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Welcome back for part 2 of “Teach Like a Superhero.” If continuity is your thing, go back and read part 1 before continuing.

Ok you made it back and you’re ready for the big reveal. Which superhero should you emulate as a teacher?

Hawkeye!

“Seriously?”

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from Hawkeye by Fraction, Aja, & Hollingsworth. Property of Marvel Entertainment.

Yep. Hawkeye. First of all there are two Hawkeyes, male and female. Most of you are likely familiar with Clint Barton as Hawkeye from the Avengers movie. You may be less familiar with Kate Bishop a female Hawkeye who is equally brilliant and doesn’t have to take the name “Lady Hawkeye” or “Hawkeye Girl” or any garbage like that. She’s just Hawkeye. Consider the existance of equal male and female versions of Hawkeye as a bonus point. A good start, but there’s a lot more than equal gender representation that makes Hawkeye a good choice for teachers.

(Note on pronouns: Every reference to Hawkeye from this point forward applies to both Barton and Bishop collectively, and since english pronouns are gendered I’m picking male for the sake of consistency.)

Back on track. You’re probably thinking: “Why teach like Hawkeye? I saw the Avengers movie, and he gets mind-controlled almost immediately and then just sorta hangs out and shoots stuff. How is this at all good for teaching?”

Hawkeye has a unique set of skills and traits that make him a good model for teaching. Other heroes may have one or two of these, but it is the specific mix that corresponds well to good teaching. These are: humanity, skill, , knowledge of resources, adaptability, and efficiency.

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from Hawkeye by Fraction, Aja, & Hollingsworth. Property of Marvel Entertainment.

First and foremost Hawkeye is completely human: no faulty gamma radiation, no mutations, no radioactive hawk spider bite. This is a person in which we can see ourselves, as opposed to some artificially created super-being. Hawkeye is highly skilled and he’s honed all of his skills through extensive practice and training. There is no magic to Hawkeye’s success.

In addition though Hawkeye is human in that he is fallible. He makes mistakes, figures out the consequences and then perseveres through finding the right solution. Teachers have to do this as well. No teacher is perfect and no amount of preparation or planning will create a perfect, surprise-free lesson. The great teacher is not the one where everything goes according to plan; a great teacher is the one who smoothly adapts to unexpected situations, falling back on their practice and theory to use unexpected circumstances to their advantage.

With this in mind Hawkeye also has a fantastic knowledge of his resources. He has a wide range of arrows in his quiver each tailored to a specific task much like how highly skilled teachers can call on a diverse array of teaching techniques to appropriately address the needs of their students both expected and unexpected. Teachers regularly have to refine their practice in order to best meet the needs of all their students, and like Hawkeye, must continually develop new techniques to successfully solve problems and adapt to changing situations. There are absolutely some methods that teachers rely on more regularly, and each teacher will emphasize certain techniques more than others to customize their quiver, but all high quality teachers see their quiver of techniques as a living collection that is regularly assessed, modified, and tailored to their current needs.

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Hawkeye’s arrows from Hawkeye by Fraction, Aja, & Hollingsworth. Property of Marvel Entertainment.

Lastly Hawkeye must be efficient with his skills and resources, as a teacher must be as well. Hawkeye is limited in any encounter by the arrows in his quiver. While Cyclops can blast lasers from his eyes for an eternity, and Wonder Woman’s super strength never diminishes, Hawkeye can run out of arrows. (And he did in the Avengers movie.) To this end he must choose carefully, and it is in this selection that Hawkeye demonstrates his greatest skill that teachers should aspire to develop.

Teachers are not limited by arrows, but by time, be it the structure of a school year, the time in a day, or structured planning and grading time. It is absolutely essential that teachers use all of their available time effectively and efficiently every single day. Like Hawkeye, when our most essential resource is exhausted we become substantially less effective. Hawkeye is skilled in hand to hand combat, and a teacher can assign homework or send an after-hours email, but it is Hawkeye’s time with the bow, and the teacher’s direct time with students that are the most valuable and it is essentially to effectively maximize our impact while still in possession of this resource. Using every minute of a class period with purpose is an important hallmark of quality teaching.

