Batman is a unique hero. Never was he bitten by a spider, blasted by gamma radiation, shot to Earth from a distant planet, nor is he from another dimension. His powers are not the result of alien ancestry, robotic limbs, toxic serums or chemical injection. Although his arsenal of resources is derived from great inherited wealth, Batman has always drawn the majority of his power from the fact that he is ultimately a human being.
Pop culture tells us that Batman is indeed a man but what is so easily forgot is the fact that The Batman is obviously a work of entire fiction. He is a direct result of the interests, beliefs, values and talents of the writers and illustrators that have contributed even in the most minute of ways to build upon the character. To comic book aficionados and ground level fans alike, The Dark Knight is a man with a life story, a set of crucial values resulting from fears, strengths, weaknesses and joys. He is human.
On the flip side in reality, it has been said that to be an educator is to summon superhero prowess. Educators feel that perhaps they are like the miniscule portion of butter scraped over too much bread. We teachers take stock from the fact that we are simply us, and that is good. We have no access to great wealth, unbelievable physical strength or futuristic technologies (save for the odd iPad).
“There is a difference between you and me. We both looked into the abyss, but when it looked back at us… you blinked.”
We share some commonalities to the Gotham Knight. His story exposes teachers and humanity alike to a range of life lessons. Using a lifetime of adventures as source material – from the Bat’s first foray in 1939 to the most recent cinematic effort from Christopher Nolan with his much-lauded ‘Dark Knight’ trilogy culminating in 2012 – the key question I am asking is what authentic values and attitudes can we teachers take away from the burly biography of The Bat?
What can we learn?
Find your motivation
“They told me there was nothing out there, nothing to fear. But the night my parents were murdered I caught a glimpse of something. I’ve looked for it ever since. I went around the world, searched in all the shadows. And there is something out there in the darkness, something terrifying, something that will not stop until it gets revenge. Me.”
From an early age, Bruce Wayne is tortured by the memory of his parents death and this plagues him throughout his formative years. The yearning for justice, truth and at times a lust for revenge is what informs his decision to create The Batman as an outlet for his mental and emotional shortcomings.
Our work is informed by our drive. If you are an educator with no driving force, no thirst to be the teacher that your students deserve, get out. Get out of the job now. Students need a teacher who has dedicated themselves to improving their own teaching and therefore student learning.
Never give up
“All men have limits. They learn what they are and learn not to exceed them. I ignore mine.”
When we think of superheroes, there are few less powerful, more vulnerable, and therefore more likely to die than The Batman. He has shown time and time again that when odds are slimming against him that he is able to take action to save himself and those who rely on him for salvation. Bane debilitated The Bat when he snapped his back, the Scarecrow set him on fire, Two Face locked him in a vault of acid and the Joker almost certainly had him on the ropes above a shark pool, slowly lowering The Bat to his doom. But in every instance, he persisted. He lived.
It is a mark of the hero to never give in and never give up. If there is a moment of weakness where our hero gives in, we can be almost certain it is intended to catch the villain unaware and save the day. Persistence and tenacity are not qualities that only humans can acquire. Marvel and DC have a range of heroes who continue to demonstrate that ‘never say die’ attitude and that is what makes heroes so inspiring. In our moments of weakness, we always have two choices. We can either lay down in surrender or stand in search of triumph.
Some days, teacher persistence and grit can be shaken to the core. I have witnessed wide smiles of satisfaction, tears of joys and fits of frustration. But I have never witnessed someone throw in the proverbial towel, leave their students and leave the profession permanently. We come back. Teaching requires offering a precious piece of yourself to your students and we are far smarter than to leave that behind.
Educators are challenged daily to meet the needs of their students, their schools and their systems. It seems there are ever-increasing demands upon teachers as accountability increases in parallel. The compounding stress from the varying elements of teaching that cry for attention each day has contributed to the well documented exodus of first to fifth year teachers. However it is the urge to reach the finish line in December that keeps the average (statistically, not ability) teacher in the job. We all must remember that the night is often darkest just before the dawn. Stick it out.
The Rules: take risks but follow the ones that you cannot do without.
“I have only one rule.”
“No guns. No killing.”
The Dark Knight has one rule – never kill. The value of life contrasted with the fear of the pain of death have haunted Bruce Wayne since he was a young boy. This rule guides his nights in Gotham. He firmly believes that there is always another way to deal with the dastardly and crazed villains haunting the city streets. Whether this be heading for a life of rehabilitation and care in Arkham Asylum or locked up in Blackgate Prison. Rules govern his deeds and it is with heavy self-discipline that he abides by them.
