Thursday, May 6, 2010

Meet the Teacher...

May 3rd was the beginning of Education Week in Canada so I would like to take this opportunity to express my appreciation for Teachers. Yes, those hardworking, much-maligned role models that take care of our children for most of the day, trying to educate them (usually in spite of themselves)! The talented ones can even make students ENJOY the learning process. And I am sure most of us have had the experience in our youth of having had a crush on a special teacher! Come on... you know you have!

Here's Elton John singing "Teacher I Need You" from his 1973 album Don't Shoot Me I'm Only the Piano Player

Well, this video might be a bit hokey, and a tear-jerker, but I couldn't help including it, because I know that many teachers do go out of their way to help students in many ways:

Stage and Screen
I had the great pleasure recently to attend a stage production of the play Educating Rita by Willy Russell at the Manitoba Theatre Centre. It was very well done and I enjoyed it immensely. I had previously seen the movie version, so I knew the plot, and even though the play never moved beyond the confines of a professor's office, the characters were so realistically portrayed that they did seem to have a life of their own off stage.
Andrew Gillies as Frank and Mairi Babb as Rita in Educating Rita. Photo by Bruce Monk.

Susan, or Rita (as she likes to call herself), is an Adult Education student who enrolls in an English literature course at a local college. She wants to better herself to get out of her rut as a hairdresser and learn what it is that the upper classes seem to know. Hard-drinking, and a failed poet, Professor Frank Bryant is not looking forward to tutoring her. But when she breezes into their first meeting, he can't help but be charmed by her unfettered candour and thirst for learning.

I had been looking forward to seeing this play as I had really enjoyed watching the film version of Educating Rita (1983) with Michael Caine and Julie Walters. Of course the film fleshes out the play a bit with some extra scenes but it still maintains the integrity of the play. What is unusual about this work is that although it is a comedy, it touches on soul-searching issues about what a person needs to make them satisfied with their life. Is it knowledge of the academic kind or could it actually be self-knowledge that is necessary, but how does one find out, unless they are allowed to discover it for themselves? Rita's friends, and especially her husband try to hold her back and keep her from changing.  By the end, both Rita and her mentor have grown through their friendship with each other.

Now for a journey through film history for some of my favourite teacher roles. Of course I saw this one much later in life, and although it takes place in the 1950's many of the issues in it are still very relevant today. Namely, how do you motivate inner-city kids who have only been educated in the school of Hard Knocks!?
In The Blackboard Jungle (1955), the new teacher Richard Dadier played by Glenn Ford is thrust into the midst of a gang of tough teens who are determined to undermine the teacher's authority and learn as little as possible. This classic film is also known for popularizing the now famous Rock 'n Roll hit "Rock Around the Clock" by Bill Haley and the Comets. The film also stars Vic Morrow and a young Sidney Poitier.

Glenn Ford and Sidney Poitier

Speaking of Sidney Poitier, who can forget him as the teacher in To Sir With Love (1967)?!
I have always had a crush on Sidney Poitier -- how much more so had he ever been my teacher! In this film he manages to inspire a bunch of lazy, rude, working class teens into behaving like well-mannered ladies and gentlemen who honour him with a special tribute when they hear he is intending to leave the school.

To Sir With Love was based on a memoir by E.R. Braithwaite.

Another autobiographical book about teaching was written by Pat Conroy, author of The Prince of Tides, (one of my fave books)!, The Great Santini, and the book to which I am referring: The Water is Wide --  about his first job as a new teacher in a one-room school house on a poverty-stricken island off the coast of Georgia. The book was made into a film entitled Conrack (1974) starring Jon Voigt.

The children have been so isolated from the outside world, they have even developed a language of their own which is how he comes to be called Conrack, instead of Conroy. His efforts to help the children learn about life as it exists off their island, eventually bring him into conflict with the Superintendent of Education played in a mean-spirited way by Hume Cronyn. Conroy is eventually fired, but not before making a strong connection with the students using a recording of a classic piece of music from Beethoven, which the children decide to serenade him with as he is forced to leave them. It is such a touching movie, sad but never hopeless.

