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Life as a Teacher: Living the Hero's Journey

Stephen Hurley

Grade Eight Teacher, Group Moderator, Facilitator/teacher arts@newman
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One of the main themes that has grounded and inspired this first year of the arts@newman program at Cardinal Newman School, in Toronto, has been "stories of home." Not only has this theme provided us with a powerful lens through which we can look at various aspects of our program; it has also allowed us to make use of a very powerful story structure -- one I encountered many years ago through the writings of Joseph Campbell (primarily, The Hero with a Thousand Faces) and, most recently, through Christopher Vogler's work The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers.

In a subsequent entry, I'll post some ideas about how we have used this perspective in our language arts program, but here, I want to pick up another thread and present a question to those of you involved in this journey we call teaching.

In myths, one of the first stages of the hero's journey is the call to adventure. Vogler describes this stage as the point at which "the hero is presented with a problem, challenge, or adventure to undertake. Once presented with a call to adventure, she can no longer remain indefinitely in the comfort of the ordinary world."

I had the opportunity to spend more than three years working with teacher candidates at the University of Toronto's Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. Part of the coursework I did involved exploring the reasons people are drawn to teach. Many participants described a moment in their lives when they knew teaching was for them. For some, it happened very early in their own schooling; for others, it didn't happen until they were busy doing other things: raising a family, working in another profession, or going through a personal crisis.

Over the past several weeks, as I've delved more and more into the works of both Campbell and Vogler, I have found myself thinking about our teaching careers as a type of hero's journey. I thought that it might be interesting to hear from other teachers -- those new to the profession and those who have been around for awhile -- about this idea of a call to adventure.

My questions: What was it that caused you to embark on this journey? What drew you to this adventure? Did you initially refuse the call, or were you quick to answer it?

What's your story?

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Stephen Hurley

Grade Eight Teacher, Group Moderator, Facilitator/teacher arts@newman

Comments (14) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Tim's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have always wanted to do something that I thought would help people, and when I was in high school I had a teacher who was amazing. He made being a teacher seem like the greatest job in the world. This is when I decided to become a teacher and I have never been disappointed with my decision. I love the idea that everyday I come to work I can make a difference in someones life, that is an incredible responsibility. I don't think of myself as a hero and we don't always know if we are making the impact that we want to, but once in a while you get that afformation and it is so rewarding. I am in my 13th year of teaching and I am just as excited today as I was when I started and it seems like the students need positive role models now more that ever.

Mary Ann's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

My name is Mary Ann. I wanted to become a teacher for as long as I can remember. I can remember in grade school always wanting to help the teacher out. I would also enjoy helping out other students. I decided to go into Physcial Education because that area interested me the most. I excelled in athletics and enjoyed helping others in fitness activities and sporting events. I have had many "heros" in my life and wanted to give back to others in the same way.

S Hurley's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I'm enjoying reading your stories about what brought you to teaching. The term "hero" likely conjures up different images in different people's minds. In looking at our careers in teaching through the lens of the Hero's Journey structure, I think that its important to note that heroism isn't the goal of the journey. We don't set out on the journey in order to return home with a hero's crown on our head. This may be the result some days/years, but it isn't the goal of the journey.

For me, the power of the lens lies in its ability to see our journey as one of personal transformation and growth. We are called to this profession and, once on the road, we meet a whole array of allies, mentors, and guides. We also meet dangers, encounter setbacks, and engage in "battles". As a result of our journey, we become changed people, and we have the power to use that sense of personal change to change the lives of others.

That's a pretty simple summary, and I throw it into the mix at this point, so that people don't get too frightened off by the word "hero".

I would love to hear more stories about how you found yourself called to this adventure!

Stephen Hurley

Jeanine Horner's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

My name is Jeanine Horner and I am a Master's student at ONU. One of our first assignments was to discuss with our group what brought us into the profession of teaching. I can honestly say that it was my love for children. I feel that children are our doorway to the future and I want to instill in them to be the very best that they can be. I knew from a very young age that I wanted to help educate others, and that's when my journey to becoming a hero first started.

