Maverick Teachers: Fiction to Fact

By Vaishali Honawar — August 20, 2008 1 min read
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They probably don’t look like Michelle Pfeiffer or clown around as voraciously as Jack Black. But the most successful teachers in real life do share some of the maverick and eccentric qualities seen in Hollywood’s most famous teacher depictions.

That’s what Catherine Cornbleth, a University of Buffalo professor, found after studying teachers entering urban classrooms with students from different racial, ethnic, cultural, and socioeconomic backgrounds and with varying levels of academic ability and motivation.

In her book, Diversity and the New Teacher: Learning From Experience in Urban Schools, Cornbleth says teachers who succeeded in these challenging environments have some of the same qualities as those seen among the large-screen’s maverick teachers. They view obstacles as challenges and not brick walls, they’re proactive and resourceful, they demonstrate respect and care for students, and they persist and take risks.

Cornbleth also throws in a top-10 list of maverick teacher movies. including The Blackboard Jungle, where Glenn Ford plays an idealistic teacher, Dead Poets’ Society, where Robin Williams portrays an educator who inspires a love for literature and poetry in his students, Dangerous Minds, where Pfeiffer is a former U.S. Marine-turned-teacher to children bused in from an East Palo Alto, Calif. ghetto, and School of Rock where Black plays a flamboyant substitute teacher who helps his students discover the power of rock music.

Cornbleth says what led her to explore the maverick teacher model were concerns that standardized test scores and curricula were pressuring teachers to conform to an average that didn’t serve most students very well.

It’s the right time, too, with the No Child Left Behind reauthorization looming. But is Congress listening?

Maybe members just need to go to the movies more often.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.