I had been grading papers for a few hours, for what feels like the umpteenth day in a row, when I got the email from my colleague. “How is the grading coming along? The students should get their papers back in time to help them on the next assignment.” Upon reading those words, the emotional response was immediate: anger. Resentment. How dare he?!?
I suppose I should backtrack and explain a bit. I teach writing—technical communication—in an engineering college, and what that means is that I’m the one teaching engineering students how to write reports. At my university, we do a lot of team teaching and this particular course is team-taught by engineering faculty—my colleague—and me. I’m responsible for grading sixty of the eighty students’ papers (one other person does the other twenty), and right now I’m muddling through individual reports that are between four and five pages each.
Have you ever tried to read sixty, four to five page research papers that are students’ first real attempt at technical communication? Yeah. Not easy. And because I want to be helpful, and the best opportunity I have to teach students on an individual basis is through the comments I make on their papers, each one takes me between half an hour and forty-five minutes.
Some more background: I have taught this particular course, with this particular colleague, four times in the past and two other times when he wasn’t teaching. And I recently realized that this is my eighteenth year teaching at the college level. Oh, and I have degrees in the teaching of writing and in technical communication, and some people even call me Dr. Rhonda in reference to my PhD (which I find a bit awkward and hilarious, but there it is). But when I read that email, I once again felt as if I were being scolded, judged, perceived as a graduate student who is just learning how to teach and grade and do all of the things. As if I can’t do my job without a reminder to do it, even worse, as if I can’t be trusted to know what my job is and to get it done. And that—that made me angry. (It still does.)
This time, though, after the immediate reaction, I caught myself. If I’m going to be fair, emails like this have been a regular occurrence with this particular colleague, not only with me but with people far older and more experienced than me. And this year he has been much better about sending them out, much better at resisting that urge to micromanage everything. This is the first time he’s sent out an email like this in a month—that’s an amazing record. So why was my immediate response anger and resentment?
Honestly, it’s because I am already upset with myself for not having the papers graded yet. While I know personally that I have been doing my best to catch up and keep up in this crazy, death-illness-and-snow-ridden semester, I also am disappointed with myself for not having caught up or kept up. And upon reading that email, I immediately wanted to be defensive, list every reason I don’t have the papers finished, justify myself, make myself look better in his eyes. And that’s just it: Even when I don’t feel good about myself—maybe especially when I don’t feel good about myself—I want to look good to other people, to have them respect me and not judge me. I want to feel better knowing other people think well of me. So many of my actions when it comes to work are motivated by this—by wanting others to think well of me. I have a hard time keeping the eternal perspective, the God perspective that goes like this:
Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. (Col. 3:23-24, ESV)
I’m not quite sure how to keep the eternal perspective, but I know as I just read those words I had tears in my eyes. I am working for the Lord. The thought that he knows my heart, he knows my true efforts, he knows whether I’ve been working heartily or not, is a comfort. It’s also a motivation to keep going. To keep going when the work feels like drudgery, when everything that results from it feels like judgment or—even worse—indifference or active, intense dislike (on my students’ parts; engineers are not always enthusiastic about writing). And the thought that even when all I can seem to see and feel is the here and now, that something I am doing in the here and now may make an eternal difference—that is motivating. Because the one reward I really want, I long for, is to hear those lovely words of affirmation:
Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master. (Matt. 25:21, ESV)
Lord, let me be good. Let me be faithful. And let me keep going, keep working earnestly, and let me do it as for you and not for men. Help me to keep that eternal perspective.
#work #eternalperspective #workforthelord #anger #resentment #defensiveness #disappointment #faithfulness