As a dance instructor, I know firsthand how teachers and students hold a very special place in each other’s lives. Students have to bare their faults right off the bat, and teachers must seek their pupils’ growth and wellbeing. Such is fertile soil where intimate and trusting relationships can grow. It’s no wonder then Jesus as Teacher means a whole lot more for the believer than that He simply gives instruction. True, for some people, teaching is just a job and attending classes is just a mandatory necessity. However, great teachers are aware that their influence isn’t limited to the knowledge they impart, and truly perceptive students recognize that their learning experience effects their teachers as much as themselves.
Tales of the student and the master abound in fiction, and they’re among one of my favorite fictional tropes. So here are some of my personal top mentor and student characters. Feel free to share some of yours in the comments down below!
(Presented artwork owned by their original artists.)
Halt and Will (The Ranger’s Apprentice series)
I only started reading this series fairly recently, but boy, do I love them. John Flanagan’s Ranger’s Apprentice books are equal parts clever, dramatic, and fun. Of course, given its title, you can expect there’s a teacher and student duo in it, and I consider Halt (the ranger) and Will (the apprentice) to be an appealing pair. Their relationship isn’t the most ‘touchy-feely’ I’ve seen. The gruff Halt didn’t act openly fond to the new ward, and to be fair, Will wasn’t sure how he felt about the ominous hermit either. Rangers in this series are secretive and speak only when they must, but pretty soon, Will learned to read his unspoken language. Halt doesn’t say it. His face hardly expresses it, but his actions follows the ranger’s way by showing it. Trust is key between trainers and pupils, but Halt and Will come to not simply trust each other’s wisdom and teachability respectively. They come to trust each other’s reliability. They don’t need to express in words what they already, deeply know. Because when trust extends to one’s personal character, an instructor and a student can be friends for life.
Layton and Luke (Professor Layton series)
I know. I keep bringing this videogame series up, but it is seriously one of the best in my eyes. Looking at Layton and Luke, they resemble a Batman and Robin dynamic. You have the wise and accomplished adult - a master of their craft. Then you have the kid companion, who lacks experience but is an eager talent. That’s the relational premise between this master puzzle solver and his (self-proclaimed) apprentice. However, Layton and Luke’s connection goes beyond basic tutelage. Their daily interactions are warm like between a father and a son. They give time for each other’s needs and the needs of others. In fact, theirs is probably one of the most functional teacher, student relationships I know of, but the real reason behind that is the very reason why they became teacher and student in the first place. You see, Luke didn’t ask to be Layton’s apprentice simply to shadow his career or to get smarter. Teachers, just by being kind and respectful, can offer a lot more than knowledge, and Luke wanted to learn something from Layton that mattered more than critical thinking. Luke desired to become a gentleman and learn to treat others with just as much love, bravery, and dignity as Layton does. Smarts and a noble character are important qualities, but to these mystery chasers, they know one is greater than the other.
Lightning McQueen and Cruz Ramirez (Cars 3)
Transitions between seasons of life are often the scariest times. You desperately cling to what you’re used to, but it slips away, leaving you empty and uncertain. For Lightning McQueen, being the racetrack ace was his life. Unfortunately, age catches up with everyone, and it lands him where he feared: obsolete and locked out of his sport. Of course, McQueen isn’t the ‘give-up’ type. He acquires an up-to-date trainer to get him back in the game named Cruz Ramirez. Still, he can’t outpace the younger talent. However, it seems McQueen’s racing experience is rubbing off on Cruz a lot more than her modern techniques are on him. In fact, she always wanted to race but lacked the confidence. It’s painfully clear at that point that their roles are reversed. Unfortunately, he’s stuck trying to regain what he lost, and she’s frightened of rejection - all because they’re reluctant to change. We all resist change sometimes. We want what we know, but how often does our resistance deny us the new joys God has in store for us? In McQueen’s case, it’s to become the teacher Cruz needed but never had. The activity, skill, or sport you profess may be everything to you, but that can be taken away in a blink. But, to turn your passion into a platform for you to invest in another’s life, that’s a trade more than worth making. For teaching and learning from people who build each other up bears an eternal value that self-training doesn’t have.
Iruka and Naruto (Naruto series)
The family unit is under vicious attack in modern society. Sure, our media preaches ‘the magic of family’, but the ugly truth is, there are record numbers of fractured families today, leading to a rise of fatherless, youthful delinquents. That’s certainly the trajectory an orphaned Naruto from the Naruto anime was headed as a kid. Ignored by everyone in his village, he constantly caused trouble to get attention. Even Iruka, his teacher from ninja school, avoided his nuisance whenever possible, but later on, Iruka grew regretful and ashamed once he realized what he was truly doing. He was denying Naruto the caring, firm direction that could save him from wasting his life. No earthly teacher is more crucial to a child than their dad, but what if the dad won’t lead or isn’t there? Someone needs to step up. True, Kakashi and Jiraya are the fan favorites among Naruto’s senseis, but the strict Iruka was not only the first sensei. He safeguarded Naruto’s tender years. He treated Naruto on his birthdays. He comforted Naruto in his griefs, and he was the one Naruto asked to be his father at his wedding. Iruka sensei may merely be a ninja pre-school teacher, but when he furthered his influence beyond his classroom obligations, he fathered a Hokage - a Hokage who honors him as a loving son would.
Shifu and Po (Kung Fu Panda series)
Trust, respect, and noble characteristics are ideal qualities for mentors and pupils. Still, sometimes the teacher forgets what real progress looks like, and when the teacher forgets, the student can go astray. Shifu and Po from the Kung Fu Panda series certainly undergo this kind of growth. Shifu started off desperate to train the next great Kung Fu master. Instead, the flabby and overweight Po is his only option, and while Po is a hyper-enthused Kung Fu fan, he’s not so much a fan of himself either. Both of them know that ‘Po the panda’ is not athlete material. Both student and teacher here are at a loss for what to do. That is until Shifu realizes his vision of what a warrior must be prevented Po from becoming the warrior he should be. It’s super easy for students and teachers to try forcing results they want. (I should know.) Our expectations - how we think we should learn and how quickly - hangs us up. Unfortunately, that puts imaginary limits on God’s design. There’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ learning method nor a single way to getting or using a career. Just as there’s countless ways Christians can live out their faith, there’s many kinds of writers, engineers, martial artists, etc., and a truly wise teacher and student not only achieve. They find and embrace God’s active vision for their progress as He allows it to come. All it takes is for instructor and learner to adopt God’s view of what true success looks like over their own. The Lord’s results, after all, are always better and always perfect.