No teacher is without their go-to, feel-good teaching movie. They are the movies we watch to motivate us or to remind us why we teach. I personally love To Sir With Love, Mr. Holland’s Opus, and The Paper Chase. (The Paper Chase is about a man’s first year in law school but I love the scenes with the professor and I love how the professor knows his subject matter and clearly conveys that to the students even if they are intimidated by him.)
After I began teaching and felt the pull to dedicate my every waking moment to my kids I realized that it wasn’t necessarily because I wanted to. With pressure from administration and co-workers and parents and media it is easy for teachers to forget that we are people too. We have lives of our own. I personally have a family I enjoy being with. I also like playing computer games and surfing the web and I love Pinterest and DIY. But if you seriously evaluate the teachers in many of the favorite teaching movies, none of them had lives outside of the classroom.
Mr. Holland’s Opus: Mr. Holland barely sees his wife and child. He spends so little time at home in fact he can’t fully understand his teenage son who uses sign language to speak. Remember, his son is like 14 years old. This is 14 years of signing and Mr. Holland can barely do it.
Freedom Writers: The woman gets divorced. They try to show us her dedication led to her divorce and it was a good thing because he was not understanding and compassionate. I’ve got to say I was on his side when I saw this. I didn’t get married to ignore my husband.
Music of the Heart: A teacher raises money to save the music program at her school. Amazing story but it is another story about how a woman forgoes her personal life for her students.
I know they are fictionalized versions of the truth. They have a narrative to push and the events of true stories shouldn’t be taken to heart but people watch these movies and begin to think teachers need to devote unreasonable amounts of time and effort.
If we as a society believe that violence makes are children more prone to violence, then the same has to be true for people watching movies about teachers.
Do parents look at me as a human with a life or as an alien creature that is or should be solely dedicated to the education of their children? Is the depiction of the dedicated teacher one reason why so many people talk about the plethora of bad teachers? Have we teachers contributed to the de-professionalization of our field by playing to the clichés?
Not only do we contend with the overly dedicated teacher but comedies like Bad Teacher and The Hangover hurt us. A woman who won’t teach suddenly needs a bonus so she cheats to get high test scores. And the good teacher who works hard and is successful with her students is the villain. Bradley Cooper uses fundraising money to go to Vegas. Perhaps the boring economics teacher in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off makes people reminisce about how boring and useless school was and they just assume every teacher is like that. Or perhaps teaching is so easy that even Arnold Schwarzenegger can do it.
I won’t even mention how many movies sexualize teachers and how many depict inappropriate or illegal relationships.
Media and entertainment matter. Right now, I don’t think teaching is being portrayed in a positive light.