By Dan Bruno, M.Ed., NBCT
Secondary Section Blogger
Define Irony: On the "Everyday Heroes" day of my school's recent homecoming week, based on my own visual survey, 90% of the teachers in the building dressed as doctors, lawyers, etc. I dressed as myself. People didn't get it. *Collective groan*
More to the point, I recently attended a Model United Nations conference at high school in Loudon County, VA. The host of the conference did not feel comfortable giving the Wi-Fi password to visiting coaches because he did not know it himself. The policy in Loudon seems to be to keep as much from the teachers as possible. Coincidentally, the principal of the school happened to wander in and give us an impromptu speech about how folks who give up time on their Saturdays to bring students to events like these instead of spending that time with their families are the unsung heroes of education. This particular unsung hero thought, but withheld, the following: "Would you be willing to give an unsung hero a Wi-Fi password so that I can grade some work?" Since my cooler head prevailed, I never got to hear his reponse; my guess: NO.
Heroes and Heroism is a topic that is as old as the literature we teach. Heroic songs of gods and god-like men and women permeate the literature of our earliest civilizations: Gilgamesh, The Odyssey, The Ramayana. These stories set the foundation upon which we tell stories today. Joseph Campbell even made scholastic gold out of describing the archetypal journey that the hero undertakes. Yet, year after year, I find it difficult to develop engaging ways to teach this specific topic. One suggestion I can make, especially if we are dealing with heroes who do not travel much (that is tragic heroes and others whose journey is more mental than physical), is Jim Burke's Cycle of Life, Literature, and Learning.
The order of those elements is not coincidental: literature and learning are ok; however, life is the focus of what we do. We teach stories because of the way they illuminate our lives. So, how can I connect the mundane lives of my students with the extraordinary journeys of men like Odysseus?
If you are looking for a way to introduce the topic or even to question the need for/presence of the topic in our curriculum, head over to the NCTE connected community and read Jocelyn Chadwick's submission for the November Engage Now! lesson. In her lesson, students critically examine what heroes are and whether or not we need them. The final project, a digital montage, is an idea I am excited to try out in my own classroom.
So, from one unsung, everyday hero to another, check out the lesson plan, but also keep on being heroic. Doctors may have the vital task of preserving life, but teachers are in the business of building them. If we worship doctors as heroes, then teachers definitely deserve the title.