Teachers on TV: No, We’re Not Really Like That
I recently caught the first episode of season 3 of TV Land’s comedy series Teachers. I’ve been meaning to watch the show for the last year and finally had time to over Thanksgiving break…I know all teachers out there feel me. As a veteran educator, I loved the idea of a whole show revolving around teachers. Some of the most fun, interesting people I know are teachers…we deserve a show about us!
But while I loved the idea of the show, I found myself not loving the actual show. In fact, by the time the episode was over, I was downright indignant.
I can appreciate that the show was trying to raise awareness about some of the real issues that teachers face and doing so in an absurd way. For example, the storyline about the teacher who returns from summer break to find her classroom trailer taken over by a homeless man made me chuckle and cringe at the same time. Teachers shouldn’t be teaching in trailers, so the ridiculousness of the scene rang true.
However, the general superficiality of the main characters and especially the all-out incompetence of the principal portrayed in Teachers gradually started to make me angry. It harkened back to movies like Bad Teacher and Fist Fight. In the former, a teacher comes to school drunk, and in the latter, a teacher physically attacks students. The teachers in these movies are not only incompetent; they endanger students and break the law with their behavior. I just can’t find anything funny in that.
On the flip side, some serious film portrayals of teachers make it seem like the only way to be a good teacher is to give everything to the profession, at the expense of one’s personal life. Just watch Dead Poet’s Society or Dangerous Minds or Freedom Writers. I walk away from those films feeling inspired yet also overwhelmed and inadequate. There is no way I can give so much of myself to my students and still be a good wife and mother. This idea that a good teacher must be a martyr to the profession isn’t okay either.
You know who we need more of? Mr. Katimski. Who is that, you might ask? If you are a child of the 90’s like me, you’ll remember Mr. Katimski as the lovable English teacher on the short-lived yet awesome show, My So-Called Life. I can still vividly remember the scene in which he pushes heartthrob Jordan Catalano (played by Jared Leto) to come to terms with his feelings for the main character, Angela Chase (played by Claire Danes) by explicating lines from Shakespeare’s sonnet, My Mistress’s Eyes. If you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favor and Google it. (Does Jared Leto age? My point is that Mr. Katimski is bumbling and a total nerd, but he is also passionate about his subject matter and kind and thoughtful in how he deals with his students. He helps them through tough situations yet maintains appropriate boundaries and holds them accountable.
And while we’re at it, let’s create more professor Dumbledores, too. The elder version from the Harry Potter series as well as the younger version in the new Fantastic Beast films both depict an educator who connects on a personal level with his students, even if that means revealing his own flaws. He helps Harry Potter and Newt Scamander to overcome great challenges by being a “guide on the side, not a sage on the sage,” as the saying goes. He favors experiential education over classroom learning.
Both Mr. Katimski and Dumbledore are similar to colleagues I’ve had over the years and the kind of teacher I want my daughters to have.
At the end of the day, there is enough bad press about teachers in the mainstream media (teacher strikes, standardized test cheating scandals, teacher sexual misconduct trials, etc.). We don’t need Hollywood further warping people’s views of the profession. In fact, on the American Federation of Teachers 2017 Educator Quality of Worklife Survey 36% of teachers disagreed and 25% strongly disagreed with the idea that they are treated with respect by the local and national media. So let’s push for more honest and genuine portrayals of good teachers: teachers like many of the ones I remember from my childhood and the ones who sit next to me in the teacher’s lounge each day.