Movies and television shows don’t always reflect reality. People on screen can be portrayed as smarter, more attractive, more athletic or more artistic than they actually are. Exaggeration is something that comes with most movies and TV shows because without it, we’d be bored.
When it comes to casting roles for teachers or professors on screen, these characters tend to either fall flat due to stupidity and incompetence, or rise up to help students overcome some great challenge.
Why do TV writers and filmmakers see teachers as either great inspirations or idiots who students don’t listen to or respect? Do these people really view educators this way?
These polar opposite roles seems to stem from confusion over what a teacher’s role is in primary, secondary education and higher. Professor of sociology at St. Mary’s College and author of “Hollywood Goes to High School: Cinema, Schools and American Culture,” Robert Bulman believes people see teachers falling into one of two categories: The heroes and the fools.
“On the one hand, we expect them to be competent and heroic, and after all, our children are in their hands for a big part of the day,” Bulman said in an interview with the New York Times. “On the other hand, there is a certain cultural belief that teaches are poorly trained and apathetic, and they are the scapegoat for any crisis that exists in the public school system.”
These stereotypes of teachers have remained “remarkably consistent” for decades, according to Bulman.
What’s interesting is that teachers are mostly portrayed as heroes in situations where students come from underprivileged areas or “bad” families. The film “Freedom Writers” represents this stereotype perfectly. A white, financially stable teacher enters a school in a “bad” neighborhood and teaches students how to read, write and learn about history. The teacher is viewed as a heroine who saved the kids from their ultimate demise.
When it comes to middle- or upper-middle-class students, the teacher is usually perceived as a lazy fool. “The Breakfast Club” is a prime example of this. A bunch of white kids think their teacher is a complete moron and therefore believe they can do whatever they want because he can’t do anything about it. I mean, come on. These kids run through the halls and smoke weed in the library, and the teacher doesn’t ever know.
That’s some serious incompetence.
It seems crazy, and almost upsetting, that people view educators in this negative way. It gives them a bad name and deters kids and teenagers from wanting to be teachers because they’re portrayed as inadequate.
Popular culture needs to start illustrating these individuals as they really are and not what certain people think they are. Yes, every student has had a teacher they thought was a dimwit, as well as one they thought was brilliant and inspirational.
However, it isn’t fair to depict educators as one or the other because it isn’t black or white. They deserve the same respect in real life and on screen as other professions.
Being an educator isn’t easy, and popular culture should work to expose the reality of teaching to the public eye because they are the people who influence our future generations. They deserve equal respect and accurate depictions.
Email Laura Schmidt at firstname.lastname@example.org