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Top Five Myths About Education (as perpetuated by the movies)

January 18, 2010

As a teacher, I can tell you that those outside our illustrious (and sometimes hazardous) profession often have a skewed view of what education is truly “all about”.  I know, I know – everyone has been through the process at least once, but it amazes me how much Hollywood gets wrong about the business of teaching.

There are some that perpetuate the myth (FAIL!)

and some that get the realities of education RIGHT (A+)!

Here are the myths and the movies…

5.) All Students Fit Into Pre-Determined Stereotypes.   For example:  “Goth Girl”, “Druggie”, “Preppie”, “Felon” , etc.  In actuality, you get something more like the following:  “Goth Girl who is a really great artist, has recently divorced parents and secretly loves American Idol and High School Musical, but is afraid to tell her close friends for fear she will be shunned and/or actually accepted by her peers”.    Or, you can also get even more perplexing combinations such as, “Troubled kid with extensive police record who, in actuality, suffers from mild autism and language and speech disorders, (which had to be diagnosed and identified by his teachers at the late age of 15), which might have contributed to his frustration and acting out in the first place”.   Teaching is a wonderful, frustrating, and almost always rewarding experience where being an amateur psychologist is a helpful (and necessary) hobby.

Movies That Perpetuate This MythMean Girls, She’s All That, The Breakfast Club

Movies That Get it RIGHTElection

Tracy Flick in Election. She's annoying, but accurate. Every teacher has had a Tracy in class...

4.) Those Who Can’t “Do”, “Teach”.   The key here is motivation.  Those who strive to succeed in all their various high-paying and challenging careers all owe their success in part to some teacher (most likely many) along the way, who either knowingly or unknowingly inspired them towards their chosen career.  Some people see teaching as a fallback, as if someone says, “Well, I know I’ll never be an archeologist, so I’ll just teach World History”.  Those of us who teach know that the decision to teach is a conscious choice to be a constant, supportive presence in children’s lives – something that does not pay well monetarily, but (as cheesy and sentimental as it may sound) has infinite rewards every day.   I get to see the results of what I do as the years roll by, and believe me, it is a momentous thing to get a visit from a student who says, “Thanks to you, I decided to major in journalism”, or “Because you wouldn’t let me fail your class, I decided to graduate and go to college”.  Eventually, even the most frustrating kid can end up being a source of pride and joy!

Movies That Perpetuate the Myth: Mr. Holland’s Opus,Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

Movies That Get It RIGHT: Fast Times at Ridgemont High (Mr. Hand really DOES care!), Good Will Hunting, Mean Girls(Tina Fey perfectly captures the love/hate relationship all teachers have with frustrating students)

Wouldn't that make it OUR time, Mr. Hand?

3.) All Classrooms Come Standard Equipped with Desks in Rows, Chalkboards, and Posters of Kittens “Hanging in There”.   Not to brag, but my classroom comes equipped with some modern technology that may worth more than your car.    On a sad note, if people would relegate more money to education, more students would have the opportunities that students in my district have to interact with technology.  The way to reach kids today is through technology – you have to speak their language!  Alas, in the movies, using a dry erase board or a data projector just doesn’t have the same nostalgic resonance as the sound of that squeaking chalk when writing “carpe diem”.

Movies That Perpetuate the Myth:  ALL of them (with special thanks to Dead Poets Society and all films taking place in schools built before 1970)

It is 2010. Why is this man using a chalkboard? Never mind that the movie is called Chalk... Budget cuts be darned.

2.)Teachers Are Not Professionals Like Lawyers, Doctors, etc.   The fact is this:  teachers have as much schooling and as many degrees during their career as ANY lawyer or doctor, yet get paid a FRACTION of what these careers pay.  America is one of the the only countries/cultures on the PLANET that does not respect or revere teachers as an important (and well-paid) part of the community.   Take a look at Japanese culture, for instance.  Not only are teachers revered and well-paid, they are also an integral part of families’ lives, taking part in decision-making for students’ futures.  I hope I live to see the day when our culture appreciates teachers instead of blaming them for all that is wrong with education in America.  I hope that one day, parents will once again decide to PARENT, rather than placing emphasis on what teachers can do to “fix” their student.  I am happy to teach your student, mentor your student, help your student, encourage and inspire your student.  I am not responsible for being a replacement for the one thing many students no longer have in their lives:  a strong parent or parental figure.

Movies That Perpetuate This Myth:  Just about any movie that shows teachers in a negative light.  In other words, thank you to: Heathers, The Breakfast Club, The Faculty, and many others…

Movies That Get it Right:  If you find one, please let me know…

Principal Richard "Dick" Vernon - The Breakfast Club. The pointed finger - classic principal intimidation technique

1.) Teachers have summers “off”.   Sure they do.  After you subtract the time teachers spend teaching summer school (4-6 weeks), attending conferences and workshops necessary for certification and/or  advanced degrees, taking courses for Masters or Doctorate degrees, running sports or journalism/theatre camps, volunteering for new student orientation,  attending  All-Staff  MANDATORY “retreats”,  going to curriculum or technology training….you get the idea.  So, yes, somewhere in there we may get a few weeks off.  Keep in mind the next time you complain about how much we get PAID.  That should even out your envy a bit…

Movies That Perpetuate the Myth:  Wait, do they actually show movies about teachers who exist in the summer??

Movies That Get It RIGHTSummer School.  Sigh.

Thank you, Mark Harmon for showing that teachers DO work during the summer. That doesn't make this movie watchable, unfortunately.

And of course, thanks to Ben Stein, we do have a movie that has captured  forever on film the worst teaching technique ever,  I like to call it the BNR (Bore, Nag, Repeat).  See below.

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