I did something out of character last week and in a moment of weakness, probably encouraged by the imminent approach of the holiday break, showed a movie in class that was not directly related to course content. (I'm not a grouch; I just never have enough time to cover content!) One student brought in the agreed upon movie: Freedom Writers with Hilary Swank. As they munched on popcorn and emoted for all the right scenes, I fumed, figeted and couldn't help from commenting all the way through. It couldn't be helped; it is impossible for me to watch these Hollywood renditions teacher-hero who saves the day. I hope I didn't ruin their viewing experience.
What is wrong with these movies? You know the ones; there is a long list and some incomparable actors on that list with the likes of Sidney Poitier. I'm going to risk an unfair generalization here while I try to express my frustration with these teacher-hero movies: they are simply too simple. The script that makes the teacher the unsung and misunderstood hero who turns the social tide of cultural, economic and spiritual decay away from the patethetically corrupted adolescents is too much for me to bear. Its partial truth doesn't redeem it either.
I have taught in schools where my life had been threatened. I have lived with fear in my guts when I walked down a corridor because the kid I just had expelled would have his possee take out their frustrations on my son in another school. I have worked in a school where my students drank bleach in a suicide attempt because no one believed what they said about their abusive step father. No need to go on. Many of us have been there. In my second year of teaching, I realized that my students didn't need me; they needed parents who loved them, police to protect them, social workers to advocate for them; but me? No, not me. What I wanted to give them didn't fit into any curriculum. It was almost too much. I almost left the profession; but happily I didn't.
I don't watch 'those teacher movies' because they distort complex solutions to incredibly difficult problems with one swipe of the Hollywood brush. We love the hero-underdog teacher. We hate the teacher-principle who is wooden, closed and reactionary. It's so stock, so predictable and so unfair to paint teachers in this way.
A teacher's heart is like a sponge; you don't see what she/he absorbs all day long and what they need to 'squeeze out' at the end of the day. (I'm aware that this analogy applies to everyone but I'm trying to make a point.) We face a diverse crowd with diverse needs and we want to be relevant and meaningful. Teachers want to make a difference. Sometimes the student is disinterested. "Am I boring?" we ask ourselves. Sometimes the student is lacking skills or simply can't pay attention because his heart is too busy worrying about the parental divorce looming on the horizon. There are too many scenarios to count but each one is important and registers in our teacher's heart. We only want them to learn. We want to help them be more tomorrow than they are today. I don't watch 'those teacher movies' because they remind me of a painful past and don't do justice to the reality of the solutions demanded of us.
In reality, kids succeed when all parts of their lives move harmoniously for their growth; this means, their parents, their peers, their teachers and especially their own inner beings. I don't think Hollywood can capture the subtleties of that one.