Hollywood Myths, Cracked: 5 Things Movies And TV Shows Get Wrong About Teachers

If only all principals were Mr. Feeny.
Hollywood Myths, Cracked: 5 Things Movies And TV Shows Get Wrong About Teachers

It’s another round of our weekly series about Hollywood’s bizarre ideas on how the real world works. We’ve recently covered topics like lawyers and high school, so let’s take a look at how the Movie World compares to Reality when it comes to that one job only the brave dare do: Teaching other people’s kids. The horror.

If only all principals were Mr. Feeny, and if only all rookie teachers had the ability to sweep in and instantly better everything they touch. Sometimes, the movies make teachers look like gods. Other times, we’re wondering what kind of school these Hollywood folks attended and if they ever talk about it in therapy …

Myth: Being Ruthless Gets Results

There seems to be a black-and-white approach to meanie teachers in the movies. They’re either the worst and clearly an example of how to bring the rebel out of a young person (think Back to the Future’s Mr. Strickland), or they’re somehow necessary for the blossoming of their ignorant and probably masochistic students. It’s the latter that seems, well, a bit off. In Whiplash, we’re expected to believe that only through physical and verbal abuse will a student be able to rise above and achieve brilliance or whatever. It’s probably unnecessary to point out how absurd (and dangerous) an idea that is.

Honestly, the aftermath of that movie is Miles Teller’s character beating the s**t out of Fletcher and probably massacring his entire band — much like how we predict the real ending of Matilda would play out. And sure, A.P Bio is a comedy series, but if a teacher ever spoke to their students and their parents like Jack Griffin does, the only result they’ll get is a one-way ticket to unemployment.

Of course, we can’t refrain from also mentioning the obvious teacher that would never get away with his bullcrap in the real world:

Then again, all of the teachers at Hogwarts are just terrible. 

Myth: Teachers Get Super Involved With Their Students (And Are Seen As The Best)

There’s apparently this idea in Hollywood that, if you want to show the world the best teacher, they have to basically have no life of their own and be super involved in the personal lives of their students around the clock. We saw it back in the day with Michelle Pfeiffer in that movie about minds being dangerous and whatnot:

Tina Fey is shown doing less teaching and more “Us ladies gotta stick together” in Mean Girls. In Freedom Writers, Hilary Swank’s character Erin Gruwell spends so much time at school with her kids (and takes on another job to buy extra educational resources for her class) that her husband divorces her — maybe because he, too, was getting tired of the inner-city white teacher who apparently needs to be the savior of gang kids who all look like they're pushing 30.

The lack of proper educational materials is consistent with real life. Abbott Elementary deals with this problem head-on and shows how teachers often have to resort to generous contacts or even crowdfunding to acquire what the school or their district can’t. Lynnette Mawhinney, a former Philadelphia school teacher, confirmed this reality: “Urban teachers know how to make a way and get what they need for their classrooms – whether it’s through social media platforms, crowdfunding campaigns, or, to use street lingo, they know someone who can ‘get the hookup.’ For example, when I taught high school in Philly through the early 2000s, I was the laptop ‘hookup’ at my school. I had a family member who worked in corporate business where I would get their old laptops so students could use them in school. Ms. Thomas, down the hall, used to be the ‘hookup’ for books to help stock teachers’ classroom libraries.”

Robert Burlam, a sociology professor and author of the book Hollywood Goes to High School: Cinema, Schools and American Culture, reviewed countless films about school teachers, only to find what we already expected. In movies consisting of middle- and upper-middle-income teachers and students, the teachers are shown as lazy, foolish, and oftentimes tyrants. Yet, in movies featuring lower-income minorities, teachers are shown as “superheroes” with personalities that always seem to somehow win over issues like racism and poverty. It’s a stereotype that keeps reinforcing the idea that only some teachers should be canonized, regardless of what they actually teach their students.

Surprisingly, a great example of a teacher who will not only support his students but also be there for them during a crisis (without making it all about himself) is portrayed by a hilarious Woody Harrelson in a movie about being a teenage girl.

Also, Abbott Elementary gets it dead right.

Myth: Rookie Teachers Are Always Top Notch

It’s everybody’s love for the underdog story: A young new teacher comes in, takes one look at how things are being run, and says, “No more, you deplorable cave people!” before bringing about change that seemingly makes everyone’s lives infinitely better. Gosh, the stories we like to tell ourselves. These Teachers 2.0 also have a tendency to alienate their colleagues, what with their novel approaches and stubborn unwillingness to hear what Mrs. Grandma has to say. We’re going to go ahead and say that alienating the people you work with is probably not a good idea and will most certainly contribute to any new teacher finding themselves in an unhealthy and unwelcoming environment before quitting after a month.

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Roxanna Elden used to be a public school teacher for more than a decade, and she said that “inspiring movies” about new teachers is actually a bit of a problem. Not only do these superhero movie newbies send the wrong message for aspiring teachers by setting the bar at a ridiculous level, but it also implies that those with longer educational experience know nothing, and must be taught the way of the All-Knowing Newbies. As she so cheekily puts it: “Certainly, the experienced teachers in this movie haven’t improved much in the years they’ve been on the job. Just the opposite: The corrupt system has turned them into old people in bad makeup under harsh lighting who only care about keeping their jobs. It is you, the 22-year-old directing that smoldering gaze into the camera, who has not yet learned the word ‘can’t.’”

Of course, the New And Genius Teacher isn't always a 20-something, as we saw in Dead Poets Society. At least that movie kind of ended realistically, with Robin Williams’ Keaton getting booted for coming into the school and, so bravely, doing as he pleased. 

Myth: Anyone Can Just Fake A Teacher Resumé And Get Hired (And We Should Cut Them All The Slack)

This is one of those classic Hollywood tropes that’s been done to death. We saw it happen in Bad Teacher — because again, teachers in movies are there to give life lessons, not academic lessons and we saw it in The Substitute where the principal doesn’t even have a clue who the new sub is, and clearly doesn’t care either.

Even Ben Chang got away with teaching Spanish at the Greendale Community College for an entire year before it came out that he faked his teaching credentials.

And if movie teachers aren’t faking resumés, they're stealing identities, apparently. 

Paramount Pictures

While it’s possible you might find a ton of fake teachers on the ol’ Scamternet, it’s way harder to fake it in most schools around the world. Sure, fake teachers happen in real life, but not often, and they don’t get away with it. Also, they sure as hell aren’t the type of people who everyone just forgives. No one lets that stuff slide. No, they go to court for fraud and probably a bunch of other things, and their lives are mostly ruined because they probably watched too many movies glorifying scam culture.

Teachers in movies, on the other hand, get away with anything and everything. Cameron Diaz in Bad Teacher poses not only as a qualified teacher but also as a journalist to steal the questions and answers to her class’ state test. She doesn’t get punished for this — instead, she gets a bonus and a promotion. In the real world, cheating cases are severely dealt with and will almost never go unpunished.

So yeah, we guess if movies wanted to be honest, School of Rock 2 would be about Jack Black standing trial for fraud, only to somehow get the judge and jury to start their own rock band.

Myth: Mark Wahlberg Can Pass For A Science Teacher

Come on, Hollywood. That’s just too absurd, even for you.

Thumbnail: ABC, Paramount Pictures


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