Wednesday, April 23, 2014

T: Teacher Movies--Their Themes Fail Teachers #AtoZChallenge

During my long career I've viewed many teacher-themed movies. Without fail, I leave the theater and click off the big screen thinking, "Why can't I be that good at my job?" Simply, teaching a class of students for one school year takes longer than two hours. 

During a trimester, a student spends approximately 75 hours in my classroom. Many students spend 150 hours in my classroom (two trimesters), and some students take up to three classes with me in a year, so they spend 225 hours as my student. None of the classes to which I refer are repeats; each is a different course. 

Teacher movies send a simplistic and distorted message to the public about the nature and nuances of teaching: Teachers are superheroes capable of contortions and tricks that a Cirque du Soleil performer would envy. When viewers see feel-good teacher movies, particularly those set in poor, inner-city schools, they begin expecting a simplistic, happy ending in real-time, in real-life. 

Writing for The Atlantic (January 1, 2014) Joshua John Mackin lists five problems with teacher movies:

  • They guarantee a happy ending.
  • They market stereotypes.
  • They shift the focus from the real issues, both political and social, schools face.
  • They construct an either/or fallacy about teachers: Either a teacher is a superhero or a villian.
Typically, young, inexperienced teachers are the superheroes in teacher movies. In Matilda, the young Miss Honey is Matilda's caring teacher who nurtures her love of learning and books. The vile Trunchbull is the scary teacher who locks kids up and shows her disdain for them in many ways. 

In Freedom Writers, Erin Gruwell, played by Hillary Swank, sacrifices her marriage, takes a second job, and overcomes the obstacles her veteran colleagues erect to preclude her from saving the children. 

Even websites that support teachers promote the viewing of teacher movies. For example, Edutopia published a list of "20 Movies Every Educator Should See." Among those on the list: Lean on Me with the "be tough enough and kids will snap into shape" theme; Dead Poet's Society with its "rip the pages out of the book so kids will love poetry" theme; Ferris Bueller's Day Off with its "if you bore the kids they'll be justified in skipping and pranking the assistant principal" theme. 

I recently watched Ferris Bueller's Day Off for the umpteenth time, and even though I enjoy the movie, I also recognize the stereotypes and the subtexts in the movie. 

Unlike the writer for The Atlantic, I'll probably continue watching teacher movies, and I'll laugh at the comedies and get frustrated and dismayed by those that send an idealistic and simplistic and reductive message about what it means to be a teacher. 

The chasm between real classrooms and a movie set is as great as the distance between the two hour running time of a film and the 150 hours it takes a student to earn his/her senior English credits. 

What's your favorite teacher movie? 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

S: "Schooled: The Price of College Sports"

What does it mean to be schooled? This should not be a rhetorical question. A few years ago I began thinking in earnest about the argument that college athletes should be paid, much the way Olympic athletes are able to earn money via endorsements. 

As a scholarship recipient in a competitive activity--speech and debate--and as a teacher, I've long been troubled by inequities in funding student activities. However, two sports--football and basketball--n Division I NCAA schools generate huge revenue for their schools, and it's at the expense of the athletes. 

The Atlantic Monthly addressed this indentured servitude of college athletes in 2011: "The Shame of College Sports." 

Since I subscribe to The Atlantic, I took my copy to school and began sharing the article with students and suggesting it as a research topic to the athletes in my classes. 

But until I watched "Schooled: The Price of College Sports" recently, I had no clue that many college athletes literally go hungry because of the NCAA's egregious policies. 

Here's the official trailer of the documentary: 

The day after I watched schooled, a student in my Communication 1101 class, which I teach in the Early College Program at Idaho State University, presented his argumentative speech arguing that college athletes be paid. He graciously allowed me to record his speech and post it to YouTube. One of the requirements of the speech is that students present a refutative argument and then respond to it with specific methods I teach in the class. There are eleven techniques students learn for answering a rebuttal. Here's Ryan's speech:

The NCAA has "schooled" the public--and for many years I was among those schooled--into thinking big-time college athletes can't put a price on their "free education." The NCAA has, and it's one in the billions of dollars. I

sn't it time Congress revoke the NCAA's nonprofit status? Isn't it time the NCAA start treating athletes like humans rather than commodities? Isn't it time to school the NCAA and teach that organization a much needed lesson? These should not be rhetorical questions. 

