Saturday, January 20, 2007

Something to Mull Over

Classroom Distinctions - New York Times

A friend and fellow teacher sent me the above link to a Times op-ed piece on the relationship between movie teachers and real world teachers. Seems they are two different animals.

Tom Moore, the writer of the piece, is a teacher in the Bronx. He writes:

Films like “Freedom Writers” portray teachers more as missionaries than professionals, eager to give up their lives and comfort for the benefit of others, without need of compensation. Ms. Gruwell sacrifices money, time and even her marriage for her job.

Her behavior is not represented as obsessive or self-destructive, but driven — necessary, even. She is forced into making these sacrifices by the aggressive neglect of the school’s administrators, who won’t even let her take books from the bookroom. The film applauds Ms. Gruwell’s dedication, but also implies that she has no other choice. In order to be a good teacher, she has to be a hero.

It's difficult for me to read this piece objectively. I know Erin and the Freedom Writers. I have seen the effects of their work and the effects Gruwell's methods can have when implements in the classroom.

I smirked when reading, "Many of the students I’ve known won’t sit down unless they’re repeatedly asked to (maybe not even then), and they don’t listen just because the teacher is speaking; even 'good teachers' are occasionally drowned out by the din of 30 students simultaneously using language that would easily earn a movie an NC-17 rating."

These things are true in my own school, in every school I've ever scene since joining the profession.

Admitting Moore's understanding and knowledge of the subject, I disagree with his premise. Yes, educators need more support, trust and pay. We need hope too. While I do not expect my teaching to have the same effects or results as Gruwell's, I need movies like Freedom Writers, Blackboard Jungle, Stand and Deliver, etc. to remind me of what education has the possibility of becoming.

I've sat through enough parent-teacher conferences to know that is the true business to which we've dedicated our lives - realizing potential.

To succeed in a system where much of the old guard wishes to maintain the status quo and the new recruits are focused on keeping their heads above water, sacrifice is often the best way to accomplish what is most important - getting through.

Perhaps movies like Dangerous Minds are dangerous to the profession, planting false expectations in new teachers and a critical public. I acknowledge they could lead to an attitude of "see, a real teacher will forsake love and personal happiness to save the students she teaches."

When we reach the precipice of this mindset, though, the same key is necessary as I use when calming a hot-blooded student - perspective.

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