Not Feeling Heroic? Consider Teaching

I’ve already worked out in my previous blog that the idea of a hero is not a permanent one. Not this side of time, anyway.

When I teach students to read through their books, I often ask them questions about how they identify with the protagonist. I ask how they think they are the same as the main character and how they are different, and what they would do differently.

I do all this try to force my students into some kind of thinking where the main character almost becomes like a boyfriend or girlfriend or friend to the reader. I don’t think this is wrong, necessarily; growing up, do you know how many nights I spent with a good book rather than go to a party? And was it my fault I was not always invited to parties? (Probably; I was always the one talking about books.)

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Books are like speed dating for growing minds. (I mean, consider the difference. After reading Harry Potter, who really imagined themselves dating Ron? A bunch of fan girls took off with that idea only after the movie came out with Rupert Grint in the Ron Weasley role.)

For me, becoming a teacher because I loved books seemed like a good idea. After all, if I couldn’t make money from reading them, why not try to cultivate a love for them from teenagers for money?

But then the question comes to me. Why did I decide to be a teacher of literature? Did I think that I wouldn’t be able to do write any good books myself? I have often wondered if I had erred on the side of caution rather than risked everything to write. Now I teach students about what makes good writing, and dissect reading to death. Ironic, that I once lived for the light literature brought me.

I am a failure as a ‘hero.’ I am, therefore, a teacher.

While my own life example is compelling, I have also seen this in many literature examples.

The mentor who failed becomes the tutor to the new hero who is trying.

  • Luke is the protege of Obi-Wan, who failed to teach Anakin/Darth Vader.
  • Yoda taught Count Dooku and failed, and then takes over after Obi-Wan dies. (There are a lot of Star Wars references.)
  • Haymitch failed in his efforts to fight the capitol, even though he won the Hunger Games.
  • Several romantic comedies where a mother mentors her daughter or some friend mentors his friend based off of a failed relationship/one chance at happiness.
  • Superman’s father tries to mentor him to save Earth even though Jor-El did not save Krypton.

There are loads of examples you can look through, but the end result can be seen: A teacher is one who has failed before.

Does failure precede teaching? Can a hero teach without losing?

I would say it does not often happen, but it is possible. A lot still depends on the situation. But there are lessons learned in failure which a winner may never learn quite as well. A hero who succeeds in his goal is often ineffective in passing the torch, however; think about it. If a hero succeeds at her goal, is there a need for the goal to be met? No. A new challenge arises, rather than an increasingly threatening version of the previous challenge.

There’s an old saying, “If you can’t do, teach.” Maybe it’s more true than we’d like to think some day.

Does this mean if you are a teacher, you are a failure? No, but it does mean you know what it is. That’s an important distinction. Sometimes it means you are the judge of whether or not someone else has failed in his or her heroic task. Either way, a teacher is someone who had a heroic journey of her own, and seeks to help out the new hero through her wisdom. That often means we know failure, but the degree of familiarity and affectation is up to us.

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