BenSteinasTheEconomicsTeacherin?

FerrisBuellersDayOff。

Thenation’skidsscrutinizeallthenation’steacherseveryschoolday。

Allthosekidsaregrowing,andtheirmindsaredeveloping,andthey’repronetonotetheodditiesoftheirteachers’personalities,sartorialchoices,andprettymucheverythingelse。

Soyou’dthinkthatwhenthosekidsgrowup,becomewriters,anddepictteachersonTVandinmovies,thedetailtheyabsorbedbackthenwouldgetincorporated。

Butitrarelydoes。

Why?

I’dsay,simpleasitsounds,it’sbecausekidsareemotionallyvulnerableandthestrongestresonancesoftheirteachers—reallygoodorreallybad—stickwiththem。

Kidsarekeptinthethrallofteacherseveryschoolday。

Allthatrigorouscharacteranalysisoftheirteacherstheymentallyconductwhilestaringstraightahead,offtotheside,oratthathardgumstucktothesideofthedesk,isboundtofadeinfavorofafewemotionallyresonantmoments。

Becauseofthisemotionalimprinting,weseealotofcaricatures—strictbinarieseven—ofverygoodandverybadteachers。

ThebadonesarelegioninTVandmovies。

TakeBenSteinasanEconomicsteacherinFerrisBueller’sDayOff,droningonaboutsupply-sideeconomicsandrepeatedlyaskinginthatimmortalmonotone:“Anyone,anyone?

”Theboredomgrippingtheroomiswellbeyondexistential,seemingtoprovokeevenparalysis。

Thestudents,clearlyinanguish,arestaringstraightahead,whileonestudentisevensleepingsoundly,asmallpuddleofdroolgatheringnexttohisheadonthedesk。

WhatmakestheEconomicsteacherabadteacherisobvious。

Hecombinesmanyoftheworstbadteachertraits—bland,cold,uncaring—withanaffectlessaffect。

Thearidityofhisinstructionispalpable,almostsublimeinitsineffectiveness。

OscarWildethoughtitwasabsurdtoconsiderpeoplegoodorbadbecause,inreality,theywerereallyeithercharmingortedious。

Mostkids,Ithink,feelthesamewayaboutteachers。

StephenColbertasChuckNobletonStrangersWithCandy。

AnotherclassicbadteacherisStephenColbert’scharacterChuckNoblet,fromtheComedyCentralseries,“StrangerswithCandy。

”ButChuckNobletisnotjustabadteacherintheblandmanneroftheEconomicsteacherfromFerrisBueller’sDayOff。

No,he’sinanotherperennialcategoryofbadteacher:theunbelievablybadteacher。

He’scomicallyabsurdinhisimprovisedinstructionandderangedinhiscommentstostudentsandothers。

Thecharacterisareallyfunny,over-the-topdisplay,whichofcoursedoesn’tadmitmuchverisimilitude,exceptthatitdoes。

ProbablyagoodnumberofusneverhadateacherquiteasbadasChuckNoblet,buttheemotionalresonancewefeelfrombeingembarrassedorwildlyconfusedbyanobviouslyincompetentteacherremains。

Whilewatching,wecanletlooseinlaughterlongafterthefactofourexperience,knowingtheNobletsofourlivesaredeepinthepastandit’ssafetolaughatthemnowwithoutgettingyelledat,asitshouldhavealwaysbeen。

BryanCranstonasWalterWhitefromBreakingBad。

ButperhapsthedarkestexpressionofthebadteacheronTVisWalterWhitein“BreakingBad。

”He’sindifferentintheclassroomandgoesabouthisdaylistlessly,sincehewasonceabrilliantchemisthurtlingtowardgreatwealth,andnowhe’safailure。

Almostfromtheoutset,he’soneofthedarkest,mostcomplexcharactersintelevisionhistory。

Themostsalientsymptomofhisfailureisthathe’sateacher—rarelyifeverdoesheconsiderteachingtobemoreimportantthanalifepropelledbyego,pride,acquisitiveness,orambition。

Therearemanymomentswhereheseemsonthevergeofanepiphany,andmanymorewhereitseemshecan’tendurehisinexorabletrajectoryanymore。

Notwithstandinghiscancerdiagnosisandmaybehisobliqueconcernforhisfamily,WalterWhite’shumiliationstemsprimarilyfromhisbeingateacher,ascarletletter“A”ofmediocritytomany,andthatpropelshimintoamoralfury。

Whatremainssimplethroughoutistheequation:teacher=failure。

EdnaKrabappelfromTheSimpsons

Sometimesfailurecanleadtoasecondcareerinteachingthatiscomplicatedbutstillmeaningful。

OneexampleisRolandPryzbylewskifromtheHBOseries“TheWire。

”Inseasonfour,theformerpoliceofficeristeachingmiddleschoolinWestBaltimore。

Aftersomestruggleandmorepersistence,hefinallyforgesconnectionswithmanyofthestudentsandyieldsprettygoodresults。

He’saquiet,complicatedsuccess,commonamongtheactualteachingmultitudes。

AnotherrareexampleofthecomplicatedgoodteacherisEdnaKrabappelfrom“TheSimpsons。

”NoonewouldaccuseMrs。

Krabappelofbeingamodeleducator。

But,tohercredit,sherunsaseeminglywell-organizedclassroom,brooksnononsense,andthestudentsareusuallyoccupiedwithanappropriateassignmentfortheirgradelevel。

Inherownworld-wearyway,shelendsstructureanddisciplinetoherstudents’lives。

EdwardJamesOlmosasJaimeEscalanteinStandandDeliver。

Butenoughofcomplication。

AlmostallpositivedepictionsofteachersonTVandinmoviesgoimprobablyfarbeyondthemerelygood。

They’remostoftenheroictypespossessedofsuperhumanpatience,fortitude,anddedication?

