Monday, 5 March 2012

Hollywood's obsession with bachelor teachers' films




Out of the many teacher films that I have seen thus far, nine out of ten are about bachelor teachers who are always inspiring and encouraging teachers. I overlooked this pattern until I saw Cameron Diaz' Bad Teacher and realised that this movie had a woman teacher but she was afterall a bad teacher. The question that kept popping in my mind was: Why can't a teacher be a happily married woman or for that matter even a happily married man. While writing this, I have in mind the film, Freedom Writers where for a change, the teacher was a woman but she also undergoes a divorce because her husband could not handle the pressures that his wife carried as a teacher. Well, then the only solution that saves relationship problems is to be a bachelor teacher.



The archetype of the bachelor teacher has not found places only in films, even in many schools and Universities, we find such teachers. The teachers are always there for the students - solving problems, playing basket-ball, taking students to visit museums and other stuff. The teacher has nil personal life and is always there to give inspirational and motivating speeches to the students. This raises many questions for me: Can only a teacher with no strings attached (read family, relationship, etc.) be a 'good' teacher. Does a teacher have no right to a personal life? If at all a teacher (Hillary Swank in Freedom Writers) is happily married at the time of her employment, her marriage falls apart as her husband possesses a fragile ego. Why can't the audience digest a happily married woman teacher. Let me try to answer that question. A bachelor teacher by devoting all his time for the students sets a standard of 'being there' always for the students. But a female teacher by virtue of her being married cannot spend as much time as she has to cook, clean and wash for the family. She cannot do what the bachelor teacher does.



Hollywood, by making films which exalts the bachelor teacher tradition, sets a certain standard for teachers of both sexes. Once, I remember, after seeing the 2000 Kevin Spacey starring film, Pay it Forward, one student asked me, "Susie why don't you do things like him?" I was horrified. I was at a loss for words as I couldn't explain to him that in a film anything is possible. I was also horrifed because in spite of taking a lot of effort for the students of that particular class to which the boy belonged, I was faced with a lame question like that.



Meryl Streep's Music of the Heart is another delightful film but then she is a single woman who begins to teach music to rebuild her life. What is the equation between being single and being a teacher. Maybe it's TIME and more TIME for the students.



 So, what's your opinion of a 'good' teacher or a bachelor teacher.

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Image 5: Internet


37 comments:

  1. I saw the first movie .bad teacher !!And i wanna teacher like Cameron Diaz ??? hehehe

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  2. Hmmm...something I had never considered as far as movies are concerned. But I've experienced it in real life. When I taught in a college I was expected to bring up all the plays and the variety programs with little or not help from the others - because they were all married and I was not - so I had time and they didn't ....

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    1. I perfectly understand you. Many people relate time and being single. Quite unfair. When it comes to teachers, the bachelor teacher has almost become an archetype and also a stereotype.

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  3. Never did think of it till you mentioned it... When I use to teach I had to make all my own teaching materials... married or not.. we created materials for our class when ever we could!

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    1. I know. Same here. I'm married and the teaching load I take is quite the same as any unmarried teacher but in terms of time the bachelor teacher is 'always there.' I cannot always be there whether single or married!

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  4. to me it shud not matter if the teacher is a bachelor or married , that is their personal life. I have seen all the films mentioned and Bad teacher was good too.. We had a teacher like that but then I have never forgotten what he taught us ...

    I started my career as a teacher for 2-3 years i taught before coming here and dont know about good or bad but the students i taught are still in touch with me and when they write things about me or give interviews to news papers etc and mention me I feel so proud of that... I ws so young just passed out of college at that time ..

    Bikram's

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    1. Bikram but in many of these bachelor teacher films, the teacher has almost nil personal time/life. Both the personal and the professional are intertwined. This intertwining business sets a standard, you see.
      Glad to know that you were a teacher. What subject did you teach and where. Why did you leave teaching and what are you doing now? Did I ask too many questions?? Answer whichever you feel like answering.

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  5. Hollywood will craft a movie to make it interesting and if that takes teachers being single and a poor role model then that's what they're gonna do. Their job is to make money regardless of stereotypes and misconceptions thus I don't get too riled up over what's onscreen. There are amazing teachers of all races, gender, marital statuses, etc and they should be applauded for doing a difficult job with insulting pay. Bravo to all teachers around the world!!

    http://erinsdomain.blogspot.com/

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    1. But Hollywood definitely sets a trend, David. Some innocent students take that trend to be 'the' standard. As you have rightly mentioned there are amazing teachers of all races, gender and marital status but Hollywood by carving the characters of bachelor teachers sets a certain standard.
      Thanks for the "bravo" for I am a teacher myself :).