Teachers have a responsibility to establish rules and abide by them to show that rules are purposeful and that upholding them might require self-discipline. Classrooms have a set of realistic responsibilities that encourage and altogether encourage the seed of learning to grow. Restorative justice is essential in the school and implemented in a top down approach with school leadership teams understanding the necessity for this strategy. The restorative justice ethos ensures students will know that they will be afforded a second chance by the education system.
The Dark Knight is a lone ranger in Gotham. Even in his appearances with the Justice League of America, he tends to steer away from the spotlight and prefers independence than joining what he sometimes perceives to be the ‘happy clappy’ club. Having said that, he has accepted a son and daughter of Gotham and has willingly (at times cautiously) brought them under his literal wing. Robin and Batgirl through all of their incarnations have their actions, attitudes and words challenged, supported, chastised by the Dark Knight. He offers guidance to his apprentices and it is this guidance that has kept them alive through many a caper in Gotham. He welcomes them to learn from him so that one day, they can continue his legacy in saving Gotham.
Much more often that not, without their teachers challenging and supporting them in the classroom, students would seldom be making breakthroughs in their learning. It is the ultimate responsiblity for teachers to steer a students learning towards two specific areas: what must be learned and what the student wants to learn. Guiding them down this rocky path will ensure their survival through school.
“Obvious variations aside, there’s only one human body. 206 bones, five major organs, 60,000 miles of blood vessels. All it takes is time. Days. Months. Years, spent memorizing the finite ways there are to hurt and break a man. Preparing for all of them. I’ve escaped from every conceivable deathtrap. Ten times. A dozen times. I can slow my breathing and metabolism to control panic and conserve air. Straitjacket’s kindergarten. Locks, too. Benchpressing a pine coffin lid through 600 pounds of loose soil that’s filling your mouth, crushing your lungs flat, and shredding your dehydrated muscles? That’s harder. But far from impossible.”
Who knew that Shark Repellant was so readily available. And it comes Bat-branded! The tendency for The Batman to be prepared is what sees his names constantly debated in ‘who would win’ battles between some of comic’s mightiest heroes from obvious comparisons between Tony Stark’s Iron Man and stark contrasts to The Incredible Hulk and even Superman. It is his proactive ingenuity that keeps The Batman alive and ultimately allows him to protect Gotham for comic’s mightiest foes.
I have developed a habit of which I am extremely proud over the last two school years. My days are fully planned ahead of schedule. This means all resources, copies, documents and materials are complete and ready for action before the teaching day begins. Why so proactive? If I divert all of my energy to the learning process and save none for ‘in the moment’ organisation, my students are more likely to be as engaged as I am in their learning process. I am calmer when faced with great difficulty if confronted by any one of those inevitable ‘surprises’ that seem to pop up throughout the day. Being prepared links very well with why we…
Choose your resources carefully
Part of the reason the Dark Knight is so formidable is because he appears to almost miraculously have a kind of remedy for the battles he faces. The Batcave consists of a number of vehicles, watercraft and aircraft. His coveted utility belt often includes his trademark Batarangs, grappling guns, ropes, explosive and the list could go on. Each item is purposeful and will be used in its time of need. Some will be used more than others, but nevertheless if it can help the Bat get out of a bind, it’ll be somewhere on that belt.
Teachers choose their resources very carefully, although due to the advent of the digital age, we need to be ensure that we are rigorous and steadfast in our search for effective teaching materials. Bloggers, retail stores (online and offline), Twitter collectives, publishers and app developers are all looking to provide educators with the next ‘big thing’ that they claim will save time, energy while helping students learn. We can’t take everything with us on our teaching adventures so avoid dead weight resources. Use what you take and take what you know you will use. In your student’s hour of need, you must be prepared with the right resources to make a difference.
Dress for the job
The Batsuit is almost as iconic as the character himself, and although nowadays the designs seem to be rebooted every few years, we seem to get the ‘gist’ of what is and is not the Batsuit. It is a utility belt, bat ears, symbol, cape and cowl. Although varying incarnations will describe a range of textures and materials required to construct the suit, it serves the ultimate purpose of protecting the hero it encases. It disguises Bruce Wayne in order to protect his identity which in turn protects his friends and family. Secondly, the suit protects his physical being. The Batman’s plays the intimidation game like no other, and the suit is his trump card. But please, no Bat nipples.
