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?