Watch the official movie trailer and you’ll see why The Avengers is topping box office records as it surpasses the $1 billion dollar mark in box office receipts in only 19 days.
Although Thor with his hammer, Captain America with his shield, and Black Widow’s bracelets are swell, none can match the natural strength, intelligence, and prowess of the world’s true mega-heroes: Teachers!
Heroes not Zeroes
Tim Clifford recently posted a piece in The New York Times positing the argument that teachers are neither zeroes nor heroes (18 April, 2012). He makes several agreeable statements in an open letter to education reformers. Clifford writes:
• The myth of the bad teacher is just that — a myth. I’ve taught for more than two decades and I can truthfully assert that I have only seen a handful of teachers who were so awful that they needed to be bounced from the classroom.
• Of that handful, many were weeded out in the tenure process, and others were either forced out or exited voluntarily because they couldn’t cut it.
• Speaking of tenure, let me remind you that administrators have as many as five years to decide whether teachers deserve tenure. Before that, teachers can be fired for any reason, or no reason at all.
• And as for the oft-repeated meme, perpetuated in ed reform hit pieces like the movie “Waiting for Superman,” that once granted tenure, teachers stick their feet up on their desks and read the sports section for the next 20 years, I invite you all to spend even one period in a classroom with your feet up. You will quickly learn why teaching cannot be performed while sitting on one’s posterior.
• We don’t pull swords from stones, but we do pull thoughtful answers from reluctant learners.
• And while the villains we face rarely wear black masks, we do square off against thinly disguised poverty, hunger, discrimination, abuse, bullying and neglect on a regular basis. (18 April, 2012)
Like Clifford, I have also been an educator for more than two decades. As a faculty member, faculty assembly president, and administrator, I have seen many teacher-heroes and very few teacher-zeroes.
In The Avengers trailer, Nick Fury refers to his team as “a group of remarkable people.” This is a simple definition of what a true hero is: someone with outstanding characteristics and/or abilities that represent the ideal human being in a given culture. Who could match the cleverness of Odysseus for the early Greeks, the courage of Rosa Parks for Americans, or the invincibility Randy Pausch ?
One of the most respected scholars to define a hero was Joseph Campbell whose book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces (2008), explicated the hero in terms of a common journey called “The Monomyth.” Basically, what this means is that a hero is someone who passes through the stages and challenges of life successfully. This is a journey that teachers both pass through successfully themselves and one that they, as heroes, guide their own students through.
Chess Edwards offers a concise take on Campbell’s Monomyth that most educators will readily identify with their students and where there is further evidence that faculty are heroes:
Edwards basically says that although we would like to journey through life with ease from beginning to end, that’s not a realistic expectation. There will be obstacles and challenges—some of them extreme enough to nearly cause us to give up. However, the hero is someone who successfully passes through all of this and shares the resulting skills, experience, and other treasures with his/her community. This is what teachers do. This is what teachers share with their students.
For many students, it is the hero-teacher who models and guides them along this heroic path in life. Let me break this down according to the main parts of the Monomyth:
• Home or life as we know it: Everything is comfortable; everything is familiar. We may have a hope, as Edwards says, that everything will move forward for us in a linear manner from point A to point B. However, life doesn’t typically work that way.
• Call to action: Teachers may start with ideal expectations but discover that teaching is not as easy or initially rewarding as expected. They may find students in their classes who have lost their jobs and are retraining for a new career. Both groups may have been forced to cross a threshold into an unfamiliar, unknown world that is a bit intimidating or even frightening.
• Pit of despair: For those who do continue, there may even be a point that these teachers and students feel they can’t do it, that they can’t go on and teach a class or take a class. They may feel that teaching isn’t for them or that higher education is not possible for them. Yet, they move forward where others fear to tread.
• Gifts: This is the point where teachers become not only heroes, but makers of heroes. Somehow, many who choose to become educators find the courage, the strength, and other heroic characteristics to not only push themselves through this ordeal, but also to guide their students through it as well. Faculty model and help their students find the gifts that Edwards speaks of. Just as the Avengers become stronger as part of S.H.I.E.L.D. (Strategic Hazard Intervention Espionage Logistics Directorate), the teacher leads students into new knowledge, skills, and alliances for academic, professional and personal growth. Teachers display and inspire in their students faith, confidence, compassion, and other heroic virtues.
• Return: Just as Edwards and Campbell emphasize, heroes must take the gifts that have been won back into their respective communities, every day, faculty are on the front lines of society, sharing the gifts that they themselves have won and inspiring a rippling effect as their students “pay it forward” in heroic service of their own.
Sure, summoning lighting is a cool power, but it won’t help anyone find gainful employment or improve their lives. Therefore, both for who they are and what they achieve, teachers are the true heroes who inspire others to heroism.