Written by Josh McCusker, blogger for TeacherSherpa.com –
Key and Peele recently released a skit called “Teacher Center“. It was a note-perfect play on Sportscenter, but instead of highlighting athletes and sports, they highlighted teachers and education. They provided news about a teacher signing a multi-million dollar contract, the first teacher chosen in the amateur teacher draft, and even had a breakdown of a great lesson (with arrows drawn on the screen to show student engagement cues).
Part of what made it funny was that it highlighted a profession that works in relative anonymity. Teachers don’t usually receive celebrity treatment outside of the communities they work in. Even famous teachers are not famous when compared to athletes and entertainers. But even in the entertainment world, the impact of teachers is well-known.
On-screen Teachers Who Inspire
Movies and television are full of beloved teachers or coaches guiding and inspiring. The beloved characters in these stories are people that had a positive impact on lives. Here are some of the famous teachers from the big and small screens and what made them memorable.
Jaime Escalante (Stand and Deliver): We’ve seen the story countless times (even multiple times on this list). Hard-edged leader takes a group of ragtag students or players to great heights. It would be unbelievable if it weren’t true. The real life Jaime Escalante taught Calculus in a school where some administrators just wanted him to keep students in class. His students had unprecedented success on the difficult AP Calculus class.
In the movie, Escalante is portrayed as mostly uncompromising and dry. He wants his students to work hard, and works hard himself. In the end, a group of students, that few outside of the class believe in, score well enough on a test that, well, few believed they did so fairly. The climax of the movie is Escalante hearing the scores of the students. What strikes me most about that scene is that he didn’t want to hear the scores. He believed in his students abilities enough that he did not need outside validation.
Escalante reminds us that students will meet our expectations, however high or low we set them.
Mr. Feeny (Boy Meets World): When I started writing this article, a colleague of mine mentioned that we should include Mr. Feeny. The idea of NOT including Mr. Feeny never occurred to me. He is Mr. Feeny!
Let’s forget the tropes that had George Feeny lived next door to the Matthews’ house, moved up or changed jobs every year so that he could be on-screen teaching Corey, Shawn, and Topanga. The writers had to find a way to keep his caring, disciplined message. Mr. Feeny was so valued that even the parents wanted his opinion. He found the lesson in everything, and knew that his students would learn best from experiencing and doing. All while believing in their ability to make the right decisions when it mattered. He inspired Corey to become a teacher on Girl Meets World (which is really good, by the way).
Mr. Feeny reminds us that it is the process of learning which carries students higher. More so than the content itself.
Ms. Frizzle (Magic School Bus): Crazy Ms. Frizzle. Sometimes the students just want to chill out and read a book. Yet there she is, taking them on some fantastic journey. Even when things get (relatively) scary, Ms. Frizzle always has a smile and endless supplies of optimism and enthusiasm. She gets reluctant students to not only care, but get excited about learning.
Ms. Frizzle is such a great teacher in animated form, that teachers now still use her expertise to teach their students on rainy days or as a reward for nobody having to move a clip in classrooms from elementary up through high school. The thing about Ms. Frizzle, is even though she is a cartoon, she is many students’ most realistic example of what a teacher is.
Ms. Frizzle teaches us that a teacher’s enthusiasm and excitement will never go out of style.
Coach Norman Dale (Hoosiers): I didn’t think I could narrow it down to one coach, but I knew that I wanted at least one. Once I decided to get into sports movies, the paragon was Coach Dale from Hoosiers. Like Escalante, this is a (mostly) true story of a coach that leads a small-town school to the highest honor in high school sports, a state championship.
Coach Dale was tough. He had a plan and expected his players to follow it. Some in the community thought he was too tough. But, he knew that while the easy way might seem like more fun, his players would benefit the most from hard work. They wanted a leader. They wanted someone to respect. He gave them a strict path to follow, and then at the end, when he wanted Jimmy (their best player) to be a decoy on the last play of the championship, he showed compromise. (I admit that I get a little misty thinking about it).
Coach Dale reminds us that students see us leaders, and that good leaders know when to lead, and when to listen.
Whether they are a real teacher, are based on a collection of real teachers, or an idea of what makes a great teacher, there are traits that these famous teachers have that we can find in the best teachers that never make it on the screen. That is, until Teacher Center becomes a real thing.
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