Savior Complex

Almost all teachers who stay in the profession of public education are those who hold a passion for making a difference in the lives of youth. Unfortunately, how we operationalize this passion can be sliced and diced into a thousand different meanings. What it comes down to is how we, in our roles as educators, envision the guiding purposes of education and then how we carry out our ideas in practice. To give contextual examples, some teachers are strict and demanding in order to establish a high level of academic accountability and achievement. Others are disciplinarians who thoroughly believe in the development of core values such as respect, order, and adherence to authority. Yet, some become the quasi-friend, overlooking the “small things” in order to establish bonds with their students because they deem the social development aspect of education to be of tremendous importance. None of these pedagogies are wrong. As long as we don’t go as far with them in thinking that we are God in the classroom.


In varying capacities, there are many teachers who, over time, assume the “God role” instead of the educator one. And in all honesty, most teachers are maligned with some stage of a savior complex. We think we can and are responsible for saving others. We should think and feel like this. It makes us passionate educators and compels us to do our jobs better. For the most part, we are able to create better classrooms when our thinking as “humble servants” aligns with our daily lessons. But once we begin to take our own word for the Word, it becomes problematic.


Those of us who are in the position to stand in front of students every day are in a fortunate position. We are provided with daily opportunities to “break bread” with a next generation of people and steer them along the “right path”. But there are particular circumstances with some educators who find their “right” messages slipping into a sacrilegious interpretation of “academic righteousness”; this is when our omnibenevolent vision is unfortunately overshadowed by an omnipotent one. We should always check ourselves when we wrongly prioritize these two themes. If not, this is wherein lies the danger of our savior complex.


We must take every opportunity to humble ourselves when we are dealing with engaging students in learning moments. This means carrying an understanding that our perspectives and worldviews are not the singular measure of valuing student worth and potential. We are not God. Our “rule” or judgments should never be taken as inarguable finality. We should never position ourselves to close doors for students simply based on our subjective evaluations of them. We must have the passion to want to instill a structure that promotes growth, both academically and socially. But we should allow our ideas, opinions, and pedagogies to be flexible to change through input by our peers, our own students, and even ourselves. When we become self-reflexive in these ways, we take the savior complex out of our teaching and educate our students with a whole lot more power.



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Matthew R. Morris

Educator, Speaker, Writer

Matthew R. Morris is a writer, speaker, and elementary educator in Toronto. He has an M.A. in Social Justice Education from OISE at the University of Toronto and is the author of the forthcoming book, Black Boys Like Me. 

Matthew R. Morris

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