I Hate Teacher Movies!

I met a couple of retired police officers who told me why they hated cop shows, couldn’t watch them. The cliches were just too unrealistic. No police officer would ever act in that way.

It got me thinking about my own profession, teaching. I’m a professor at a community college, and I never thought there was much mystery to what I did, but apparently there is. I cannot watch movies about teachers. They make me so very very angry for a number of reasons, but the cliches put forth in them make me think the general public has no idea what teachers go through. Here’s a list of the worst of them:

1. Teaching isn’t about the money.

Imagine the scene in any number of movies. Robin Williams goes home to his little hovel. All day long he’s been fighting with bureaucrats who flat out hate all students and teachers. They’ve been insulting and condescending for the worst possible reasons. The students have been fighting, doing the foolish things that they do, and now his reward is to come home to his mini one-bedroom apartment and stare out the window, wondering how he can get through to these kids. A single tear drop slowly works its way down his cheek, but he’s fighting the good fight even if he lives in a dump and has to even buy his books used.

“Teaching isn’t about the money” is something I hear not only in the movies, but in news reports, on the radio, and from people who don’t teach. Of course, it’s about the money, at least in part. Teaching is a really difficult job, and although I love it, and I never expect to get rich, I would like to be able to afford a two bedroom apartment and a decent meal just like everyone else.

People don’t make this claim about any other profession. Sure, there’s nobility in teaching, but there’s nobility in medicine and the law too, and no one’s asking doctors and lawyers to forgo a decent paycheck. You don’t ever get the scene of Sam Waterson going back to his tiny RV and sipping a thin cup of tea from a tea bag that’s been used and reused.

Up yours, Robin Williams!

2. Teacher and Administrators Are Natural Enemies

How many times have I seen a movie administrator with a cynical smirk on his face talking about how he has bigger concerns? I’ve worked with a lot of deans, vice presidents, presidents, board members, and others. Some of them have been terrible people. But no more so than anyone else in any field. Mostly they are kind, intelligent people trying to do the hard job of helping students to learn. Most of them are former teachers who thought they could make a bigger difference by guiding the school.

They make more money than teachers do. That’s because it’s not as fun as teaching, and they need to be recruited into that profession in some way.

They’re at odds with teachers during contract negotiations. Of course they are. That’s their job.

They’re not a group of evil yes men bent on conformity any more than the teachers who are supposed to be heroic are.

3. Good Teaching Requires a Great Deal of Loss for the Teacher

Michelle Pheiffer goes into the class full of kids who need her so desperately. The only way to get through to them is to first put herself on the line physically. She has to fight! Oh, she might take a beating, be permanently disabled, killed even, but if that’s what it takes, it’s a small price to pay. Somehow, she stands up to them and lives, but she doesn’t bother to get help from security. No, earning their respect was enough. Now it’s time for the second loss. Now, she must meet students and tutor late into the night. That’s fine. She doesn’t have kids. She doesn’t want free time. Dating, pfff! She’s a teacher damn it and that means sacrifice across the board.

I think Hollywood thinks that when people become teachers they have entered a kind of priesthood. They have accepted the idea that their life is over, and they will now devote themselves to the prospect of slow death so that others might learn.

Are they out of their minds? When people treat teaching in this way, they burn out fairly quickly just as anyone would burn out working these kinds of hours under these kinds of conditions. You can’t teach well if everything is always sacrifice.

Anyway, I know these cliches make for a more dramatic movie and that people love them. I understand why people love them. It’s just that I can’t watch teacher movies any longer.