Highschool on TV

I’ve found I really enjoy movies about high schools, not in the John Hughes sense, but movies whose main character relationships are between teachers and students. Okay, maybe not main ones, but secondary ones at least. I’ll concede that the movies are usually about student-student relationships.

I might be the only one I know who really loved the new Harry Potter movie. I like the Harry Potter franchise, but true fans complained that it wasn’t what it was supposed to be. I don’t know whether it was accurate enough to the book, but I do know that when Harry and his classmates moved from middle school to high school, the books and characters were much more endearing. I found their classroom foibles, romantic blunders, and detentions delightful. I thought: I teach those kids. Not wizards, but I teach teenagers and there’s something so universal about who they are 15-18. Even if they are wizards, they still get scolded, boy-girl troubles are the end of the world, and there is nothing like the burden of an impossible teacher.There is a collectivism among the Hogwarts faculty about the well-being and potential of its students to which I can deeply relate. I am blessed to teach at a similar school, where (on a good day) the students are cared for and taught by a community of committed, concerned adults.
I also watched the movie FAME! this afternoon with my sister, where rockstar kids with performing arts superpowers are loosely coached by famous former FAME stars like Debbie Allen. The teachers in this movie had a strong presence with a tough-love approach, resulting in adoration from their students. These kids, too: romantic blunders, distant parents, struggling to achieve in impossible classes, arbitrary stratification into “cool” kids and gifted “outsiders”. I found myself rooting for the kids who come from behind to shine at the end.
Then we watched the season finale for the show Glee from the DVR. If you haven’t seen this show, it’s about a teacher in a Midwest, ordinary high school who tried to revive the school’s glee club. It has the deadpan, unapologetic, absurd humor of the office without the mockumentary style. The teacher gets in his glee club the most ridiculous, rejected kids on campus who at least know they can sing. To the ordinary viewer of this show, those kids look like mutants. To me, they look like the inhabitants of Room 5 at the end of the day and so I love them. At the end, the students sang a song to their teacher “To Sir with Love,” and it made everyone cry. People may doubt that students are that grateful for their teacher, or that the teacher was that moved by his students–but this is my world! This is why I approach graduation with a breaking heart.

Channel 13 News every week, it seems, has some horror story about a teacher abusing his or her students–the kind of story that makes the holy task of relational teaching very difficult. These non-fiction accounts of the modern high school setting get it so wrong according to my experience. Teaching isn’t about power and abuse – or worst, sex – that might be the “real world”, but it isn’t teaching. Real teaching, I’ve found, is cultivating the mind and spirit of extraordinary people through life-changing relationships.

I instruct my students to disregard Hollywood’s approach to most things because of the glamorization and romanticizing inherent to film. But in the case of students and teaching and those relationships, there seems to be much more truth in the fiction than anything I’ve heard about in the “real world”.

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