Teacher for a day: Discovering 24/7 heroes

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This past week, the dynamic duo who tout the attributes of the comic book genre heeded the “Bat signal” and spent Superhero Day at Red Oak Elementary School, taking up the challenge of teaching all the students during their art class time at the invitation of their art teacher, Demetrius Smith.

World–renowned artist Louis Small Jr. talked about his experience in the comic book industry and showed the kids how to draw their favorite heroes. I took up the task of talking about literacy, creativity and the positive attributes that kids can develop from reading comics as well as leading a rather exhilarating discussion about what it is that makes up a superhero versus a supervillain.

In the end, the lesson we tried to impart was that what makes the hero is not the superpower (even some of the kids readily recognized that many of the villains have the exact same powers as heroes: Reverse Flash being an obvious example in relation to The Flash). Rather, it is how people use the powers they have that makes them heroes or villains.

Heroes are selfless, use the “Golden Rule,” help others, work for love and truth, and in the kids’ most basic definition: always work for good. The villains do the opposite: are selfish, help only themselves, work out of hate, lie and cheat, and in the most basic definition: work for bad.

It was a full day, with Lou and I interacting with about 250 kids, giving away about that many comic books and going through our lesson five times with a bunch of learning taking place. However, from the two-hour decompression discussion that followed our day, it turned out that it was the dynamic duo that learned the most from our day as “teachers.” Mr. Miyagi would have been proud that the teachers became the students. And ultimately, in the end, the students became the teachers.

But our first revelation was something unexpected. We were there ostensibly to talk about superheroes and extrapolate from that conversation some real-world lessons for the students. However, just by living through the day, we discovered who the real world superheroes are every day — all day: the teachers!

First of all, Lou and I spent a bunch of time getting ready for our day beforehand and then got to the school early where our friend, Demetrius, the art teacher, had literally spent months preparing for this day’s event by making background sets, capes and masks for the kids, as well as having read with them superhero stories in preparation. Then, after going back to back, class after class, we finally hit the last bell, and thought we were done. But of course we had to clean up (250 kids and two very adult kids can be a bit messy), and then there is a thing called “bus duty” on top of that because apparently those kids don’t actually live at the school (a mark of efficiency we would have appreciated after standing for about six hours so we could get rolling). And then, just when we thought we were finally going to leave, there were some final mysterious administrative things that had to happen, which to be honest, Lou and I were too zoned out to even understand!

If you even guessed this episode was going to end with any indication that the one-day dynamic duo were the heroes, all you had to do was hear our comments as the school finally filtered to near abandonment.

“My legs hurt.”

“I’m too tired to work out now even if I wanted to!”

And the ultimate sentiment originally coined from the first Lethal Weapon movie: “I’m getting to old for this...!”

And then the final exchange of absolute astonishment and admiration came as we recognized: Can you imagine if we had to do this day again tomorrow?

As it turns out, though we had more students than in a usual day (we actually had 75 kids in the one session), it was, for a teacher, an average day! We were absolutely astounded that the teachers who educate our kids and craft the future of our world are able to generate the creativity, energy, patience and (there really can’t be any other word for it) love to do this day in and day out! Which brings me to a few ultimate musings on the day.

First of all, kids have a great capacity to cut through the gray (what the polished and political might want to call nuance) to simply know that the heroes are for good to help others and are not just out for themselves (that’s the realm for villains). If we just used that as a measuring stick when deciding whom to believe (even when looking in the mirror — actually, maybe especially when looking in the mirror) maybe we would be pushing toward a better world.

Second, even by the kids’ definition, the heroes are the teachers! I don’t know for sure, but I suspect their superpowers have some commonality in addition to whatever specific skillset and subject matter they teach. I suspect that they excel in dedication, perseverance and an inexplicable ability to care for their students without really even knowing if it will result in anything they will ever see!

I’m sometimes accused by folks of not making a theological point with what I write in this column: though from my perspective, you should know it is from a pastor — you should be able to connect the dots! But at least for this week, all those points about what makes a hero are just other ways of saying what Jesus commends again and again in the gospels — in fact, Jesus copyrighted the “Golden Rule.” And what teachers do every day is what many would call planting seeds (evangelism) by a process some would refer to as “unconditional love,” all of which falls firmly in God’s wheelhouse!

And as for our dynamic duo: at the end of a long day, they drove off into the sunset, mission accomplished. Exhausted but wiser, and in the end, just witnesses to these great truths. But still in awe of what some do each and every day, having spent this time being teachers — superheroes perhaps — for a day!

Pastor Zach Harris has been an ordained minister for 27 years and currently serves Ascension Lutheran Church in Wilson. His column, “Through a Lutheran Lens: A Pastor’s Perspective,” appears weekly in The Wilson Times. Previous columns are available at WilsonTimes.com.