Sunday, May 6, 2007

Teachers and Students

This is the last week of the school year, graduation is this weekend, so I am going to devote a few posts about teaching and films, teaching in the arts, what little I know about the art of teaching and some of my students' successes. Closer to graduation I will share some thoughts on job prospects and some of the good and bad jobs out there. I’ll begin the week with teachers in films.

In short I think films about teachers stink. They fall into a handful of categories and play the same themes to death. There is the against all odds films- underachievers, overachieve thanks to a brilliant teacher (Stand and Deliver and others.) Then there are the fish out of water films. Radical teacher comes into conservative boarding school and makes a difference. (Dead Poets Society- did anyone say Carpe Diem before that film?) Or strict, conservative teacher shows rowdy school kids they aren’t as dumb as they thought. (To Sir With Love and others.) In all of these films a parent will raise some sort of objection to the methods used by the teacher. Been there done that. No more, please.

Even when I like the films- and I am a sucker for sentimentality as much as anyone, I liked last years’ The History Boys (radical teacher, conservative school, etc…)- I usually remember the music more than anything else. What do you remember about To Sir With Love? LuLu singing the title song, right? Mr. Holland’s Opus- the version of Beautiful Boy with sign language. Blackboard Jungle- Rock Around the Clock.

I think films about teachers don’t work mostly because teaching is a rather dry, boring profession that moves very slowly. I love teaching, but watching teachers teach is dull. I have almost never had a car chase, gun play or a sex scene in my classroom and of course these are staples of Hollywood films. There are also not many good films about dentists doing dentistry or actuarians, actualarizing.

So here are a few films that to me get to the core of what teaching is about- imparting knowledge to someone in a meaningful, caring way- while still having fun.

1) The Sting. Henry Gondorff teaches Johnny Hooker (and the audience) how to run the big con. Is there a better teacher/student combo than Newman and Redford.
Henry Gondorff: Glad to meet you, kid, you're a real horse's ass. Is Lonnegan after you too?
Johnny Hooker: I dunno... I ain't seen anybody.
Henry Gondorff: You never do, kid.

2) Bull Durham. Kevin Costner's Crash Davis teaches Tim Robbins' Nuke LaLoush how to be a professional baseball player.

Crash Davis: Your shower shoes have fungus on them. You'll never make it to the bigs with fungus on your shower shoes. Think classy, you'll be classy. If you win 20 in the show, you can let the fungus grow back and the press'll think you're colorful. Until you win 20 in the show, however, it means you are a slob.

3) A River Runs Through It. Written by a teacher, Norman Maclean. The scenes where Tom Skerritt teaches his sons how to write and then how to fish are real life lessons. He teaches his boys how to be men.

Voice over- Old Norman: My father was very sure about certain matters pertaining to the universe. To him, all good things - trout as well as eternal salvation - came by grace; and grace comes by art; and art does not come easy.

I look forward to your comments.


1 comment:

Wonder Woman said...

With Honors is on my list:
"You shall no longer take things at second or third hand, not look through the eyes of the dead, nor feed on the spectres in books. You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me, you shall listen to all sides and filter them from yourself. " -Joe Pesci as Simon Wilder
A worthy lesson, learned well, at a time when saying and doing what's expected instead of what you truly believe could seem like the smarter path to take.