Maximus in the Classroom?

I had such a strange inspiration last night for writing today. I was watching a movie and I felt a strength in a character and a connection to his development to me in the classroom. The bizarre part to reconcile is that the movie is Gladiator and the subject matter is not really classroom friendly. But stay with me for a minute.

Why do I feel a connection as a teacher to the character of Maximus? Clearly I am not heading into battle and killing people and I am walking a fine line with this metaphor.

Sometimes, as a leader, you will have plenty of followers willing to listen, take instruction, work together as a team, see the end goal, respect your authority and decisions, and you all win. Other times, not so much.

As I head back to the class, I am thinking of new grads, people returning after leaves, or returning to the class after a different job or as result of trends in enrolment. What fears do we face?

In the movie, Maximus is thrown into a situation in which is new to him. In order to survive, he must go out everyday and work for it.  At one point, he goes into the arena and kills his opponents rather quickly and proficiently, yet the crowd boos.  Isn’t this what they came to see? He screams, “are you not entertained?” When he is brought back to speak with the man who was also once a gladiator, he tells Maximus that he was not the greatest because he was “the best” but rather he was the greatest because he won over the crowd. He tries to advise Maximus that if he can win the support of the crowd, he will be successful.

I feel so strongly connected to that point. If I can win over my students, I will be successful. At any point in our careers, we may have had to teach a subject we weren’t as confident teaching, for many reasons: we’ve been out of the class for some time, we were focused in a different subject area, perhaps we don’t have our masters or honours degree in that subject. However, I really don’t feel you have to be the most proficient in every subject to be a good teacher. Yes, we need knowledge of our content, but if you have a willing class, you can take steps together to learn.

I don’t think I have to go into class everyday and quickly dole out my lesson. Rather, I think a more meaningful approach might be to include my students in the process. If I make my feel students feel a part of the success in moving forward, I think they will get more out of the experience. I can come out with the unexpected, work as part of a team, show leadership but also rely on everyone in “the arena” to contribute. The trick is to find out what my crowd needs and find a way to meet those needs so we feel that connection.

Maximus was a character who showed strength, leadership, fearlessness, loyalty, sensitivity, and love. He was also aware of the needs of others which ultimately led to his (and as a result everyone’s) success. Aren’t these all characteristics we need as teachers? Maybe my goal is to be more like Maximus in the class – I might be standing up front, but we are all in this together and if we continue to work this way, maybe we will all end up winning.

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