Teachers as seen on the screen

Teaching.....Hollywood Style

The first day of school traditionally occurs in September.  

​            No more.  With year-round schedules, flexible calendars,  summer school, post-summer school, and many other creative school calendars, almost any day can be the first day of school  

            At any rate, after the first day there is the second day and the third day and pretty soon the daily grind sets in.  

            When pressure starts to build, teachers might be well advised to take time to relax and watch a movie about teaching.  Hollywood has produced a number of films that will inspire teachers and help them touch base with why they got into the profession in the first place. 

            I think the first “teacher movie” I ever saw was “Blackboard Jungle” in 1955.  Its claim to fame is “Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley and the Comets, used as the title theme.  I remember the song more than the movie, but I know Glenn Ford played a new teacher at a tough urban high school.  He got beat up once or twice in his efforts to whip the “juvenile delinquents” into shape, but he persevered.  I was in grade school when I saw the movie and I don’t think it had much influence on my later decision to become a teacher.  At least it didn’t scare me away. 

            A film that did make me think about a teaching career was “To Sir With Love.”  Based upon a true story by E. R. Braithwaite, the movie stars Sidney Poitier as a new teacher in a totally undisciplined class in a school on London’s East End.  He learns that to be truly effective he must know more about his students’ lives. 

            Another motion picture I remember is “Up the Down Staircase,” based upon a 1960s novel by Bel Kaufman.  Sandy Dennis plays Sylvia Barrett, a first year teacher who must cope with undisciplined students, inadequate facilities, and insufficient books in a school much like the one in “Blackboard Jungle,” except that this one is more fun. 

            There are many other good movies that take place in the classroom.  In “Dead Poet’s Society,” English teacher Robin Williams shares a love of poetry and challenges students to resist the status quo.  Ex-marine Louanne Johnson is the teacher in “Dangerous Minds” who succeeds in shaping up classes comprised of kids right off the street.  In “Stand and Deliver” Jaime Escalante is a computer engineer who pushes low-income Hispanic student to pass the Calculus AP exam.  “Mr. Holland’s Opus” stars Richard Dreyfuss as a music instructor who eventually sees the impact he has had on the world around him.  The theme in all of these movies is the powerful influence that teachers have upon the lives of students. 

            Away from the silver screen, do teachers really make a difference?  The answer is a resounding “yes.”  In an AP-AOL, 63% of adults surveyed said they remembered a teacher who made a difference in the way their lives turned out.  The reasons provided had little to do with subject matter.  Most of those surveyed said their lives were changed by teachers who were caring, compassionate, and willing to listen to students and take an interest in their lives. 

            Teachers have an awesome responsibility.  As classrooms become more and more hectic, they should not become so busy that they neglect the opportunities they have to affect young lives.  A favorite phrase by teacher Robin Williams in “Dead Poet’s Society” says it well:  Carpe Diem.  Seize the day.