Andrew Simmons: The movie may critique the Hollywood hero-teacher narrative, but doesn’t Angie come across as the kind of teacher that a teacher should emulate?
Angie Scioli: To suck the public in, you give them that narrative, which establishes my moral authority as a “good” teacher. Then in the second part of the movie, you learn that half my fourth-period class is failing, my value-added test scores are terrible, and the event I organized, Pridefest, is not a success. You think, “Wait, I thought she was a good teacher.” The public has been fed a media narrative that a good teacher is the hero teacher. Once that’s established, it’s more powerful to find out it’s not going all that well in some aspects. The audience hopefully realizes it’s more complicated.
Simmons: Movies about teachers also don’t show teachers grading papers—as Angie does—for six hours on a family road trip. But that’s part of a real teacher’s life. The second half of the movie even shows Angie constantly reflecting on those challenging and disappointing experiences and trying to think of new approaches. Will non-teachers just see this as the humanizing of a hero? Or will they see it and think, “Wait, she is a great teacher, and not in spite of the stumbles, but because of how she responds to them?”
Rob Phillips: I’m hoping it creates dialogue in which people question the monolithic, unrealistic expectations of the hero and the “hack narratives” and instead have a nuanced discussion about what teaching is. Angie is, on any day, both successful and unsuccessful. It is one thing to say and another to see. That makes it hard to ignore.
Simmons: What is the “hack narrative?”
Phillips: In film, Ben Stein in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Someone who knows the material but not how to perform. Someone who doesn’t care. Someone invested in a union or a teacher group, which are maligned in films. They are always a barrier, like with [Erin] Gruwell’s department head in Freedom Writers. Or when Jaime Escalante is trying to teach calculus [in the 1988 film Stand and Deliver].
Jay Korreck: In movies, the veteran is always the hack and the new teacher, in contrast, is a hero.
Scioli: There’s another kind of hack in real teaching. Teaching gives you a stage and some people are egotistical and want attention. So those people just talk about their lives [when they’re at the front of the classroom].
Simmons: In a sense, that egotistical performer hack looks a little similar to the Hollywood version of a teacher-hero giving inspirational speeches. Kids in groups and a teacher working in learning teams wouldn’t play well on a movie screen. It has to be performance. So how do you teach America what good teaching really is? Has there been a mainstream representation of teaching that captures that?
Phillips: A few episodes in the first season of Boston Public, [a show about high-school faculty members], felt like my lived experience. We all love Half Nelson, [a 2006 film focusing on an inner-city teacher and drug user]. Obviously, [Dan] Dunne, [the movie’s main character], takes bad turns, but his heart is in the right place. It felt raw and real–the exhaustion, boredom, and slog.