30 years ago Robin Williams starred in the movie Dead Poet’s Society, which is still watched in classrooms today. In this film we see a teacher motivating his students to be the very best they can be. It’s a wonderful portrayal of an educator challenging and leading students to always do their best by seizing the day. It’s also an accurate representation of what an educator should be. It might not as romanticized as this Hollywood depiction, but it’s an educators job to connect with student and help them reach their potential.
But that was 30 years ago.
While the role of the educator is still the same thing, connecting with students, helping them grow academically, and preparing them for life, there has been a shift in the cultural identity of teachers.
Today, movies, television shows, and media in general represent teachers in a less glamorous way than they were depicted 30 years ago. Teachers are portrayed as the adversary. They are inept or incompetent. They are morally corrupt, and they are the enemy.
This summer it was recommended to me that I binge watch the show “Big Little Lies”. If you have not seen this show yet it has an all star cast with Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Laura Dern, Meryl Streep, Shaliene Woolley, Zoe Kravitz, and many more amazing actors and actresses. I was intrigued by the line up alone, so I figured why not.
About 20 minutes into the first episode a first grade teacher calls an impromptu meeting with the students and their parents. She says that the day has been great, but a student has hurt a fellow classmate. She then has the victim stand in front of everyone, and asks for the attacker to step forward. When no one comes forward the teacher then asks the little girl to point to whoever hurt her, which she did.
The mother of the accused child (wrongly so we find out a few episodes later) was outraged as was the mother of the victim. All the parents were talking about how the teacher handled the situation and how awful it was.
Throughout the series there are several situations in which the principal and teachers act inappropriately and speak to parents in ways that I would never speak to another person: especially not in a professional setting. The show is not based around the students in school and quite frankly the principal and teachers have very small roles. This is why it bothered me so much that the educators were displayed as incompetent and unprofessional in so many ways.
While driving around with my husband I brought up my take away from the show and how the educators were portrayed. This lead to a lengthy discussion about teachers and principals being the antagonist in shows, movies, and the media and trying to decide why that is.
Big Little Lies is just one example. The negative portrayal of educators in media has become the new normal. This portrayal shapes the way society views educators. When people see teachers demonized in Hollywood it teaches them to treat educators as the enemy. I plan on writing a more data-driven paper in the near future. I just wanted to get my thoughts out there and get feedback from fellow educators, parents of students, former students, and current students as I move forward.