Before you read this post, you may want to ponder what these four film characters have in common (besides “awsome-ness”).
The Classic Teacher Film
Hollywood has been very kind to teachers. Every now and then they release a film such as Goodbye Mr. Chips, Mr. Holland’s Opus or Dead Poet’s Society that portrays a teacher. The formula goes something like this: saintly, dedicated, long-suffering teacher accepts a faculty position at a [stuffy prep school / tough, inner-city school]. The teacher endures: tradition-bound, inflexible administrators, pauper’s wages, academic bureaucracy, competitive colleagues, founders/donors with agendas, hateful parents, false accusations, intolerance to his teaching methods (no matter how enlightened) and ungrateful, unteachable students (especially one, particularly unpleasant and resistant student).
In most cases the teacher is marginalized, passed over for advancement or eventually loses his faculty position to leave in disgrace. By the end of the film he is vindicated and recognized for his positive influence in the lives of the students. This usually takes the form of a teary-eyed standing ovation or some other tribute, but we all know that his true reward is primarily in heaven.
Along the way the teacher wins the students over (especially that “one” student). They learn that behind his gruff exterior there stands a teacher who really cares for them. They come to realize that he has taught them to love knowledge and see the world in a better way.
The New Teacher Film
Currently we see a new type of teacher film. It appears in the unlikely genres of science fiction, fantasy and action-adventure. Madam Professor Minerva McGonagall teaches at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. James “Logan” Howlett, aka “Wolverine” teaches at Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters. Dr. Henry Walton “Indiana” Jones holds faculty positions at Barnett and Marshall Colleges. Obi Wan Kenobi is a Jedi Master who teaches padawan learners at the Jedi Academy on planet Coruscant and later as a private tutor on planet Tatooine.
The four pictured characters are all teachers, but they are not mere teachers. What they have in common is that they all do what they teach.
How many times have you heard a student complain, “Teacher, when am I ever going to use this in real life?” They are right to ask this. Students are hungry for applicability. All too often the academic environment dichotomizes theory and practice. Students need to see their teachers actively engaged in the battles of the day.
These four film franchises have been incredibly successful. Perhaps part of their success has been due to the fact that audiences long to see their teachers “in the fray.” The benefits of this approach to teaching are multifold. Students get to see that what their teachers teach really matters. Teachers avoid burn-out by regularly “testing their knowledge in the field of deeds.” Most importantly, the world benefits from the most knowledgeable people bringing their gifts to engage the culture.
Since most teachers are not fighting Nazis, evil geniuses, diabolical wizards or intergalactic empires, what does it look like to engage in spiritual warfare as a teacher? What are some ways that teachers can model this kind of involvement in their field before their students?