea, “downstairs.”
We all dream of belonging to an organization where everybody from downstairs to upstairs coexists peacefully. But out of 10 organizations for example, how many of them do you think have fostered a harmonious coexistence among all members? It’s hard to guess.
What I know is both sides of the fence are seemingly locked in the ancient battle between good and evil. Which side is good… and which is evil… is anybody’s guess. The relationship between employees and those supervising them is analogous to the relationship between the administration party and the opposition in the realm of governance. They are in perpetual disagreement.
Usually, the point of disagreement between subordinates and their superiors (in the academe.. between teachers and school administrators) emanates from the creation new policies and the corresponding changes they create.
Naturally, people abhor changes. Anything that displaces us from our comfort zone makes us anxious and uncomfortable. Our comfort zones are like territories we will defend at all costs. This is because we are hardwired to resist change. Psychologists found out that the part of the brain called the amygdala interprets change as a threat and prompts the body to release the hormones for fear, fight, or flight.
But in organizations, in the business world or in the academe, some changes are inevitable. I figured that we can resist them all we want but they will happen, whether we like it or not. We can howl our disagreement as loud as we can but that will not prevent changes from happening.
In a related essay that I wrote, I pointed out the following…
“What employees (teachers) need to bear in mind is that employers (school administrators) have to do what they need to do in order for their business to prosper or simply survive. They need to implement changes and tweak policies at a certain point, sometimes at times when the employees least expected them. Notwithstanding disagreements coming from downstairs, changes people upstairs want to make, will be implemented.
When changes are implemented and policies get tweaked, the employees should not take them personally. Changes in the workplace happen when they are due. It is something inevitable. They need to get used to it. Employees need to be ready to make decisions when they happen. There are available options that they are free to exercise. They may simply embrace the changes and move on. They may decide to just accept organizational shake-ups, policy modifications, and what-have-you then continue working. It’s either they view the changes as necessary or accept the fact that they could simply do nothing to prevent them from happening.”
Those who would consider that such changes are unacceptable… those who think that they are being taken out of their comfort zones… those who feel being taken advantage of… do have two possible courses of action. They can either resign and continue their quest to find a perfect workplace or they may stay and do a Don Quixote.
Expat teachers who think they could dissuade their employers who hired them from making the changes the former wants to implement are as delusional as Don Quixote. We could possibly do it in our own countries. But in a country where we are foreigners and work on a contractual basis, it’s a QUIXOTIC endeavor. It’s like “fighting the windmills.”
It frustrates me when I have colleagues who cannot understand that if the management wants to exercise their prerogatives, they could and they would, whether the people downstairs want it or not.
When in one meeting, a colleague stood and gave a long speech against a policy our university was about to implement, I felt obliged to cordially beg him to stop his litany because whatever he was saying then would all be in vain. Additionally, I told him that he was just unnecessarily prolonging the meeting and wasting my time and that of those not interested in what he was saying. I also gave him advice that if he wanted, he should set an appointment with the university officials and tell them directly about his protestations. That Don Quixote did not realize that he could not force anybody to join his cause, especially those who consider changes necessary and inevitable. What he was trying to do at that time was force everybody in the room to listen to his whinges and whines.
The Don Quixotes should not expect their colleagues to look at things and issues in the organization in the same way they do. People in organizations do not have the same perspectives. Even their circumstances are different. People are also driven by sets of motivations that might be entirely different from one another. If the Don Quixotes came to South Korea to fight against what they perceived as injustice, well I did not. I just want to do my work and earn a living for my family.
One thing that the Don Quixotes should realize is that locking horns with the bosses is a difficult struggle and a lonely battle. Yes, the legality of new policies that employers might implement can be contested. But employers are always careful with the decisions they make. Only the ignorant ones would risk getting hauled to court by effecting changes or making moves contrary to established laws and ordinances. Most employers are wise. One of the things employers or businessmen worth their salt does is study the laws and regulations that govern their business endeavors. It’s hard to catch them off-guard in legal matters. They simply know what buttons to push whenever “push comes to shove.” In addition, they also consult lawyers to make sure that they face no legal impediments with anything that they do.
There are still Don Quixotes in our rank. It’s annoying to hear them repeatedly complain about the policies and practices of our employers. They have been doing it for as long as I could remember. The funny thing is every time they are presented with a new contract when a new school year begins, they accept it and sign their names on the dotted lines. They agree to work for the employers whose policies and practices they don’t like. Is that what you call “idealism?”
Tomalo con calma Don Quixote.