Saturday, March 14th, Cornelius Minor, a Staff Developer at The Reading & Writing Project gave the luncheon keynote address to over 300 educators at the 2nd Annual Conference for The Teaching Studio at The Learning Community, a public charter school in Central Falls, Rhode Island.
While he began his address with humor and participation, Minor quickly got to the serious matter of his topic:
“In a world of inequity, how are we giving tools to students to let them become heroes to rescue themselves?”
For those not in attendance, there could be some confusion on Minor’s use of the term “hero”; the word is commonly associated with superhero characters from the Marvel or DC Comics. Minor himself even referenced the superhero Batman in his speech in order to make his claim that teachers are the voice-overs in their students’ lives. He suggested that teachers could emulate the voice of Batman’s mentor, Lucius Fox who is played in the films by the actor Morgan Freeman.
The role of the mentor as the “voice-over” is an integral part of the hero’s journey archetype. In the classic hero’s journey, in film and in literature, there are twelve (12) steps. Step 1 begins in the Ordinary World, when the hero hears a Call to Adventure (step 2), which He or She initially Refuses (step 3). By step 4, the hero encounters someone who can give him advice in order to prepare for the journey ahead. That someone in step 4 is The Mentor, a character that students are already familiar with some examples from films.
Students at every grade level can name film mentors such as Glinda from the Wizard of Oz, mentor to Dorothy; Obi-Wan Kenobi from Star Wars, mentor to Luke Skywalker; and Gandalf, mentor to both Hobbits, Frodo and Bilbo Baggins, in the the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Minor, however, asked his audience to turn from cinema’s world of fantasy in order to suggest the role the ordinary teacher plays everyday is as powerful as these other mentors.
“Think about that Morgan Freeman voiceover in the movie…. to ‘Be the Batman,'”intoned Minor enthusiastically in order to illustrate that every student needs to hear that voice-over in their heads to “Be the hero” of their life.
While teachers may lack the gravely voice of Morgan Freeman, teachers can help their students when they decide to Cross the First Threshold into adventure (step 5) and meet Tests, Allies, Enemies (step 6) before taking a New Approach (step 7) when setbacks occur day by day, grade by grade.
Just as the characters in epic literature or in film Confront Ordeals (step 8), teachers in real life can contribute by helping students Achieve Success and Rewards (step 9) as they prepare to Return to the Ordinary World with new knowledge (step 10). Helping students achieve success is critical to prepare students for future tests, both literal and figurative (step 11), and the final step 12 is when students finally complete the journey with knowledge, literally the “elixir”, which will be used to help others.
Colette, this post resonates with me right now as I am, quite literally, sitting at my desk drafting my end of the year assessment for my most challenging Spanish class. Yesterday we began watching the film “Pan’s Labyrinth” in class, and we had been talking about the hero’s journey. I know that I will somehow be working in the idea of the hero’s journey and how this group of students see themselves as the protagonists in their own stories as I create an integrated performance assessment for this group. Neat post. You continue to inspire me to do new things in my classes, and I thank you for that.
Love Pan’s Labyrinth! and I love hearing from you as well. That hero’s journey is so applicable to so many situations that I sometimes feel like I am writing about it over and over…but, wait…. of course….it’s an archetype! Hope your heroes make that connection; will serve them well in literature (and film!)
I have always loved the hero myth and Joseph Campbell. Applying this process as a framework for teachers to help mentor students is a fabulous way for teachers to maintain perspective during what can often be a hectic and chaotic classroom experience. Thanks so much for sharing this.