So I read this post on Dan Meyer’s blog today, referencing an Onion piece entitled "Inner-City Teacher Inspires Students to Stab Him", and I admit I was angry.
The Onion piece is what it is, meant clearly to poke fun at The Freedom Writers movie and Hollywood’s tradition of making the Heroic Teacher movie (Stand and Deliver, Dangerous Minds, etc….) but it rubs me the wrong way. Here’s the entire piece:
LOS ANGELES23-year-old Teach For America participant Jonathan Fitzsimmons remains in critical condition today at CedarsSinai Medical Center after he inspired some of the most troubled, hard-to-reach students in his 11th-grade English class to stab him Monday. "Before Mr. Fitzsimmons came along, nobody had been dedicated and hardworking enough to show us that we had the power to make a difference," said student and stabbing participant Gabriel Salazar, who added that Fitzsimmons’ innovative teaching games and insistence his students do their homework were just two reasons the class sacrificed their free time after school to inflict nearly 20 wounds to his arms, chest, and side. "He motivated us to show himthe world, evenwhat we were capable of." According to a statement released by Fitzsimmons’ parents, the "impact these kids had on our son’s life will never be forgotten.
I don’t know, I freely admit that I might be overly sensitive or wrong on this one. It might be that I was teaching in New York City when Jonathan Levin was tortured, shot and stabbed by a former student, and I remember how devastated all of us at Beacon were when he died. Maybe it’s because I met his mother a few years later, after she had become a teacher to honor his memory. I imagine that the writer at the Onion might be young enough to not remember that, and perhaps Dan doesn’t remember that either. And perhaps, I shouldn’t conflate the two…
But there’s something else too… teachers take it on the chin a lot. I mean… I must have seen a dozen "Teacher Sleeps With Student" cases this year. Much of the NCLB conversation feels to me to be really anti-teacher. And everyone who has ever been a student seems to think they know what schools need. And then, every now and then, a movie or TV show comes along and celebrates — in its Hollywood way — the accomplishments of a group of students and a teacher.
And yes, the movies can be cloying (full disclosure, I have read a TON about Erin Gruwell and her students, but I have not see the movie) but I’m glad they get made. I hope it’s amazing. I hope Hillary Swank wins an Oscar. I hope teachers all over the country go see it for free this week, and most importantly, I hope a few thousand young people see the movie and decide to become teachers.
And let’s step back here for a moment — we hope we can change lives the way Ms. Gruwell did. We hope we have the kind of profound impact on students that she did. She had 150 kids in that project, and 150 kids went to college. I never did that. Not once. Not one year. The highest college rate Beacon ever had in the nine years I was there was somewhere around 95%, and we were pretty damned proud of that. She had 100% college attendance rate. Many of her students are studying to become teachers. Her life — and the lives of those kids — matter. And if that’s worthy of a Hollywood movie production, I’m really o.k. with that. Beats yet another "Saw" movie as far as I’m concerned.
In fact, I think we need more inspirational movies. We’ve got YouTube now.. we’ve got vlogs. Let’s make a call to arms. Let’s ask every one we know to tell the story of a teacher who made a difference in their lives. Let’s make a patchwork quilt of 10,000 videos of people taking two minutes out of their lives to tell the story of how a teacher made a difference. And let’s make sure it’s a two way street. Let’s make a vlog of teachers taking a moment to tell the stories of the students who changed our lives.
And let’s leave our cynicism behind when we talk about our profession. There’s enough about our lives as teachers that can depress us, dishearten us, frustrate us. When the moment comes when we can celebrate what one of our colleagues has accomplished, let’s do so.
Or maybe I’m overreacting.