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Most often, Hollywood paints a picture of unrealistic adventures. These adventures make the nonteaching world believe that, even without funds, material, equipment, or even a certified teacher, every student can make leaps and bounds.
I wish there were more movies depicting successful teachers! I love Stand and Deliver, Lean on Me, and Mr. Holland’s Opus. They show real challenges teachers face, from the students and administration to the impact on their families. They also do a great job of demonstrating the type of commitment and passion we should have for our own students and schools.
Although movies with a teacher-hero can tap into my desire to accomplish miracles with my students by reaching and inspiring the most challenging of individuals, I think such movies do not recognize that good teaching is often developed through collaboration with others. Instead of showing how teachers can work together to develop an exciting and rigorous curriculum, these movies suggest that go-it-alone-against-all-odds is the way great things are achieved. These movies do create an unrealistic expectation of the self-sacrificing efforts the lone teacher must exert in order to turn around their difficult kids. We need to applaud the hard work that is being done in countless classrooms across the country and be more ready to share resources and real experiences so that collectively we can hone our craft.
I had the opportunity to see a preview of Freedom Writers, … and I was truly inspired to continue to passionately pursue ways to reach children that have been deemed unreachable by so many societal labels. At this point, I believe that any positive, inspirational view of the teaching profession is a proverbial “breath of fresh air” and should be celebrated, not bashed.
In an age where celebrities and sports stars are seen as heroes and role models, I applaud those who would portray our public servants, scientists, and mathematicians as real heroes and role models.
I think that some who complain about unrealistic expectations set by Hollywood “teachers” are giving the public too little credit for distinguishing between dramatizations and real life. People don’t look down on their physicians because they are not as perfect (or good-looking) as the stars of Grey’s Anatomy. People don’t really expect their police departments to be run like those of CSI. People don’t expect their president to be as thoughtful and wise as Jed Bartlet. Hmm ... I guess maybe they should.
One of the reasons I entered teaching was viewing the film Dead Poets Society, starring Robin Williams. I adore this film—not for the tragic ending, but for the classroom scenes and the interplay between Mr. Keating and the other teachers and administrators. I find the film to be an inspiration and revisit it with some regularity to remind myself why I do this.
I like seeing movies of very successful teachers. We all define success in our own way. If the media wants to portray one of our very own doing things well, then so be it. We get so little publicity for all the good we do, let’s take advantage of it.
A version of this article appeared in the May 01, 2007 edition of Teacher as At the Movies