A Cautionary Blog for Teachers, Directors, and those in Charge of any kind of Team

"Weary - Self Portrait" by Copyright © 2013 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All rights reserved.

“Weary – Self Portrait” by Copyright © 2016 by Leslye Joy Allen. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 2016 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

I can never forget one moment in a graduate History class that I took when I was working on my Master’s Degree. (FYI: My former professors at my alma maters need not worry about what I am about to say. I took this class on some other college campus.)

I remember the professor’s instructions. In a small class of no more than ten graduate students, the professor said something to this effect,

“You are to write a five-page review of this book. It must have one-inch margins, be double-spaced, and it must be EXACTLY FIVE pages. I don’t want FOUR and a half pages. I don’t want FIVE and one-fourth pages. It must be EXACTLY FIVE pages. If you do not follow these instructions, I will hand the paper back to you and you will have to do it over. This is an exercise to teach you how to edit with precision.”

Now, in all fairness, it was a good exercise. I edited and rewrote until I got that paper to exactly five pages. I re-read it to make sure that it still made sense and was clear. I turned it in. When the professor returned the papers, I anxiously turned to the last page. There it was, an A+. Now, this story does not exactly have a good ending.

Before I could tuck my paper away into my book bag, the professor stood before the class and said this,

“The only person that DOES NOT have to do her paper over is Leslye Joy Allen.”

I gasped.  Damn, I thought!  I did not mind the “A+.” I earned it. Yet, I did mind being singled-out! All of my classmates stared in my direction. A few of them gave me icy looks, others just looked embarrassed. On the way out, I asked the professor if I could speak with him privately.

When we arrived at his office, I told him “Please don’t ever do that to me again.” “What do you mean?” he said. “Single me out like that,” I answered. “But you’re a good student. Good students deserve praise,” he said.  “But not at the expense of making other students feel small,” I replied. I left his office.

At that moment, I understood what every student labeled a “nerd” felt like. I was ashamed of myself because there had been a few times in high school when, even though I made good grades, I had been guilty of calling a few super-brainiac students “nerds.”

Over the next couple of weeks in this graduate class, a few of my classmates barely spoke back when I said, “Hello,” and those that did respond, responded rather coldly. I cut back for a while on participating in class discussions. Eventually the chill thawed and I resumed my normal relations with my classmates and with the professor. Yet, I share this story to make a point.

While I did not deserve the coldness from some of my classmates, I also did not deserve to be singled-out in front of them as the only person who followed the instructions. It produced an unhealthy atmosphere where I appeared as the “favorite” of the professor. Even worse, it placed me in the unnatural and untenable position of being the “standard” by which all others were judged. I’ve never cared for that kind of attention. 

I hope all of the people who are reading this, those who have some form of direction over any group of individuals, will remember that if there is a high achiever in your group, that you can damage the morale of the whole group by singling out that achiever in a manner that denigrates or undervalues the others. Importantly, you can also dampen the spirits and isolate the high achiever(s), which could destroy the type of unity and the free exchange of ideas that makes for a great class, a great production, or a great team. This is a lesson I have never forgotten.

Copyright © 2016 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

This blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.   Any partial or total reference to this or any blog authored by Leslye Joy Allen, or any total or partial excerpt of this or any blog by Leslye Joy Allen must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

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