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Stepping over $100 bills

By Michael Murphy ( Updated: 2014-08-29 17:36

Here's an old saying that I've heard most of my life: "Don't trip over $100 bills in order to save a penny."

Recently, a teacher walked into the principal's office to make a suggestion on how to save a student from withdrawing from school in order to get remedial English classes at an English training school. The teacher had noticed that the student was absent and found out that his parents were considering withdrawing him from the school because he needed to improve his English skills. The English training center is very expensive and would cost his parents a considerable amount of money. In addition, the school would lose his tuition of almost 30,000 RMB ($4881).

The day before, the teacher had a piece of equipment, supplied by the school that had failed to work and was proven faulty. When he entered the office to make the suggestion that would save the school nearly 30,000 RMB, he was told that he would have to deal with the faulty equipment himself or use his own money to replace it (the equipment had not been damaged; it simply stopped working). The piece of equipment in question would cost about 30-50 yuan to replace. Rather than being able to freely offer the suggestion that would save the school nearly 30,000 yuan (and potentially earn the school even more money by providing the remedial English training that the student was going to go to the training center to get), he is faced with the news that he would have to pay out of his own pocket to repair the school's equipment.

The teacher's reply was, "This is insane". Think about. The teacher is trying to save the school 30,000 yuan, and possibly a student, while being met with the news that he would have to spend his own money to repair the school's equipment.

I taught at an international high school affiliated with a local university a few years ago. To get photocopies of needed teaching material, you would have to go through a long ordeal, get permission and made to feel like you had just robbed an old woman of her monthly pension, to get the copies made. Paper and ink (in the photocopier) was treated like gold. Each copy would cost about 3 mao. Perhaps 50 copies needed to be made. That would cost a meager 15 yuan. Every time after that, when I needed something copied to teach my students, I felt like I was asking them to part with their life savings just to have the resources to teach our students.

Later that night, the same director of the program who was so reluctant to make the copies, invited me to dinner with another director in another department. We went to one of the nicest restaurants in the area. The other director's wife also met us there. The four of us ate and the final bill was about 750 yuan. I reached into my pocket to pay my share (even though I'd never pick such an expensive place to eat). The director laughed and said for me to keep my money because the department was paying for the dinner.

Let me see. Fifteen yuan to make copies for the education of high school students, or, 750 yuan for dinner? Hmmmmm.......Such a hard choice to make.

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