Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Teacher movies

Yesterday Teacher Movies came up. There are a lot of teacher movies out there - heaven knows why - and 90% of them are so full of bullshit and sunshine it makes me want to yak.

You have no idea how many times someone has said to me "Oh you're just like Michelle Pfeifer in that movie!" It's the second-most annoying thing people say to me. The first most annoying thing is something new kids always say to me and I'm not going to give you that kind of ammunition.

Dangerous Minds
is ridiculous. Ask any teacher. The book may have been okay; it was written by a teacher, but the movie is the glossiest piece of unrealistic garbage this side of a dumpster on Melrose. It takes her like one day to figure how to reach all the kids and once she magically knows what to say to them, they all worship her. Even these two poor black kids who can barely tie their shoes without the white lady's help, all they want to do is go to school but she just can't save them from their ignorant Negro parents.

It's insulting to both teachers and the black community.

Freedom Writers
is a little better. The kids are more realistic and it does show how devoting yourself too much to the job can destroy your personal life. I do not go to my children's homes. I do not schedule controversial field trips. I will not bail them out of jail. I will call Social Services if someone is abusing them. I will listen to their problems and give them advice. But I ain't going bankrupt over construction paper and notebooks.

Most teachers don't kill themselves for their classes. But I guess if she was most teachers, it wouldn't be much of a movie.

People always seem to think my job is SO HARD. It is some days, but I do it, I enjoy it, then I go home to enjoy the rest of my day. I admire that Freedom Writers lady. I also think she's nuts.

There are tons of other teacher movies out there - some good, some not so good, but the best I've ever seen is James Clavell's 1967 classic To Sir, With Love. Sydney Poitier plays a first year teacher with an extensive formal education despite his childhood on the streets. He comes to work in a British school filled with societal rejects as he waits for a better job in engineering.

He doesn't walk in the second day of school and suddenly know what to do. He doesn't go to the kids' homes and explain why their parents need to be better. He doesn't do all those cliche things we supposedly do if we're good teachers. He simply tries. He tells the truth. He loves the kids. And in the end, they love him back, not because he did some big dramatic gesture, but because he made sure they learned what they needed to learn. And at no point was that job easy.

He does take them on a field trip and he does have to argue with administration, but those are minor parts of the film and at that point in film history they had yet to become cliche.

When I was a kid I used to love Lulu's theme song from that film, although I had no idea what it was about. Ever since I saw To Sir, With Love I can't even sing one line of that song without bursting into tears. That's how good that Goddamn movie is.

So really, from now on, if you want to compare me to a teacher you saw in the movies, compare me to Sydney Poitier please.


  1. Ever seen Mike Figgis' THE BROWNING VERSION?

    Not a master piece but I really liked Albert Finney's character in that.

  2. I never heard of that one. I'll go look it up.

  3. Anonymous3:43 PM

    That was so perfectly said! I enjoyed reading every last bit of it and agree completely. I admire you're determination at being a teacher in this day and age to begin with...after all, I have 2 teenage boys! Thanks for going the distance - and giving something back. Good luck with your screenwriting ventures...I am an author/screenwriter as well. Nice to meet you!

    Michele Frey

  4. Oh man, see to me, you've got the harder job. You have to live with the children I send home.

    But thanks for the compliment and good luck with your writing.

  5. Pay it Forward is also a teacher movie, but man, it stunk so bad.

  6. To Sir with Love is one of my all time favorite films - and no "teacher movie" I've seen has done such a good job of telling a story (without getting silly)

  7. Anonymous10:10 PM

    Blackboard Jungle. Stand and Deliver. Mr. Holland's Opus.

    All in their own way a realistic portrayal of teaching. In many ways Opus seems to b the most realistic in the 'career of a teacher' sort of way: you take the job because you need a job, any job, love and hate it, grow into it, accept that what you do matters in small ways, etc. Stand and Deliver always seemed good, realistic in one sense, but in a Hollywood sort of way. Blackboard was innocent in many ways, but Glenn Ford seemed real, idealistic, etc. Vic Morrow as the bad ass movie tough was movie like as was Sydney Poitier as the kid on the fence between good and bad behavior--for it's time Blackboard is a classic...

    The thing about Luanne Johnson's fable was she only stuck around a couple of years and then she turned her back on those kids she claims were so important.

  8. Then why do I call you Mister Tibbs???

    HA HA HA!
    I crack myself up. it's a gift.

    Have you seen 'Chalk'? Pretty funny.

    People either think it's much easier than it is or way harder. I'm sorry, but every ass-biting congressman who wants to vote on ed funding should be required to teach a week of Freshman Studies in the most average school in his/her district. After that, they would begrudge us nothing...or we'd meke them do it again, dammit.
    Oh, and that week? Should be summer school, WHILE THEY'RE FIXING THE A.C.

  9. Alright, you should see The Class.

    Stand and Deliver is good though. Eddie Olmos kills it (in a good way).

  10. As a teacher, I agree with your assessment of Dangerous Minds. However, there are two movies that depict teachers fairly well. Election -- Matthew Broderick's portrayal of a teacher was realistic. As was Edward James Olmos in Stand and Deliver.

  11. Alfred the Dead Sea Troll5:56 PM

    Geez. How anybody not mention Rock 'n' Roll High School? PJ Soles, The Ramones? Okay, so it really isn't about teaching, but still...

  12. ashes199810:20 AM

    How about teacher movies from a different perspective?

    Ferris Bueller?

    School of Rock?

  13. hey hey hey what about SUMMER SCHOOL? some 80s has-been actor played a substitute teacher and boy, he was the best teacher ;-)

    today, one of my internet buddies, who works as a literary manager for a production company, got a script submission, which was a remake of Summer School. Hell to the no!

  14. I enjoyed Julia Roberts in MONA LISA SMILE.

    Having done a spot of teaching myself (well, lecturing, more like it), the biggest turnoff is the complete indifference most of the class display to what you are saying.

    Then marking exam papers and thinking, "I taught them so much. How come they know so little?"

  15. Anonymous4:02 PM

    To Sir, with Love is fantastic! I totally agree. Another movie that I love is Half Nelson. It's not the inspirational teacher movie that we've all seen. Nor is he, really, the person that we want to be, but it shows the reality of teachers being human beings at the end of the day. :)


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