Jill Simmons's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

My name is Jill Simmons. I am just starting my Master's at Olivet Nazarine University. When I was in college, I was very uncertain what I wanted to be. As a freshman, I was in medical school for radiography, in hopes of one day being a radiation therapist. Then, I changed my mind and it almost seemed to depend on the day what my major was. It wasn't until my third year of college when I finally figured out what to do. Through my part time job working with severely handicapped children, I realized I had a gift for working with children and those with disablities. This is my fifth year teaching special education. At times, it is a struggle but that can happen in any job. The struggle seems to change as soon as you see your kids. They make it all worth it.

Michelle Fajardo's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

My journey in becoming a teacher is right around the corner. Teaching has always been a part of me since I was a little girl, and as I get closer to pursuing my dream I want it even more. Throughout my life I have had teachers that have impacted my life in a positive way. Some kids refer to their teachers as their heros and what better title. I want to be that hero or just that person that made a difference for somebody. I want to help out children and fufill their lives with knowledge because I believe that knowledge is power. I am on my way to living a hero's journey!

S. Hurley's picture
Anonymous (not verified)


Best wishes as you begin this fantastic journey...there will be plenty of things that excite you, some that frustrate you, and some that make you wonder whether you're doing the right thing. The Hero's Journey is necessarily full of twists and turns, allies, mentors, as well as those that seem like they are adversaries.

I have found the metaphor helpful in reminding me that this is a journey and not just a job!

I would love to hear how your first year goes...Live the dream!

Stephen Hurley

Maynard Reed's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

My call to adventure came to me as I was lying in a hospital bed. I was 18 and a star football player @ my school when I started having severe headaches caused by a cyst in my brain. After my surgery, I'm lying in the hospital bed in a children's hospital feeling sorry for myself because I wouldn't be able to play football again. I began to look around me at all these kids, some with incurable diseases, some with more temporary conditions, and I started thinking what I would do now in my life. I wanted to help kids; however, I knew I didn't want to be a doctor (way too squeamish), so to me, the best profession after being a doctor was teaching. From there, I dedicated my energies into becoming the best teacher I could,and after 15 years, I'm still struggling through the hero's journey, but I am happy with the choice I made.

clifford cowley's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

My name is Clifford Cowley. I am currently teaching English/writing/mostly life at Hedrick Middle School in Medford, Oregon. Both my parents were teachers. My brother became a teacher. When I was growing up, my parents' friends would ask me what I wanted to be. I would reply, for lack of knowledge about anything else, a teacher. When I moved away from home, I resisted college, and worked in the wood products industry. It paid good money. While in the mill, I tried making money in different business ventures, and still resisted teaching, because I had seen how "poor" we were when I was growing up. All the kids I knew had dads that worked in the mill. They had better clothes, and later on, cars. They had all the stuff I wanted, but didn't get, because we saved our money during the year and traveled all summer. My dad always told me, "Don't be satisfied with just working in a mill."
When I was thirty, my brother asked me to go on Outdoor Ed with his 6th grade class. It was then, I realized, that I had been avoiding the "family business."
I enrolled in college and received my degree in English and teacher certificate EIGHT years later. Yes, it took me that long. Three classes at a time, three terms a year.
Now, I realize how rich I am as a teacher, and how poor I was just working in the mill. There is NO other job, and I've done a lot of different things, that is as rewarding as teaching. NO job allows you to have as great an impact on as many lives as teaching is. Teaching is it's own reward. When I meet new people and they ask me how many kids I have, I easily reply 150, every year.
Yours in making a difference,
Cliff Cowley

Robert Campbell's picture
Robert Campbell
secondary math, French, social studies, and English teacher

I am a 56 year-old teacher who was fired ostensibly for sexual harassment. I did not sexually harass anyone, but some very stupid people, attendees of the New Life Church in Colorado Springs, headed by my principal, Dr. Terry Newbold, railroaded me, lied to me, lied about me. The reason they did this was because I was the union representative and led a survey-writing, go-to-the-school-board committee that questioned the efficacy and honesty of our previous principal. The action was successful. I was an advocate for teacher empowerment and law and order which was not in enough evidence in my school. I am still glad of my decision to be a teacher and all of my career. The union is ultimately weak, and the 'letter in your file' is and effective tool for administrators to 'get' an honest teacher trying to do his job. They can lie with impunity.

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