I have always believed that music is a great method of teaching almost any subject. The next movie really takes this idea to a new level! I am speaking here of one of my fave comedies, that brings a hard rocking wannabe rockstar into an upper echelon private elementary school as a substitute teacher and well, so begins:
School of Rock (2003).

Fanvid by centragal86

Of course, this is a fanvid set to a country tune! But the clips are great, and it basically tells the story. This movie stars Jack Black whom some may love to hate, but this movie was made for him to shine in! I also love the cameo role by Joan Cusack as the principal. My favourite scene of all is of her trying to calm down a group of irate parents whose children are missing and she has no idea where they are.
Here is an abreviated trailer for the movie that was made by hethinksitsreal that highlights Joan Cusack's role.

Well... along with these fictionalized teachers, I can't help but mention my favourite school with teachers that are certainly a fantasy -- none other than Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry!

Professor Snape anyone?                                          How about Minerva McGonagall?

Definitely Albus Dumbedore!

Well, if we are going to fantasize, I might as well chose a real-life crush for a teacher.

Sign me up for whatever he's teaching!


Nat at RA FanBlog said...

Teachers really are something else. I couldn't be one, that's for sure! (I'd need more patience.) I LOVE "School of Rock" and "Harry Potter." (I have a soft spot for Snape.) And speaking of Harry, Mr. Kennedy would make a good teacher. :)

Maria Grazia said...

It 'd be very dangerous to have a colleague like Mr Armitage... really very dangerous! But not unpleasant at all!Well, actually, it'd be a dream come true...
My favourite movie about teachers and teaching is DEAD'S POETS SOCIETY. That's a wonderful moving one. Unforgettable. That final scene always move me to tears. Robin Williams is brilliant!
Thanks Phylly for dedicating this blogpost of yours to our tough job! Such a beautiful one. I consider myself lucky!

Phylly3 said...

@Nat -- I was always hoping that Snape was not as bad as he appeared to be.
@Maria Grazia -- I liked Dead Poet's Society too, but it was so long since I'd seen it, I couldn't remember enough about it to comment on it. Robin Williams was also great in "Good Will Hunting" not as a teacher though, but a psychologist.
Thanks for your comments to both of you!

tyme_4_t said...

Cheers for Teachers!
One of the best parts of attending my 20th high reunion two years ago (ok stop doing the math- lol) was that many of the teachers were there as well. It was so great to talk to them as an adult as opposed as a student. The stories told kept many of us in stitches for the evening.

and if Harry Kennedy had been my accounting teacher...I may have done much better with all the "private tutoring" I would have requested!

tyme_4_t said...

high school reunion! - must read over before hitting post!

Phylly3 said...

@tyme_4_t -- Funny, I automatically put in the word school in your comment, so I didn't notice the mistake. LOL

Avalon said...

Glad you included the Hogwarts academy.
Did you know that I home educate my youngest? Well we have something like this too in the states and he purchased me a teacher appreciation poem taped to a bag of popcorn from church for me. I thought the gift precious.

Phylly3 said...

@Avalon -- that is so sweet! You are a home educator- Wow! What dedication! I've often thought how challenging that would be! Kudos to you!

bZirk said...

I love this post. Teaching is one of those things I had contempt for as a kid. Don't most kids? But I am so grateful now for the wonderful teachers I had. I hope teachers read comments like this and are reminded that it doesn't matter if the kid balks at the time.

@phylly, Pat Conroy is one of my favorites, and I was already thinking about rewatching Educating Rita. Must do that sometime soon. Great minds think alike.

@Avalon, I second what Phylly said!

@Tyme, I would love to talk to some of my teachers now, but I've never gone back to a reunion, and sadly, I'll bet some of them will be gone by the time the next reunion rolls around.

Phylly3 said...

@Bzirk -- were you one of those kids with the "attitude"? You must have been too smart for your own good! LOL
Thanks for visiting and taking the time to comment!

bZirk said...


I don't know about the smart thing, but I was a daydreamer -- still am. I was the kid who stared out the window a lot while the teacher was talking.

Enjoying your blog and hope to visit more.