Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Pride and the Power Trip

And he sat down, and called the twelve, and saith unto them, If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all.
Mark 9:35

I recently received an email from a student which read: “I need you to gather together all of my missing assignments and get back to me on what is outstanding.”

I had a number of issues with this message. My first response was, “Excuse me?” The email just rubbed me wrong. Like I was the student’s secretary. Um, no. That’s not my job (number one). What makes you think I’ll accept late work (number two). And, keep track of your own self (number three)…I think you get the point. I didn’t reply for several days.

I wanted to respond. Well, sort of. I want to be helpful and I want my students to succeed. But, golly gee. Can you not show some respect?

I thought about my own undergraduate professors from Portland State University. What would their responses have been? I could imagine certain profs laughing and slamming the door (this was before we used email) in my face for such a bald-faced demand. But then I thought of my favorite professor and I believe she would’ve looked past the (unintentional) slight and tried to help the student – a first semester freshman. So I compromised and sent a short reply which parroted my syllabus – only less helpful.

Then I went to church and listened as the pastor preached about the attitude of serving. And certain bible verses came to mind – convicting me of my own attitude. Let the leader become like one who serves. If you want to be great, be a servant of all.

And I am a servant. It is my job to teach, not to sit (stand) on a pedestal. Not to be revered as the source of knowledge – but to help my students learn to become better writers, grammarians, and learners. When I taught high school, my students called me by my last name – out of respect (maybe), but also because I would’ve flipped out at them if they had tried calling me by my first name. As a college instructor, I want my students to use my first name. They are adults and “respect” does not need to be demanded of them (it is either there, or it isn’t).

So, I was convicted of my sin – the big one: pride. The devil’s sin: wanting to be superior. It is wrong. I humbled myself (I need to do that often) and approached the student from her perspective – she needed help from me. She also needed me to help her learn to communicate, and that’s my job.

* * * * 

Do you see what I’m suggesting here? Do you get the implications? If you use your position (this includes your gender) to try and prove that you are “superior” to others, you don’t get it. If you are the leader, you must be willing to serve.

“Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.” – Margaret Thatcher


  1. In my composition class, one of our assignments is how to write an email. This is a perfect example of why I am going to teach that, and I'm going to use it as an example.

    1. Awesome, I'm glad you can use it. It is a critical skill.

  2. Not sure how I would have responded. Probably with a little bit of sarcasm. Might be just as well I've never gone in to be a teacher. I doubt I would have been well suited to the role.

  3. I understand your lesson. I often thought of the bible saying while I served food to television personalities and staff. I made it my job to serve them the best way I could, giving myself, my enthusiasm and my love as well as the food. That was my role and I did it to the best of my ability - the servant of all.

  4. I can just picture that scenario...and the irritation that would automatically bubble up inside. THis was a really good lesson with a meaningful example. You gave me something to "chew on" for a while.

    By the way, Suzanne, this may be just me and my over-worked eyes, but I sometimes find it difficult to read your posts because of the font size. I really do want to read them. Is there anyway to make the font just a little bit bigger? Of course, if no one else has the same problem, then it is just me...and I need to give my eyes more of a break. Or maybe another check-up. :) Thanks and God bless.

    1. Julie - thanks for commenting. I just increased the font size (an easy fix). Thanks, also for your helpful suggestion.

  5. Hi Suzanne,
    Interesting problem! I think there is a bit of tough love needed here. The student needs help but not the way she thinks she does. I think she needs help with 1) understanding that she would benefit from some organizational skills so she wouldn't need to send e-mails like this and perhaps a place to go to for resources 2) that the e-mail sounded disrespectful of you as a person and your own valuable time, and 3) that she is living in the adult world now and how such poor communication and time management will work against her in her adult endeavors.

    So I admire your willingness to serve her by not blowing her off, but I definitely would not give her what she asked for. I'd give her a much more valuable gift and the extra time and effort involved for you would be true service.


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