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I’m not sure about the rest of you, but part of the reason I wanted to become a teacher was because of the way it was often presented in television and the movies. Who can forget the film To Sir, with Love starring Sidney Poitier from back in 1967? Those British high school students gave poor Sidney such a hard time early on, but by the end of the movie, his character was the most loved apparently in the whole school. The class even had one of the students write and sing a song about him!
Granted, I have never had a student sing a song about me. And if they have, it would probably be a parody of some sort and hurt my feelings. But To Sir, with Love was one of those films that made you want to become a teacher. It romanticized teaching and showed that it was possible to be an important influence on kids’ lives.
In most of my college education classes, the professor would ask us, “Why have you decided to become a teacher?” My fellow classmates started speaking about trials and tribulations in their lives that led them there to this moment into becoming a teacher. When it came time for my answer, I would say quite casually, “Well, I saw the movie Kindergarten Cop, and I decided if Arnold could do it, then I could do it too.”
This would always receive a bit of a laugh from the rest of the class, but then later on a classmate would often tell me in confidence that they, too, were inspired by someone from television or film. The truth is many of these shows and movies should be required viewing for those thinking about becoming a teacher. They can display the ups and downs of teaching, and can often demonstrate what makes a great teacher. Below is a list of classic television and film teachers that no doubt influenced numerous future educators besides me.
Dead Poets Society: John Keating
“Oh captain, my captain!” It is hard not to be inspired by Robin Williams’ performance in Dead Poets Society. John Keating stays true to himself, does not give up on the students, and makes his feelings known to administration. Parents and administrators seem to be closing in on him, but he doesn’t give up the battle. His unorthodox teaching style probably affected quite a few of us and showed there is no set way to teach.
The Facts of Life: Mrs. Edna Garrett
If you were a fan of late 70s and early 80s television, you probably fondly remember Mrs. Garrett. While not technically an educator on Facts of Life, she was constantly being a teacher for Blair, Jo, Tootie, and Natalie. The show had Mrs. Garrett working at Eastland Academy in Peekskill, New York. She was often very loving with the girls, even referring to them as like daughters, but she could be scarily tough as well. Her voice when she was angry on the show was just a bit frightening. I can still hear it in my nightmares.
Mr. Holland’s Opus: Glen Holland
If this movie did not make you cry, then you are much tougher than I am. Composer Glenn Holland never wanted to become a teacher. He wanted to be a well-known musician that would write magical pieces of music for millions to adore. But just like many of us that are chasing dreams, he had to get a job in the meantime to support himself. It is because of this that he takes a job as a music teacher at an Oregon high school. He becomes frustrated with the students and does not give his all in the beginning. Slowly, he starts to realize that he is actually good at educating kids. After awhile, his teaching job that was supposed to last only a year or two had stretched into 30 years. While maybe he did not achieve the dream he set out to, he still made a huge impact on those students during his time as a teacher.
Welcome Back, Kotter: Mr. Kotter
Mr. Kotter is one of the most recognized television teachers of all time. The background story for the show was that Gabe Kotter was just hired to become a teacher at his old high school that he attended as a teenager. He was not a good student himself and often caused problems, but somehow he ended up as an educator. Because of this, karma came knocking. He was put in charge of a classroom full of underachieving, rowdy, wisecracking, and incorrigible students, including a young John Travolta. They were known as the Sweat hogs. Kotter would handle everything with a sense of humor, but also made his students realize he expected more from them. It also made me realize that in almost every class there is at least one Horshack.
Breaking Bad: Walter White
Breaking Bad became a cultural phenomenon when it aired on AMC from 2008 to 2013. While we don’t often get to see Walter White teaching in his classroom, he does put his love of science to use during the last couple years of his life. He was able to show his brilliance in other ways outside of the classroom that was not exactly school friendly. If nothing else, this show demonstrated that all teachers have some sort of secret private life that is kept hidden from their students. Though probably not as dark as Mr. White’s.
Good Morning, Miss Bliss: Miss Bliss
Good Morning, Miss Bliss was only on for one season in the late 80s, but it was basically the first season of the iconic Saved By the Bell. There were a few major differences between the shows though. Saved by the Bell was set in California and Miss Bliss was taking place in Indiana. Slater, Kelly, and Jessie were not in the Miss Bliss season. But the biggest difference was that Good Morning, Miss Bliss was centered around the teacher, appropriately named Miss Bliss. She was the caring, thoughtful, British-accented teacher that we all wished we had when we were younger. Everyone always seems more distinguished with a British accent. Miss Bliss exhibited to others exactly what made a perfect teacher, much better than Mr. Belding’s brother Rod a few years later.
By Ryan Crawley
Ryan Crawley is an education and fitness guru currently making his home in Illinois. He always tries to look on the humorous side of things as he has spent years teaching, training, and writing.
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