The Savior Complex

The Savior Complex

The lesson was going great. Discussions were facilitating deep thinking, work was getting done, kids were talking about their reading without my prompting.  Then I saw him: Head down, possible drool pool hiding beneath the pillow he constructed out of his arms.  As I went to gently shake him awake, I thought, Shoot–how did I miss that?  I had been furiously conferencing with other students and must have been turned the other way.  Almost simultaneously, I heard a student–who generally favors the hyperbolic statement–say, It is so freezing in here.  I HATE THIS CLASS.  

And then it started to go.

Matthew Quick’s character, Bartholomew Neal, would call it the angry man in his stomach.

Oskar Schell would claim he was getting heavy boots again, and might pinch himself for his shortcomings.

Julia Cameron dismisses it as the Inner Critic.

The Bible would call them lies spun by the enemy.

Either way, the moment I hear a negative comment, see a student who has slipped through the cracks for five minutes, or stare at all the red in my grade book for hopeful graduating seniors, I can’t seem to quiet that voice–whatever you choose to call IT–no matter how many times I attempt to smother or extinguish the flame.

IT says: You’re the worst teacher on the planet.

What makes you think you can change the world, or even one class period, one student?

They say you’re doing a great job, but what does anyone really know?  Don’t they just see what you present to them?

And worst of all, God didn’t place you here, He probably just forgot for awhile, and this is where you ended up.

Amateur.  Inadequate.  Soft.  Never Enough.

Forget the fact that I know all these thoughts are false.  They plague my mind daily, hourly, sometimes even by the minute.  So what is it that allows me to take the few negatives as failures, even when juxtaposed with many more positives?

In response to one of my messages one day, my friend and trusted mentor, Amy, called it The Savior Complex.  We want to save all the students–ALL OF THEM.  And by save, I mean engage, facilitate growth in life and learning, help them to feel loved and valued, encourage their ambitions and challenge them each and every day.

Seems doable.  (Not that I set lofty goals or anything.)

It’s my goal in these last few weeks to focus on the positive and deal with the negative.  I don’t want one to replace the other.  I don’t want to only see the positive, because that would take away the growth.  I just want to give each one its due in contributing to what I speak to myself each day.

Just like I tell my students:  Don’t say anything to yourself that you wouldn’t dream of saying to someone else.

How do you deal with that Angry Man in your stomach or the Inner Critic?  Let me know in the comments!

P.S. (Can 11 weeks qualify as “a few?”)

Note: This post was originally published on Jessica Jordana.

Jessica Paxson is an English IV and Creative Writing teacher in Arlington, TX.  She frequently feels as though someone made a mistake in allowing her to hold the futures of over 100 teenagers in her jittery, over-caffeinated hands for the past two years.  If you enjoy watching her make a fool of herself by being unbearably vulnerable, you can catch more of that over at Follow her on Twitter or Instagram @jessjordana.


8 thoughts on “The Savior Complex

  1. […] OF COURSE we can’t stop murder.  OF COURSE we can’t change the whole world.  OF COURSE we can’t save them all. […]


  2. […] We wrestle with accountability, making the right choices, bankrupting our personal finances, moving in new directions, providing substantive feedback, reinventing our curriculum, and capturing that often elusive “I’m making a difference” feeling. […]


  3. Amy Estersohn March 22, 2017 at 6:37 pm Reply

    I have a few spiritual “safe harbors” in my room — they all happen to be books, but there’s no reason they have to be — that remind me why I am there and bring back to me memories of people, places, and experiences.

    I have a folder in my e-mail where I put notes that make me smile.

    And I remind myself that if we expect writers to approach their work as a work in progress, we have to approach our craft as a work in progress, too.


    • Jessica Paxson March 23, 2017 at 6:29 am Reply

      Amy, I like viewing writers as a mentor text of sorts, as you said. I have an e-mail folder and an actual folder, as well 🙂


  4. ML March 22, 2017 at 3:34 pm Reply

    I think about the ones who I have helped. I’m trying to focus on the good and not the bad. This post came at a good time as I’m dealing with a couple of kids who don’t like being pushed. They want easy but easy doesn’t cut it!


    • Jessica Paxson March 23, 2017 at 6:28 am Reply

      I’m glad we could be of some encouragement! Keep at it!


  5. Jessica Paxson March 22, 2017 at 3:20 pm Reply

    Amy, I love the idea of using a mirror! I need to get one for that purpose!! I find that self-talk in my journal just seems cheesy and forced–although, it helps sometimes. Perhaps I should try speaking it out loud and seeing how that works!

    I’m so thankful to have your wisdom and feedback and gut checks!


  6. Amy Rasmussen March 22, 2017 at 10:50 am Reply

    My mentor teacher during my very first year is the one who introduced me to the term “the Savior complex.” She saw me trying to be All That to Every Kid, which is pretty common for most new teachers. I know she wasn’t telling me to give up on anyone, but she was warning me that we can wear ourselves out when we stress too much about those who are the hardest to reach. What good are we then for those who are more responsive?

    I know I’ve mentioned this before, but I believe self-talk is one of the most powerful tools we have within easy reach. A long time ago I worked in sales, and I learned a thing or two from the great Brian Tracy. One approach he taught me was to sit in my car before a sales call and talk to myself: “I got this. I have a great product, a great sales pitch. We offer incredible service. I am the best, the best, the best, the best.” Sure, you feel like an idiot — and you better hope no one is sitting in the car next to you laughing his guts out — but it works. Confidence soars and tension eases. This same approach works for teachers. Do you have a small mirror in your room? I have two. Sure, I check my lipstick, but I also take the time to look myself in the eye and remind myself of all the good I do with children every single day. Sometimes I am the only one saying anything positive, but at least I am someone.

    Keep at it, my young friend. Your students are blessed to have you!


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