The Problem With Teacher Movies

Here we are, 6:19 on a Sunday evening. It really should be only 5:19, but Daylight Savings Time is a scourge upon the earth. To help me feel even more sorry for myself, I have a heap of marking and only a slice of that bitter pie is done. To clarify, I don’t mind marking, but I hate doing it under a time shortage and with aching paws. I’m feeling more than just a little bit cranky at the moment.

I just sat down to a salad of butter lettuce, hearts or romaine, slivered granny smith apple, and fresh avocado, topped with light poppyseed dressing. It was a glorious thing. Thankfully, it also kept me from devouring a pot holder while my chicken finishes up in the oven. While I ate my greens, I flipped through the channels and landed on Antonio Banderas in Take the Lead.

As much as I enjoy the squishy, weepy endings of movies like this one and its family of feel-good, teacher-as-hero movies, like Dangerous Minds, Mr. Holland’s Opus, Freedom Writers, and To Sir With Love, the whole premise of such films makes me crazy. It’s a troubling thing to consider the suggestions of these films in the bigger picture. As much as I sincerely agree that a dedicated and involved teacher can help students to stretch toward their potentials, teacher-as-hero films so rarely depict the realities of the classroom. These films deal with extremes: often showing highly-troubled, impoverished teens whose lives are suddenly and irreversibly changed by one teacher who cares enough to make a difference. They imply that teachers have the power to create these huge and dramatic changes in their students’ lives simply through hard work and learning how to reach the kids; this is only partly accurate. The basic premise of these types of movies is that teachers are able to permanently alter the paths of their students’ lives just with charisma and dedication, no matter what other factors are at play in the lives of the youth.

The person at the front of the classroom can be a powerful force, but he or she is a cog in a much more complex machine. Why place all the responsibility for the childrens’ successes or failures on the teachers when there are so many layers of decisions behind our schools?

Teacher-as-hero movies generally gloss over the details of public education and suggest that anything can be overcome due to one person’s efforts: they omit the fact that teachers’ abilities to help students hinge largely on the support those teachers are given from government and policy makers. While teachers can (and do) reach and inspire children, what truly has the potential to change the futures of our young people is a renewed public interest and support for effective teaching and schools. Improved funding for public education could benefit all children, not just the students lucky enough to be in class with Antonio Banderas or a similarly charismatic individual.

Making schools a priority in every community would truly make a difference in the lives of the students, because when society stands behind the future of its young people, the message to each of those children is that everyone, not just a single teacher, believes in the potential within them. We can’t rely on a handful of heroes to rescue our kids. We need to join together to send the message to our youth that we value them for who they are, that we believe in the impact they will have on the future, and that we are willing to help them learn to be responsible, successful adults.

The future is so broad for young individuals who are immersed in a message of support and are consistently driven onward by high expectations. A society that values quality education has the power to reach entire generations. A society that values quality education has the potential to shape its own future.

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6 Comments Add yours

  1. Cinderella says:

    I had a high school teacher that kept me from dropping out. She changed the way I wrote, and got me interested in examinging fiction novels for themes and ideas that I have not encountered before or since. She definitely changed my life, and I am exceedingly grateful to and for her.

    I had a fabulous junior high school teacher who made english history come alive. To this day, I enjoy learning about British royalty because of her.

    I have a friend named George who has been a teacher for 30 years, and he asks the most interesting questions and keeps his students interested and engaged.

    I think there are some people/teachers who are truly special out of the thousands, and definitely are life changing for their students.

    Which has nothing to do with the fact that the system and the community should most definiteyly support thier respective schools and getting a great education FAR more than they currently do.

    It SHOULD be a widespread message, as you say, Kay.
    Education is incredibly important, and a good education crucial in the building blocks of a child/young person’s development.

    Our priorities are messed up. If we spent on education what we spend on war, we’d be waaaaaay better off.

    1. Thank you for sharing your experiences with excellent teachers! It’s true that we all remember a few who made a difference to us, and bless them for that.

      My issue really is with Hollywood’s suggestion that all it takes to turn a class of highly at-risk young people around is to encounter a teacher who cares enough to do something about them. Change is rarely that easy. I know very few teachers who don’t care enough to do whatever they can for “their” kids. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen colleagues sick about what kids are up against but limited in how much help they can provide. The truth is that many, many students fall through the cracks because schools and teachers are not supported by government and society to implement the kind of changes that could actually make sustainable differences on a large scale.

  2. } tAm { says:

    I consider myself really lucky that I had wonderful teachers all through school. Even a few kind words of encouragement go so far!

  3. Cinderella says:

    Yes, I agree with your comment totally. Sorry if I missed the point earlier!
    Unfortunately it is part government and society – and part parenting as well. If your core family doesn’t emphasize the value of education and spend time with you as a child reading, stuudying, encouraging, focusing – well, you don’t care as a child because you don’t undertsand the significance of what an education can mean for you long term.

    1. You are indeed correct, Cinderella. It really does take the whole village!

  4. Cinderella says:

    Like proper spelling. Augggggh!

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