Generally speaking, educators and their role in the education system could be the picture paired with the definition of servant leadership. Servant Leadership, as defined by Greenleaf (1970), is a leader who has a need or desire to serve others in order to develop themselves, therefore, performing to meet organizational standards. As teachers, our job is to serve our students by guiding them in their development as young adults socially, academically, and sometimes through athletics and other clubs on campus. In our class text, Northouse (2013) lists ten characteristics of a servant leader; Listening, Empathy, Healing, Awareness, Persuasion, Conceptualization, Foresight, Stewardship, Commitment to the growth of people, and Building community. As a teacher, each of these characteristics are equally important to the overall leadership one provides to students at their school.
While servant leadership is all but a requirement for the role of a teacher, I think students and parents can easily abuse the servant element in servant leadership. I think this is even more the case at small, private schools, where families are paying for their son or daughter to attend. As a private school teacher, I believe the line between parental expectations and staying true to the standards of the school can unnecessarily move for reasons often outside of a teacher’s control.
For example, some parents believe by paying tuition for their son or daughter, they are buying a high school diploma regardless of their child’s academic performance. This can be troublesome for obvious reasons, but mainly because the standards of the school and the teacher are put to the test by complaining parents who expect the teacher, and often the school, to bend over backward for their son or daughter in order to receive a good grade in the class. In a study by Fatma Bikmaz from Ankara University titled, “What Parents Expect From Classroom Teachers and How Classroom Teachers Measure Up To Those Expectations”, her study was conducted among both private and public school families. The research showed that parents of both private and public school students were not well-informed enough to make a determination on the expectations of a teacher, and encouraged educators to hold more seminars, parent-teacher conferences, and open up communication with families to define a teacher’s role more clearly. Combine an uninformed parent with unrealistic expectations that they believe they are paying for, and you could find yourself in a troubling position as a teacher.
In my experience as a private school teacher, I have found that parents, while they claim to have their child’s best interests at heart, often don’t know the full story when it comes to their children and life outside their household. While their son or daughter may be an angel at home under the watchful eye of their parents, at school, their behavior and effort in the classroom can be quite sub-standard. For example, I have a student this year who does not enjoy my class, Strength and Conditioning. Despite trying several different ways of getting this young man motivated to develop proper physical fitness, he has little to no motivation outside of his video games. When discussing this with his parents, they are taken aback at how I have portrayed their son; unmotivated, without a desire to perform the daily tasks of the class. They provide his grades from other classes, where he performs well, and they can’t even imagine this behavior from their son. When provided with his data collected from my physical fitness testing, the excuses flood the conversation about fairness, and the lack of clarity provided for their son to properly understand what is expected of him to perform in class. At some point, a teacher in this situation is faced with a decision that challenges their ethical standards; should the student be forced against his motivational will to meet expectations in the class, while being supported by his parents, or does the teacher modify expectations for this student in order to meet the expectations of the family.
Many teachers in this position can be challenged by their desire to serve in a servant leadership role, while also maintaining their standards as an educator to meet academic expectations in their course. The traits of this role support a teacher going above and beyond to make this student not only successful in the class, but hopefully enjoy the class over the duration of the school year. In physical fitness, each student or sub-group of students will have physical restrictions based on their fitness level, while each family expects their son or daughter to earn an “A” level grade. Add in the students who have little to no motivation to be in average healthy, physical shape, and you have families paying a school for their child’s education, and relying on high grades for their next level of education post-graduation.
I once had a student who was very high-achieving, who had her sights set on Stanford as her collegiate destination. She was on the academic track to get there and be admitted to the school, until her 12th grade Spanish teacher decided to offer no make-up opportunities for assignments. This student completed one assignment one day late, and the teacher did not offer flexibility, thus the student earned a grade lower than her work deserved. Due to this poor grade, this student’s GPA was impacted the week Stanford required applications to be due, and she did not get admitted to Stanford. After four years of high academic achievement, this student and her family’s investment in her education was impacted by a grade earned for turning work in late. This was obviously an issue with the family, and they decided to pull their younger children from the school because of this teacher’s lack of flexibility. Again, in a situation where a teacher has to decide whether their academic standards are more important than their willingness to work with students to bend expectations to better position themselves, parents can misplace their expectations for what they are paying for with private school education.
While servant leadership is displayed by educators each day they arrive on campus, it is a leadership style that can be easily abused by students and parents, alike. For those who work day in and day out to meet the needs of their students, these teachers can be put into tough spots professionally and ethically to attempt to make their requirements fit the needs of the individual students who do not want to follow the track set by their teacher, and use their parents (and their wallet) to influence a teacher’s decision. Strong academic administrators will take the side of a teacher in most cases, but at private schools, the parents paying for a product (their child’s high school diploma and a GPA high enough to meet high academic standards at colleges and universities) often get their way.
Bikmaz, F. (n.d.). academia.edu. Retrieved November 11, 2019, from https://www.academia.edu/1362140/What_Parents_Expect_From_Classroom_Teachers_and_How_Classroom_Teachers_Measure_Up_to_Those_Expectations.
Greenleaf, R.K. (1970). The servant as leader. Westfield, IN: The Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership.
Northouse, P.G. (2013). Leadership: Theory and Practice. Los Angeles: Sage Publications.