Teachers are tasked with a great responsibility to shape and grow the future generation of leaders for the world. Superheroes are constantly tasked with saving the world. Our roles are not that different and as such our preparation and dedication should be equivalent as well. The teacher that aspires to be like Hawkeye, and pursues that aspiration with effort and dedication, will be a great teacher indeed.

It always comes up: At a dinner party, meeting the neighbors, any time you’re meeting someone new.  “So what do you do for work?”

I teach in the public school system.

“Oh wow.”  And then you get one of a few responses: “You’re a saint”, or “that must be really hard”, “I’d never have the patience”, “oh God, I could never do it”.  They’re all code for the same idea: “well thank God YOU’RE doing it so that I don’t have to.”

Teaching is not easy, and it’s true that not everyone is cut out for the job.  You’re tasked with convincing fives classes of thirty to thirty-five conscripted youth (in each class) that they should work extremely hard to learn some things that are not always immediately relevant on a daily basis.  These young people regularly bring in a myriad of issues and concerns that impede the teacher’s ability to work effectively.  The schedule is extremely fixed and teachers regularly work extended hours in order to do a quality job.  Some teachers work in extremely hostile environments that prevent them from working to their maximum potential.  Additionally brand new teachers are required to complete the same tasks as veteran teachers with a very steep learning curve and relatively little support most of the time.

To be a good teacher you need a great deal of tenacity, skill, and patience, but you don’t need to be a saint, and the implied self-sacrifice should not be your goal.  Instead aim to be a superhero.

Superheroes do things that ordinary humans believe to be impossible.  They reject standard logic and attempt the impossible with dedication and idealism.  Superheroes believe that they can make a difference and they put that belief into action no matter what others tell them.  Great teachers do the same.

There are however a myriad of superheroes all with their diverse abilities and missions and worldviews.  Who then should the novice teacher seek to emulate?

 

Let’s begin with the most obvious choices:  Superman and Wonder Woman

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Image from http://www.wecanbeheroes.com A project of DC Entertainment to support Save the Children, IRC and Mercy Corps

These two are not a good choice.  Sure, they’re both full of positive idealism and they push themselves to the limit in pursuit of their goals, but both Superman and Wonder Woman solve most their problems by punching them.  They’re fantastic at getting the job done, but if teachers start trying to solve all their problems by punching we’re going to have issues.  Kal’El and Diana are also, frankly, an impossible standard.  Superman is an alien and Wonder Woman is a clay statue that’s been given immortal life by the gods.  They’re not even human.  Do not try to make yourself like these two.  You’ll just end up disappointing yourself.  (Neither of these two are examples of good work/life balance either.  They both put in insane hours working two jobs and I’m sure they never get enough sleep.  Remember: they’re not human.  You are.)

Ok, so how about Batman then?  He’s a regular human, incredibly intelligent, highly skilled, and extremely successful in a dangerous poverty-impacted urban center.  Slam dunk! (Right?) Not really.

Batman is another impossible standard.  We need to remember that Batman’s origin is as billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne.  He’s the definition of throwing money at the problem.  The Batman teacher would buy his students every possible resources or gadget, and if those didn’t work he’d invent something tailored to the precise need.  Not a viable solution.  Batman is also primarily driven by revenge and personal vendetta.  This is not a sustainable model for successful teaching.  (Batman has some serious mental health issues that would need resolution before he should be interacting with students on a regular basis.  Pretty much everyone who works in Gotham City is out.)

Spiderman?  Not serious enough, terrible classroom management.  Good rapport with students, but low rigor.

Jean Grey?  She’d probably turn into the phoenix and destroy the whole school.  Let’s just avoid major explosions and reconstruction.

Captain America?  Also solves problems with punching, and he’d probably revert back to his 1940’s upbringing and teach solely with direct instruction, silent study hall, and corporeal punishment.

“Ok…. but you said teach like a superhero!  Who do I emulate then?”

You’ll have to check back in part 2.  (What’s a superhero story without a cliffhanger ending?)