Monday, April 21, 2014

R: Remembering...The Magic of Gabriel Garcia Marquez

By now lovers of books have heard the news that Columbian writer Gabriel Garcia Marques has died. I'm a huge fan of Marques's magical realism, so in his honor, I'm remembering him and sharing some famous quotes from him. I think this is fitting for the letter "R" because so much of Marquez's writing centered on memory and the act of remembering. This is particularly true in Chronicle of a Death Foretold
Love in the Time of Cholera is my favorite love story. I read it during the summer of 2007 while attending the Instituto de Cultural in Oaxaca, Mexico. At the time I was living in a small apartment with a local family. It was a magical summer and the perfect setting for reading a Marquez novel.
In Marquez's magical words:

"What matters in life is not what happens to you but what you remember and how you remember it."

"He allowed himself to be swayed by his conviction that human beings are not born once and for all on the day their mothers give birth to them, but that life obliges them over and over again to give birth to themselves." Love in the Time of Cholera

"Perhaps this is what the stories meant when they called somebody heartsick. Your heart and your stomach and your whole insides felt empty and hollow and aching." 

"He was still too young to know that the heart's memory eliminates the bad and magnifies the good, and that thanks to this artifice we manage to endure the burden of the past." Love in the Time of Cholera

There's a fabulous selection of Marquez quotes on Goodreads, but nothing can replace the experience of reading Marquez's books. They're simply magical. 

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Q: Quiet #AtoZChallenge

I cherish the quiet moments in my life, although those who know me don't often see that side of my personality. 

Students are quite surprised to learn I was shy and suffered severe stage fright as a child. 

Still, I prefer solitude when I write and when I study. I think the quiet alone times taught me perseverance. In high school I spent hours sprawled across my bed studying and reading and rereading difficult books. I learned to read slowly and quietly without distraction. 

This school year I have worked closely with my Better Lesson mentor, Debra Block, PhD, in the NEA Master Teacher Project. During the Jewish Sabbath and holy seasons, quiet has characterized our relationship. 

Tomorrow is Easter, and many will attend quiet sunrise Easter services as they celebrate Christ's resurrection. I'll spend a quiet day at home with my husband and our dogs, Puck and Snug. 

Of course, Sunday is a day off for A to Z Challenge bloggers. Silence will greet our little corner of the blogosphere. 

Chilean poet Pablo Neruda wrote a moving poem to honor quietness. It seems fitting given the holiday. 

"Keeping Quiet"

Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still.

This one time upon the earth,
let's not speak any language,
let's stop for one second, 
and not move our arms so much. 

It would be a delicious moment,
without hurry, without locomotives,
all of us would be together
in a sudden uneasiness.

The fishermen in the cold sea
would do no harm to the whales
and the peasant gathering salt 
would look at his torn hands. 

Those who prepare green wars,
wars of gas, wars of fire, 
victories without survivors, 
would put on clean clothing
and would walk alongside their brothers
in the shade, without doing a thing. 

What I want shouldn't be confused 
with final inactivity:
life alone is what matters, 
I want nothing to do with death. 

If we weren't unanimous 
about keeping our lives so much in motion, 

if we could do nothing for once,
perhaps a great silence would 
interrupt this sadness, 
this never understanding ourselves
and threatening ourselves with death,
perhaps the earth is teaching us
when everything seems to be dead
and then everything is alive.

Now I will count to twelve 
and you keep quiet and I'll go. 

--from Full Woman, Fleshly Apple, Hot Moon
Translated by Stephen Mitchell

Quiet Places:
The Oregon Coast
Yellowstone National Park
Yosemite National Park
Lake Tahoe, California
This weekend, take a moment to enjoy a little quietness.