Unfortunately,therearetoofewrepresentationsofwomenandpeopleofcolorintheseheroicteacherdepictions,althoughMs。

NorburyfromMeanGirls,Mr。

MiyagifromTheKarateKid,andMissBlissfrom“SavedbytheBell”arenotableexceptions。

Anothergreatexception—andbasedonatruestory—isMelvinB。

Tolson,aprofessoratWileyCollege,playedbyDenzelWashingtoninTheGreatDebaters。

Inthefilm,Tolson,facingconsiderableresistance,cultivatesadebateteamthatstartsoutalmostfromscratchandeventuallyisinthepositiontofaceoffagainstHarvard。

JaimeEscalanteinStandandDeliverisalsoclassicheroicteacherdepictionand,likeTolson,anexceptiontothewhite,maledepictionnorm。

StandandDeliverisbasedonthetruestoryofaLosAngelespublicschoolmathteacher,butthatdoesn’tmakeateacherlikeEscalanteanylessincredible。

Hewalksinandalmostimmediatelyestablishesarapportwithhistoughstudents,challengesthemtobegreat,confrontssocioeconomicdisparity,iseffortlesslycreative,andevensuffersaheartattackintheprocess。

Mr。

Escalanteistheepitomeofthedemanding,inspirationalteachertype。

Andsure,whathedoesintheclassroomissometimespossibleinreallife。

Thedifferenceis,itcantakemanyyearsofexperiencetodeveloptheskilltopedagogicallydazzleintheOlympianwayhedoes,andstilleverydaywon’tnecessarilybeatriumphoftheteachingspirit。

Raiseyourhandifyourememberateacheralwaysthisperfect。

Anyone,anyone?

StevenGilbornasMr。

CollinsinTheWonderYears。

ThesamegoesforMr。

Collins—whomweseenotablythroughasinglestudent’sperspective—inseasonthreeof“TheWonderYears。

”HechallengesFredSavage’scharacter,KevinArnold,tosucceedinmathbyquietly,firmlygoadinghimon。

WhenKevinbucklesdownforreviewsessionswithhimtotryforan“A”onthemid-termexam,Mr。

Collinsunexpectedlyhastocancelacoupleofsessions。

Kevinresentsthisandfailsthetestonpurpose。

Soonafter,hefindsMr。

Collinshasdied。

Yet,apparently,inhisfinalhours,Mr。

Collinshadreservedanothermid-termexamforKevintoretake,knowinghe’drisetotheoccasion。

Mr。

Collinsisaclearexampleoftheinspirationalteachertypewho,withperfectskill,demandsexcellence,butthenarrativeoftheepisodeistooeasytocrediblydepictthedifficultyoverwhichhehelpsKevintotriumph。

RobinWilliamsasJohnKeatinginDeadPoetsSociety

Alternatively,there’sJohnKeating,theboldlyRomanticEnglishteacher,playedbyRobinWilliamsinDeadPoetsSociety。

Aheroictypeturninghisstudents’heartstowardadifferentpurpose,Mr。

Keatingisn’tsointerestedinacademicresultsasheisinteachingstudentstotrustthemselves,thinkindependently,andpursuewhattheylove。

He’samasterteachertoo,buttherightbraincomplementtoMr。

Escalante’sandMr。

Collins’sleftbrain。

Slingingverseandwit,heurgeshisstudentstosoundtheirWhitmanianyawpsagainstthestricturesoftheirstaidupbringings。

Hisisateachertypewhoseemstobelievethateducationbeginsandendsinunderminingschool,or,morebroadly,thattruelearningexposesthefallibilityofinstitutionsandtheirprotocols。

Andmaybehe’sright。

Manyofussympathizewiththatsentiment,maybeeventothepointofstandinguponourdesks,giventherightcircumstances,toproclaim“O,Captain,myCaptain!

”inadramaticshowofgratitudetotheliberatingteacher。

Theproblemisitneverhappenedforus。

Asateacher,I’macutelyawareofhowournationaldiscourse—notjustscreenwriters—usuallycaststeachersaseitherheroicorcraven,tirelessorlazy,andofcoursethatinfluencesmediadepictionstoo。

Butthedebateaboutteachersfollowsfromourformativeexperienceswiththem。

We’reallaffectedbytheteacherdichotomythatstartsforminginourmindswhenwe’reyoung。

Adultsunderstandablydon’tremembertheprocessofhowtheylearnedinschoolsomuchastheyrememberthepeoplerighttherewiththemalongtheway。

Weremembermostwhatwefeelmostdeeply,whichinourschoolyearsisoftenourexperiencesofourbestteachersattheirbestandourworstteachersattheirworst。

Later,afewrecastthosevulnerabletimesonscreenanditallcomesbacktotherestofus。