Is That My Voice? Teachers on TV and in the Movies

Saturday, October 1, 2016 / 1 comment

Do you ever think about how teachers are portrayed in movies, on TV, or in the media? I do, and its not always a good thing! | Teacher Politics |

Just kidding, Jennifer Lawrence always looks fabulous. I look nothing like this when I hear my own voice

Am I alone in feeling this way? When someone’s voicemail asks me if I would like to have the message played back I cringe, knowing I’ve added several more minutes of re-recording what should have been a perfectly simple message because I hate the way my voice sounds when I say my own name. It’s a problem.

It occurred to me recently, however, that while I’ll spend two, alright three, OK! FINE! Five minutes! re-recording the message on my dentist’s voicemail cancelling my cleaning because the way I said “reschedule” just sounded really weird, I don’t spent a lot of time thinking about how my profession is depicted in the media.

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Yzma gets me.

A while ago I wrote an article about my secret loathing for inspirational teacher movies. When I wrote it, I was really only thinking about the “big ones.” The teacher movies that every teacher knows and loves. Dead Poet’s SocietyStand and DeliverDangerous MindsLean on MeFreedom Writers. You know, the ones where a persistent, dedicated educator saves a bunch of disinterested, tough kids through the power of their love and wildly entertaining teaching style and the students repay the teacher at the end with effusive praise and recognition for all their hard work. What’s not to like? Well, if you're me, you can find an entire article's worth of things not to like and one of the biggest of these was the message those movies send about what we should expect from it's educators.

I never thought to look more broadly, however, at how teachers are depicted in ALL media, not just the big, inspirational teacher flicks. That is, until Glee sang it's cloyingly cute way into my heart.

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See? So cloying. So cute.

This summer, I binge-watched several seasons of Glee. My sister-in-law loves it and she has great taste (apart from marrying my big brother, obviously), so I gave it a try. And she was right, there was a lot to like: fun, nostalgic versions of songs everyone loves, Jane Lynch, some entertaining plot lines, Jane Lynch. 

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Yes, Jane Lynch. You are outstanding.

I was happily working my way through the seasons without a thought about teaching, when I hit “The Spanish Teacher,” (Season 3, Episode 12), otherwise known as the “Ricky Martin Episode.” While most people focused on the very good-looking Martin singing and dancing his way through the episode, I couldn’t get over the subplot – the one where Mr. Schuester, the school's Spanish teacher and arguably, protagonist, admits that 1) he really has no true understanding of his subject area and 2) he really only became a teacher because he didn’t know what else to do with his life.

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Right, Ricky Martin? It IS crazy!

All of a sudden, I couldn't watch Glee without thinking about the message it was sending it's viewers about what teaching was as a profession. The beloved Will Schuester, masterful educator changing the lives of his students every actually terrible at the subject he is hired to teach?! Perhaps even more troubling is that no one in the episode really seemed to care! He admits to his complete ineptitude to his principal and his girlfriend (a guidance counselor who I could devote a whole other post to and hey, I might!) and both respond in a way that can best be described as...meh?

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I agree, Mr. WAS weird.

Suddenly, I was seeing teachers depicted everywhere. The opening scene of House had an uncaring teacher ignoring a child having a seizure. My best friend made me re-watch Sideways because I told her I hated seeing Paul Giamatti's character slouch his way through his miserable life as a middle-school English teacher. Hell, my kids asked to watch the Peanuts movie and the wah-wah-wah of Charlie Brown's teacher seemed to be mocking me. This, she told me in her unintelligible warbling, is how people view your profession.

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Stop mocking me, Charles M. Schulz!

So here's my big question:
Should we be more concerned about the way teachers 
are depicted in television shows and movies?

Does it matter? In future blog posts I'm going to be talking about the teacher stereotypes I've started to see now that I'm looking for them, but until then, I'd love to hear from you. Do you mind the lack of authentic representation teachers seem to receive? Do I need to exhale and just enjoy the television shows that show teachers as either clueless dopes or unnecessarily cruel dictators? Does it hurt how we are viewed in our profession if there are so few realistic depictions of what we do everyday for people outside the world of education?

What do you think?

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