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Teachers Review Teacher Movies Vol. 1
Back to School Week continues with reviews that no one else could write.
Have you ever said, "That's not how that works!" when watching a movie set in your workplace? How about a movie where your job or career is glamorized or made to look easy? Are you a paper salesman that feels your career has been made a mockery of on The Office?
Teaching is one of those professions that's never depicted accurately or honestly. Enter Patrick (a middle school teacher) and Taylor (a former elementary school teacher) to review those movies about teachers, students, classrooms, and the crazy career path that is education.
Bad Teacher (2011)
A lazy, incompetent middle school teacher who hates her job and her students is forced to return to her job to make enough money for a boob job after her rich fiancé dumps her.
Patrick: Something I like about Bad Teacher is the premise that someone teaches solely for the paycheck. She could be Bad Postal Worker or Bad Chipotle Scooper or Bad Nail Technician. She's only truly deplorable because she's educating our youth, anywhere else she'd just be that annoying chick who sits on her phone all day - like me when I worked in the Ladies' Shoes department at Macy's and someone would ask me if we had more sizes in the back and I'd just go to the stockroom and sit on my phone for five minutes.
So many teacher movies depict someone inventing their own pedagogy or rethinking philosophies of education. Granted, Cameron Diaz takes it way too far by doing nothing but show her students those very movies, but it's refreshing to see teaching as a job. We all want students to learn and grow and enter our communities and change our world, but some days you just have to worry about getting there on time and making it to your lunch break and doing your best to make it to closing time with a smile on your face.
Taylor: I have always loved this movie. Is it truly any good? I don't know. Probably not. But I love Cameron Diaz and Jason Segal and the rare Justin Timberlake appearance. Sue me, it's a fun movie! It's the only of the three I had seen before this endeavor, so I already went in with rose-colored glasses.
But is it a good depiction of teaching?
Well... I can't say I never wanted to have a drink or two or ten after a long week. And I can't say I never wanted to just show up for my paycheck. And I definitely can't say I wouldn't fall madly in love with a P.E. teacher Jason Segal... so, yep! On all accounts, very accurate!
To Sir, with Love (1967)
A British Guianese engineer starts a job as a high school teacher in London’s East End, where his uninterested and delinquent pupils are in desperate need of attention and care.
Patrick: One time in a Professional Development session, the facilitator broke the ice by asking, "What's your favorite movie about teaching?" Someone at my table said To Sir, with Love and this is someone whose opinion I trust, so the film shot to the top of my teaching watchlist.
It works better as a time capsule than anything else, because if I or anyone I knew kicked all of the boys out of the room and yelled at the girls, "I am sick of your foul language, your crude behavior, and your sluttish manner!", well, I don't think we'd make it until the end of the day. Much less have the girls write a song about how much they love you. A song that plays no less than four different times...
Taylor: This is a fun, touching movie. I loved the clothes, the performances, and even the cheesy original song. But it was in no way reminiscent of the students I engaged with.
Is that because it was a different time and it's from a different country and there was just generally a different dynamic between students and elders, teachers, parents, mentors, etc.? Yes. All of the above. But it made my jaw drop and let out a giggle when he would contemplate quitting because students were talking... and immediately stopped when he asked them to? He doesn't even have to teach the real curriculum! He had it made!
Kindergarten Cop (1990)
Hard-edged cop John Kimble gets more than he bargained for when he goes undercover as a kindergarten teacher to get the goods on a brutal drug lord while at the same time protecting the man’s young son. Pitted against a class of boisterous moppets whose antics try his patience and test his mettle, Kimble may have met his match...in more ways than one.
Taylor: We're finally getting to my territory here! I did, in fact, teach Kindergarten, and this movie got me right in my feels reminiscing about those (long, long, long) days.
I could really care less about the bad guy plot line (I get it, it's a Schwarzenegger movie, there's going to be a bad guy!), but could watch him teach Kindergarten for hours.
Now, I didn't use a police whistle or military-style training, but watching him navigate his first few days of teaching felt suspiciously familiar. The constant feeling of others watching, judging, or just getting a chuckle out of you trying to get a grasp on your class. The long-winded but still never clear enough directions. The "kids say the darndest things" trope (one time a kid saw an ant in my room and said his mom "could probably help since she has a ton of ants at her house." Yikes.). I loved it all. And I actually think other than the setup, the approach is... kind of on point - if a little exaggerated.
Patrick: I'm a sucker for some Schwarzenegger, so I thought this was really fun. I've never taught Kindergarten so I can't speak to how accurate those depictions are, but I can tell you that the one thing this movie gets right is how tired you are when you get home, the constant headaches ("It's not a tu-mah!"), and just how plain physically demanding it is. There's a reason there's a TikTok challenge going around that shows teachers, bright-eyed and smiling, saying, "Hi, I'm Ms. Wilkinson and this is me before the first day of school!" and then shows them eight hours later, looking like they've just been run over by a truck Wile E. Coyote-style, completely unable to utter the phrase, "...and this is me after the first day of school."
Credit: Each plot synopsis from Letterboxd via TMDb.
This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the films being covered here wouldn't exist.
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