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  6. our stories/movies tell the story of our times....as more of our families fall apart and the sexiness of being single and the freedom found there is sold....you can commit yourself to career and pursuits and well...its only half the story....

    i am reading freedom writers right now...funny...

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    1. Ah, hope I didn't spoil the story of Freedom Writers by revealing some aspects of the same.
      I agree with you on the "sexiness" of being single. I guess only the nice things of being single are always portrayed.

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  7. I used to be a bachelor teacher. These days I am not a teacher and no more a bachelor.

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    1. Smiles :)
      I would love to hear of your experience as a bachelor teacher.

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  8. I have never thought about this dear Susan, but you are right.;) I think maybe if the teachers were happily married and good teachers, there would not be much of a story to make a film about.;))
    Have a great Monday dear friend,
    xoxo

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    1. Being a literature student, I guess I like to see different forms of art in various perspectives. While the films add glamour to the profession of teaching, they definitely send out some signals. maybe the signals are true or maybe not.
      And you make a point here, happily married people harly make a good subject. But staying married to the same person for a long time is definitely news in today's world which is rampant with splitting stories.

      Great to have you in the loop, Zuzana.

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  9. Well, I've been a teacher (elementary school and University). I hope I was a good teacher though I was married. Many of the teachers I admired, were married too. Some of the single teachers actually devoted less time to their students because they had an active social life. So, I really think good teaching doesn't depend on the teacher's relationships, though that could influence, but on the quality of the teaching.

    Good thoughts here Susan.

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    1. Even I can talk of many happily married teachers. When in real life there are such individuals, I can't understand why Hollywood turns a blind eye to them.

      What subject did you teach, dear Myrna?

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  10. Very interesting thoughts here, Susan. I taught for years and really had to work at keeping my family life intact - between planning lessons, grading papers, and researching, if I wasn't careful, my family would fall by the wayside. Until I read your post, I hadn't connected the dots with the bachelor teacher being featured by Hollywood. But, it makes all the sense in the world. It's the classic ideal that the truly dedicated teacher doesn't have time (or shouldn't have time) to live a normal life.
    Blessings!

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    1. Though there are benefits like long vacation and free evenings, the teacher's profession spills out to the home front as well. One has to prepare lessons, mark papers and so on. But in a regular office job, the individual leaves the office and is at home without much work. And if it is a woman, teaching and taking care of the home requires great efforts.

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  11. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this, Mrs. Sus! I've not noticed that most of these films portrayed teachers as SINGLE or divorced people. I also saw a Julia Roberts-Tom Hanks film where Julia played a professor whose marriage was falling apart (she eventually hooked up with her student played by Tom Hanks, and perhaps left her profession...haha).

    In my country, sadly, this single-teacher archetype is not just a movie stereotype. The image that most Filipinos have of (especially) primary and secondary public school teachers are that of a spinster or bachelor. When a teacher is strict or gets mad in class, it's because he/she doesn't get sex! Full on degrading. There are, of course, happily married ones, but they're seen more like an exception rather than the rule.

    I suppose it's cuz society assigns dogged devotion as a virtue of teachers, much like the Catholic clergy. To serve as second parents to students, a teacher could neither possibly have the time nor the energy to nurture their own children or spouse. Society comfortably wants them to be as free as possible, with almost zero personal lives. I think that's the projection. And truly, a public school teacher has not time. She has to write lesson plans at night, teach during the day, and check papers and requirements at the end of the day. On weekends, she has to go on field trips, do community work, volunteer in national elections, facilitate extra-curricular activities...where does she find time to fix herself and go on a date, much less get married, have babies, and spend time with her family?

    We have turned our teachers into nuns and priests - completely devoted to others and sacrificing their own personal happiness. That's what society sees as a "noble" teacher, and that's what films depict.

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    1. The last para is 200% right. Some of my students demand (read D E M A N D with a stress) that I stay back after Uni and give them classes. When I say that I cannot, I am seen as a traitor. Now I have learnt the trick of saying NO.

      And as an aside, Age, even you are a bachelor teacher!!! Comments, please :)

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  12. Like in some other professions, it's the charisma that matters. A charismatic teacher , single or married, is usually the successful teacher that gets to be liked and respected by his students.

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    1. DUTA but most charismatic teachers in Hollywood are portrayed as single!!! But you are right in saying that the attitude is what matters.

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  13. To me, it is not a matter of concern at all. May be,the attitude is different in different parts of the world. As a young boy I used to respect all my teachers,and had secretly fallen in love with some of them,without their knowledge. There are times I have thought women would be better teachers for the younger students.