Dressing for the job of teaching is not overly complicated, although it is highly important. Teachers should dress in a way that is appropriate to suit their surroundings, the school and the expectations of the students. Dress unprofessionally at your own peril. At the risk of creating controversy on a subject that relies on common sense, I’ll leave it right there.
Actions matter more than words
“It’s not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me.”
The Dark Knight acts as a shining beacon of justice for Gotham City. He guides the people and its authorities toward a fairer, more peaceful vision of the city. Inner yearnings for justice have guided Bruce since he was a child and manifest as The Batman. His aim is for his city to reflect his views of what is right and just.
The old saying goes that students are a reflection of their teacher. Another old saying says that students will rarely ever remember you for the multiplication tables you drilled into them, but they will never forget the way you made them feel. Teachers have a responsibility to their students to ensure their students have a steady role model whom they can look up to long after the teacher moves onto a new class.
Risk failure to succeed
In one incarnation of Bruce Wayne, a common turn of phrase of Bruce’s father Thomas and the butler of Wayne Manor, Alfred Pennyworth is: ‘Bruce, why do we fall? So we can learn to pick ourselves up again’. This simple phrase turns into a motto for Bruce as he steadily morphs into The Batman throughout his life.
However the most common time for the Dark Knight is to risk failure is one of the many occasions when he has put his life forward to save an innocent. Granted most of the time, our hero comes through and saves the day for all. But it is the intent to succeed at almost any cost that we can find inspirational as teachers.
The only way we will know if a lesson works is to experiment and ‘give it a go’. When we risk failure by doing something that has no guarantee of success, we become innovators. I certainly feel that the modern educator needs to be an innovator to make learning new and engaging. Avoid what is stale and boring by jumping off the deep end every now and again.
But remember that when you fail, you must not let it dishearten you. If experimenting doesn’t work (and it won’t work every time), then you can try again next session, tomorrow, next week, next term or next year. After all, why do we fall? So we can learn to pick ourselves up again. Build yourself stronger so that you might inch closer to succeeding next time.
You are not alone
The Dark Knight appears to be a solitary, stern and altogether serious superhero because the most popular incarnations of the Bat have portrayed him that way. It’s easy to forget Nightwing, Oracle, Huntress, Alfred, Azrael, Red Robin, Batwing, Commissioner Gordon, the Justice League and the various versions of Robin and Batgirl. This role of this cast of ensemble characters Batman is to act as a support network. When Bruce or the Batman fall, they are there to pick him up. When he can’t hold the fear, tears or anger back, they are there to bring him back to Earth.
Educators are very fortunate. Having spent a little under a year as a ‘serious’ Tweeter, it has transformed both my pedagogy and my belief that there are colleagues out there all around the world with different interests, strengths and talents. And the best thing about that is that they are there to help each other. In blackest day and brightest night, we as a strong community are there to support each other in our work.
Be a hero (for your students)
“Let the world think you’re crazy if that’s what it takes to be the best you can be. You proved me wrong, you proved yourself wrong. If you ever need someone to talk to.. I’ll listen. Whatever you’re doing… keep it up.”
The Batman is Gotham’s Dark Knight. As the Bat signal shines onto the clouds above Gotham City, it’s citizens are reminded that he is there. They know that he is there to help, to save, to keep safe and defend at all costs.
Again, due to modern incarnations of the Bat story, it is easy to forget that the Batman doesn’t spend all his time fighting the kings of the underworld or the villains of the infamous Rogues Gallery. He saves orphans, turns around the lives of young people, incarcerates the abusers and defilers and shares with the poorest of the poor. He is a true hero to those who need it most.
It is fitting that I save my favourite for last. It has been said that the students who comes to school to learn, have love at home. And those students who don’t come to school to learn, come to school to be loved. Instantly, a number of examples from my experience come to mind. We educators have a real responsibility to create a school that is a haven for students. It may be their one safe place, their one happy place and even though we have assessments to copy, books to mark and lessons to plan, we have to keep it that way.
Each of us draws inspiration and conclusions from those around us: family, friends, colleagues, students and others in our professional learning networks. It doesn’t hurt that when motivation dips, tenacity wanes and dedication drops that we turn to a new source of inspiration. And that’s what heroes are for. We look to them when we lose hope, when we lose that spark that pushes us through the school gates each day. Regardless of who your hero is, at the end of the day you might just be a hero for your students.
“People think it’s an obsession. A compulsion. As if there were an irresistible impulse to act. It’s never been like that. I chose this life. I know what I’m doing. And on any given day, I could stop doing it. Today, however, isn’t that day. And tomorrow won’t be either.”