Part 3 of Memorable Teachers Series: Dumbledore

DumbledoreBannerLest I be scorned for what may be a misguided and adolescent love affair with the Harry Potter series, hold up. This is purely academic. I don’t even own any Potter paraphernalia. Okay one poster…and a board game, and I dressed up for the Deathly Hallows premiere with my friend Kristina, but it was more out of intellectual irony (we were college students surrounded by 12-year-olds).

I do maintain, though, that J.K. is a genius. She swept the world with her fantasy creation in a way normally reserved for religious revivals and plagues.

I don’t think it’s because we love Harry, Ron, and Hermione so much, though. We do love them, but that’s not what made the story such a sensation. It’s probably not because we long for a world of adventure and magic, so different from our own. If that were the only reason, the series probably would have been only as successful as other fantasy fiction of the TOR variety.

No. Harry Potter endures, and captures a massive audience, because of its setting.

A school.

The series begins with a heavy emphasis on the young and their high-jinks, but ends having taught us something about life, wisdom, and love from important mentors. I would argue that it’s the relationships between the students and their mentors that brings the richest enjoyment from the series.

Am I going to put it on the level of Jane Eyre and The Secret Garden? Probably not. It’s a different creature. Its seven installments smack of a tendency toward episodic and consumptive preferences. However, if that’s the only way Rowling could get her story out into the world, I’m okay with it. I certainly wasn’t complaining as a 14-year-old in line at Barnes & Noble until 2:00 in the morning waiting for my next copy. Would I put it up there with The Chronicles of Narnia or Sherlock Holmes or P.G. Wodehouse? Yeah, I’ll stick to that.*

Anyway, back to the school thing. Hogwarts seems to be intended as a school experience any of us may have had, you know…minus the magic: bullies, first love, hated subjects, favorite teachers, pranks, homework, acne, growth spurts, moodiness, indignation toward adults, cliques, best friends, and worst enemies. In this everyman’s (sort of) school experience we meet Dumbledore, the Principal we wish we’d had.

I admit it. Dumbledore is one of my all-time favorite teachers, fiction status notwithstanding. He’s so real to me I wonder if J.K. Rowling knew somebody like him on whom she based his character. I bet she did.

This is why I chose him for my roster of memorable teachers:

1) Dumbledore has a sense of humor.

Dumbledore was always getting disapproving glares from other adults because he readily saw to the heart of a humorous situation. I appreciate an adult who, regardless of age, position or status, will still share a laugh with Fred and George. In book four, when the twins cross Dumbledore’s age line receiving long, white beards as their punishment, does Dumbledore get mad?

No way!

Think of the ridiculous consequence he created for breaking the rule by crossing. Growing long white beards?! Hilarious. That’s the mark of a teacher who still appreciates a good joke and wants to help his students remember that while cheating is a serious sin, he loves you still, and thinks of you as worth a second chance.

When I’m subbing is when it’s most difficult to know whether to laugh and or give the stoneface. I confess that fart jokes are still funny to me, but do I lend approval to such behavior by laughing along? Mayhem. It’s a fine line to walk, and I think Dumbledore, with his many years of experience and wisdom, dances along that razor’s edge. I want to be like that someday.

Recently, I subbed a high school graphic design class and heard the telltale sign of work not getting done: internet fart simulation. The trick is to not pass moral judgments on students — dismiss them as clowns, flirts, and airheads — just because they enjoy a good joke. Dumbledore never did that to Fred and George. To whom do you think Fred and George were most loyal and well-behaved?

So, then, what was I to do? Well, I took a marker and wrote on the whiteboard, in curly cursive, the following ditty:

“Your flatulence is funny, but your silence is sweeter.”

After a few titters, the noise returned to a dull roar and there were no more gases passed. Bam!

2) Dumbledore is a Socratic method champ.

He doesn’t just hand out answers to questions like candy (though he does hand out candy). Rather, he takes seriously his part in helping a student build his own problem solving strategies. When Harry wanted to spend his every evening sitting in front of the Mirror of Erised, Dumbledore didn’t ban him from the room, or give him detention for sneaking out at night. He also didn’t delve too much into the subject of magical mirrors. Dumbledore was always sort of vague in describing magical things to Harry, and never once helped him cheat.

He had total faith and confidence in Harry’s ability to solve his own problems, and only ever gave gentle nudges and reaffirming assurances. How empowering for a student. How satisfying for a teacher. I love it when a student makes that leap of thought to the answer all on his or her own. That’s the icing on the pumpkin pasty.

I mentor a young woman, we’ll call her ‘C’, and we conduct our sessions through snowboarding. Last Wednesday she had a breakthrough and was able to make smooth transitions from heel side to toe side. As the day wore on she became progressively more graceful at it. I can’t take credit for her newfound ability, because it was in her all along. When she asked for guidance on how to improve, I only gave a minimum of advice. My job was just to still be her friend after she fell the first few 100 times.

With snowboarding, as in many other things, no one can do the work for you. You can know all the tips and tricks, but eventually you just have to put in what my husband calls “hours behind the wheel”.

I’ll still be there for her with a tip here and there.

The thing is, though, snowboarding isn’t really what I want her to know. If she becomes a pro at it, awesome, but my main concern is that she learns how to stick out the tedium of the process in order to reach the fruit of mastery. I live for the day when she’s the one waiting for me at the bottom of the lift; when she pays it forward and teaches someone else how to do it.

3) Dumbledore believes in repentance.

Snape, Mundungus Fletcher, Regulus, Ron. All examples of individuals in whom Dumbledore had faith. He knew they were basically good. He knew they were capable of making the right choice, even after making so many wrong choices.

Dumbledore never grew to hate or despise any of the people who messed up. He always retained a love for them that didn’t hinge on whether they made mistakes.

It can be hard not to take an affront personally, especially from your student. In book six, when Draco was faced with the choice to kill Dumbledore, or be killed, Dumbledore manages to find compassion instead of offense. He was sorry for Draco, not angry at him. He knew how quickly things escalated out of hand in Draco’s life. He still had hope for Draco, and rightly believed in Draco’s desire to make the right choice. He was sincere in his welcoming back of this very distressed youth. That blows my mind!

Now, the word count of this post is telling me that I’ve waxed loquacious yet again. So, let’s recap and wrap it up.

Dumbledore had a sense of humor, believed his students were smart, and that they could makes things right again after screwing up. He’s a memorable teacher to me. I wish all teachers were like Dumbledore, myself included. And by that, of course, I mean all teachers should wear flowing purple robes with spangles on them, and a pair of half-moon spectacles:)

What do you think of Dumbledore as a teacher? Don’t be shy. Maybe you think he was too irreverent, or frustratingly vague. This is a safe place to let your nerd/anti-nerd out.

*It’s most often compared to the works of Roald Dahl.

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