Niles Crane: Tonight I’m picking up an award for a paper I presented last year
Frasier Crane: What case did you win it for?
Niles Carne: A gripping tale of a narcissistic opera singer. I called it ‘Me Me Me Me Me.’
We teachers can be an idealistic lot at times. We want our classes to be wonderful, exciting places and our students to leave our rooms energised. We may have been inspired by wonderful, inspirational teachers ourselves, teachers whose classes we remember as being full of fun and wonder, taught with sense of humour and energy. We may even have been inspired by those incredible on screen teachers: Sidney Poitier in ‘To Sir With Love’, Robin Williams in ‘Dead Poets Society’, Barry Evans in ‘Mind Your Language’. However, perhaps I remember them for the wrong reasons.
For a while, I was using the movie, ‘Freedom Writers’ as a classroom resource to, hopefully, encourage reluctant writers that they all have something to say. If you are unaware of the movie, it is about a young teacher who goes into a tough school in LA with great expectations, only to find kids demotivated by alleged institutional racism along with drug and gang culture. She turns them on to school through a series of inspirational lessons and, by the end, they worship her. (sigh) And there’s the rub. Deep down did I really want my students to feel the same way about me? Is that why I really showed them the film?
In his foreword to Will Ryan’s excellent ‘Inspirational Teachers, Inspirational Learners’, Ian Gilbert claims that, ‘if the children in your classroom are spellbound by your performance in the classroom then you are charismatic but not inspiring.’ How much do we teachers dominate the lessons we try to teach? And how often is that something to do with ego? The performers deep within come out and there is no greater sound than laughter, especially when we cause it; but, if we’re being honest, our students lose something valuable in those lessons, something much more important than our secret desire to be worshipped. Active learning time.
When we spend the time attempting to inspire our children to stand on their desks chanting, ‘Oh Captain, my Captain’ they are learning nothing useful. They may well remember us but perhaps not for the right reasons. I’ve stopped using ‘Freedom Writers’ as a resource. probably because I realised that it was a fairly mediocre movie, but also because I could inspire good writing in other ways. These kids have their troubles but they are not demotivated in the way those LA kids were; they don’t have the same issues, they don’t need me to save them. They need me to teach them properly.
I’m learning to stand back more and more in my lessons. Experience has taught me that if kids remember my class because ‘he was a good laugh’ then I may have failed them. It should never have been about me.