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    1. Doctor, in days of yore, we never gave much thought to all these things. The teacher was a guru) but now students have become so very different. Women, are usually seen as patient, loving and caring -- another stereotype like the bachelor teacher.
      Even when I was a student, a teacher was a teacher, no matter what.

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  14. I assume that because singlehood brings with it a certain charisma with hidden layers of sexual desirability, this archetype continues to reign. But something that attracts my attention more (which makes a great topic for another post) is the portrayal of teachers in Bollywood. Why does our industry show teachers as old cruel stupid beings with no sense of fun? Comparatively, American movies have teacher-characters that are smart jovial and inspirational. A comparative analysis will be good. ;)

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    1. Quite a true analysis. See, a student of Literature sees all these different layers and folds.
      But Suraj, Sushmitha Sen in Main Hoon Na was a completely different teacher than the "cruel studpid beings" of which you write.

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    2. For better or worse, Sushmita brought about a paradigm shift in how men thought about lady teachers in India. I remember we had a teacher in our college who used to wear shiffon saris and looked Sushmita-ish ( that's how we perceived or wanted to perceive her). Alas she taught commerce!! And she was SINGLE!

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  15. Wow, you know, I never noticed that particular trend until you pointed it out in this rather illuminating post. Oddly enough, almost all of my teachers in school and junior college were happily married women raising children so this Hollywood trend was rather unnoticed by me!

    But I must say, in our college, most of our male teachers are batchelors..the rest of them probably don't really get a chance or the time to teach once they're married doctors with a bustling practice. So I dunno if that devote-all-your-time-to-teaching bit is true or not.

    But then, I think someone who is happy in their personal life would also be on a good turf with students. While a stressful job does take a toll on one's relationships, I never thought of the teaching profession as all that stressful. The hours aren't long, there are summer and Christmas vacations and it is a satisfying line of work.

    Try as hard as I might, I still can't think of a married teacher in Hollywood movies, although Hindi movies are replete with them. But one really great film about the teacher-student relationship that you haven't mentioned here is Ryan Gosling's Half Nelson. Please do watch it if you haven't yet! :)

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    1. Teaching profession these days is not as stress-free as it used to be, Karishma. The days have changed and to qualify as a teacher and getting employed is a Herculean task. And after one gets a job (esp College and University) one has to be constantly engaging ii research to make a mark, which includes writing papers, publishing and other things. The students part is only about 50%. I had always thought that teaching meant only students and exams but there are other things that stress you out. I guess the load is lighter for a School teacher but then in a school there are many many papers to mark which sometimes gets very dull and mundane.
      The creativity and enthusiam levels have to be always high if one has to engage a class in a lively manner. And, sometimes if we are down in the dumps, we have to feign smiles and being energetic in order to engage the class.

      Ah, Karishma, every profession has its pros and cons.

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  16. Oh yay! I remembered one with a great teacher with a happy home life. The Great Debaters with Denzel Washington! Awesome film!

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  17. What draws the Students to a Teacher, is the way in which the Teacher interacts with the Students and how they treat them. These days,a lot of perceptions are up, Still this is what will be one of the Most important Factors.

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    1. Ash, seriously. I know some students who were quite friendly and close to me but since I got married, i can sense a distance. I wonder what changed. Like many others mentioned there is some element of fantasy involved, I reckon. Psychology!!!

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  18. Hi, Susan Deborah! ~

    Thank you for directing me to this post. It's an intriguing concept and I'm kind of surprised I never noticed this Hollywood 'bachelor teacher pattern' myself...

    I happen to be a 'bachelor teacher' in real-life and I can relate to some of the qualities of this Hollywood archetype. Off the top of my head here's what I'm thinking it might be: In America we often tend to idealize the 'Maverick' and many of these teacher movies tap into that (also, Dead Poets Society, and many others...) Possibly, because marriage is still considered what 'normal' people do, someone who is single by choice or through trauma might be more inclined to fit that 'rebel' or 'think outside the box' role that these teacher characters embody.

    Having said that, I've noticed that Americans are much more fond of movie characterizations of the Unique, Think-Outside-the-Box teachers than real-life ones ;-)

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    1. Thanks for the prompt response, dear Linda. I think what you have said is right. I have also seen that students relate better to these "Maverick" type of teachers and subconsciously shie away from the married ones. It's rather sad. And most of the times, I have observed that the mavericks see this as an advantage and hence try their best to hog the popularity tag. I have been on both sides and hence this post.

      And, this phenomenon is not only in American movies, but in real-life Indian schools, Colleges and Universities as well.

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