Bilbo and Gandalf
I’ve been reading The Hobbit with my kids the past few nights, and because I haven’t read it since I was in 8th grade, it’s as if I’m reading it for the first time. J.R.R. Tolkien is a masterful storyteller, and as I re-read the tale, I’m once again fascinated with the characters, the setting, and the adventure.
The book is about Bilbo, a hobbit, who reluctantly goes on an adventure with twelve dwarves to take back treasure that was stolen from their ancestors and is now guarded by Smaug, a dragon. Bilbo and the dwarves are joined by Gandalf, a wizard, who orchestrated this whole adventure.
If you’re familiar with the book, we’re at the part where Gandalf leaves Bilbo and the dwarves at Mirkwood because he has “some pressing business away south.” Up until this point, Gandalf has been right by their side, rescuing them when needed, but now Bilbo (because I haven’t read this in over 20 years I’m only speculating here!) will have to take risks, stretch himself, and assume the leadership role vacated by Gandalf.
As an 8th grader, I’m certain my perspective was vastly different than it is today. Now, I’m reading the story as a dad, an educator, and a person who has at times been adventurous and other times has played it safe— much like Bilbo. From the first few pages of the book, Bilbo is thrust into an adventure and challenged to be a hero by Gandalf when he’d rather play it safe because, as I’ve learned, it’s always easier to play it safe.
But as educators, we’re not called to play it safe.
In fact, much like Gandalf’s, it is our responsibility to see in our students what they don’t yet see, and encourage them to reach their potential. It’s our responsibility to inspire excellence, to inspire independence, and to inspire a transforming faith in God. And much like Gandalf, we need to walk beside each student until it’s the right time to step aside and give each one space to take risks, to stretch, and assume leadership roles.
The hero of the story isn’t Gandalf— it’s Bilbo. He just didn’t know it when they started the adventure.
The hero of our story isn’t us— it’s our students. They just may not know it when they started their adventure.
As we think of our mission, it’s quite a responsibility to inspire excellence, independence, and a transforming faith in God, but I believe God has placed each of us here to live out that mission for our students.
I’m not sure what’s in store for Bilbo and the dwarves in Mirkwood, but I can guess it’ll be full of adventure, risk, and I bet Bilbo will do something he didn’t know he was even capable of doing— thanks to Gandalf giving him the opportunity.