Inventing the Humanities

Monday, May 01, 2006

"The Cinematic Representation of the Personal and Professional Lives of Teachers" by James Trier

As a supervisor of student teachers with the College of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, James D. Trier developed a program that “engages pre-service teachers in a critically reflective practice” (127). The program’s inward and outward reflection “challenges the notion that teachers can remain neutral about pedagogy, curriculum, and classroom organization and management in order to critique the institutions where they will work” (128).

One of the obvious examples occurred when Trier came across “Preparing Monocultural Teachers for a Multicultural World: Attitudes Toward Inner-City Schools” where the subjects of the article had negative assessments of inner city schools. Trier showed images from films such as The Principal and The Substitute to reinforce how media shapes our perceptions and beliefs. School films invite pre-service teachers to “experience situations vicariously and engage the students to examine their assumptions, beliefs, and knowledge about a range of educational issues” (129).

Trier’s Introductory Activities:

The “Resentment” school film and the “Lullaby” school film

Read Cameron McCarthy’s essay “Educating the American Popular: Suburban Resentment and the Representation of the Inner-City in Contemporary Film and Television”.

Students analyze how inner-city school films construct “inner-city” students, teachers, schools, and the surrounding communities.

Write an essay comparing the cinematic constructions with their own assumptions, beliefs, and knowledge about so-called inner-city schools.

Read Mitchell and Weber’s “Reinventing Ourselves as Teachers: Beyond Nostalgia”. View films following these questions

Describe the scene that affected you the most.

How does it connect to your social or political contexts?

Do they remind you of real life experiences?

What images or stereotypes of teachers, students, or schooling are introduced or perpetuated?

Secondary Texts

Critically read and analyze VHS/DVD box covers: how do ideological icons such as images and colors shape misconceptions of suburban verse inner-city school films (i.e. inner-city films are often violent dramas involving death with covers in black/red tones and a teacher holding a weapon. Suburban films are often romantic comedies with a cover including bright colors and smiling white kids.

Relationship between the Personal and Professional Lives of Teachers:

  1. Films representing characters that immerse themselves solely in their profession.
  2. Films representing characters that immerse themselves solely in their personal lives.
  3. Films that represent characters who struggle with the two (i.e. either their personal life conflicts with their professional or professional conflicts with their personal).

Common Perceptions/Reactions towards School Films:

....To be a great teacher means devoting all your time to work at the expense of having any kind of personal life (To Sir with Love, Dangerous Minds, and Stand and Deliver).

....Teacher as “Savior”: Teachers have a special pre-destined “gift” for teaching to save kids who are heading nowhere (Stand and Deliver, Lean on Me).

....Desires to become a teacher: Many are fulfilling an emotional need/desire (This is My Father).

....“Professionalism” and the ability to separate one’s own personal life from one’s professional life for the good of the students (Waterland).


Do idealistic new teachers perceive dedication and ambition as devoting all their time to work? Think back to when you first taught. Is this realistic?

Do you believe teacher’s are born or made? Do you have some sort of special gift?

Do teachers try to “save” kids? What are some dangers and ethical challenges teachers may experience?

What made you become a teacher? (And don’t say “I love kids”) Do we desire control, attention, maybe even love?

Describe a time when you had trouble separating your professional and personal life. Did one of these facets enter the other’s world? (i.e. think of the teacher going through a divorce who became emotional in the classroom, or “Jaime” who neglects his family life because of his obsession with teaching).

Create a school film adaptation based on your own teaching experience: What would the title be, genre, characters, plot, cover box imagery?


At 11:04 AM, Blogger Cynthia B said...

I think that you bring up great questions. I consider myself a fairly new teacher and I think that I need to devote all my time (well almost all of it) to my work in order to be my best. With this I have to argue that teachers are made and not necesarily born into the profession.
I DO try to save my students, or at least help them. And yes, this is dangerous because we are not trained as psychologists or social workers and we may end up harming the child more than helping them. In addition this makes us feel terrible and/or guilty. As much as we want to help we need to realize that helping our students may be as simple as finding someone who can really help them (if they do in fact need the help).
I think it's funny you ask why we became teachers - and I think that you hit the nail on the head. I never thought of myself as someone who ever wanted attention, or control but I have noticed through the few years I have been teaching that I tend to get crazy when I lose control in my personal life and I feel the need to control others in my personal life as well (not in a bad or mean way, I know what you're thinking :-P)
Great post! Awesome questions!


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