After a season of fun in the sun it’s once again time to sharpen pencils and break out the backpacks. As students and teachers prepare to resume classes we can’t help but remember our own teachers who, for better or worse, influenced the people we have become. While many teachers serve as sources of inspiration long after we leave the classroom, others remain lurking in our memories despite our best efforts to forget them. This week I’ll be turning the spotlight on the very worst in cinematic education by profiling three film teachers that give teaching a bad name.
|Don't even think of raising your had|
Elizabeth Halsey: No bad teacher list would be complete without Cameron Diaz’s blackboard bad girl herself, Bad Teacher’s Elizabeth Halsey. At the start of the film, Elizabeth quits her job in anticipation of leading a life of leisure after becoming engaged to her wealthy boyfriend. Her plans are put on hold, however, when he breaks off the engagement and she is forced to earn her own income. She reluctantly returns to teaching, and makes it clear to everyone in her orbit that her only career aspiration is to earn her weekly paycheck until she is able to secure another sugar-daddy. As the year progresses she flagrantly disregards her responsibilities by playing an endless stream of inspirational teacher films in class instead of actually teaching and refusing to even learn her students’ names. All seems to be going smoothly enough as she charms the administration into allowing her shenanigans until she learns of a bonus that is awarded to teachers whose classes earn the highest standardized test scores. She then springs into action by lying, cheating, seducing, and even teaching her way to ensuring that her class has the district’s highest test scores, even as a suspicious colleague closes in on her schemes. By the school year’s end she has engaged in more bad behavior and adolescent hijinks than all of her students combined, all while learning about life, love, and the pursuit of a state pension.
|On today's agenda; manipulation and mayhem|
Miss Jean Brodie: The most deceiving entry on this list, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie begins as an homage to inspirational teachers. At the film’s start Maggie Smith’s titular educator is presented as an eccentric, but dedicated teacher in the mode of Dead Poet’s Society’s John Keating. Like Keating Miss Brodie encourages her students to defy convention and pursue larger than life aspirations. The inspirational tale quickly gives way to a cautionary warning, however, as it becomes apparent that Miss Brodie only encourages her students to defy the same conventions that she does, in the same way that she does. As the school year goes on, any guise of encouraging individuality dissipates as each of the girls in Miss Brodie’s class gradually transform themselves into younger versions of her. Her cult of personality takes a toxic turn when the girls begin putting her questionable lessons into practice. In keeping with Brodie’s staunch fascist politics naïve Mary (Jane Carr) travels to Spain to fight for the Nationalists where she is killed almost immediately after her arrival. Similarly, bookish Sandy (Pamela Franklin) embarks upon an affair with the school’s married art teacher, and Miss Brodie’s former lover Mr. Lloyd (Robert Stephens) in an effort to emulate Miss Brodie’s promiscuity. Even popular Jenny (Diane Grayson) nearly gives in to Miss Brodie’s manipulations after Miss Brodie attempts to groom Jenny into replacing her as Mr. Lloyd’s mistress. By the film’s conclusion Miss Brodie is finally dismissed and her students have all learned a shattering lesson in the dangers of following a group mentality. Based upon actual events at a girls’ school in Scotland, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is a chilling example of how easily a teacher’s influence can be abused.
|The price of chewing gum in class|
The Trunchbull: Roald Dahl is a writer best known for his ability to capture a child’s view of the adult world, and his portrait of public education in his classic novel Matilda proves no exception. In the 1995 film adaptation of the novel Matilda (Mara Wilson) is a child genius raised by a family of ignorant louts who neither recognize nor appreciate her value. While eager to attend school to escape her negligent family, she is stunned find that her intelligence is just as much a detriment to her at school as at home. Although her kind teacher, Miss Honey (Embeth Davidz), encourages Matilda’s abilities, the school administration, led by vicious headmistress Miss Trunchbull (Pam Ferris) see Matilda’s talents as a direct threat to the status quo. When she isn’t making it her personal mission to suppress Matilda’s brilliance, Miss Trunchbull spends her days tossing students out windows, throwing them over fences, and forcing them to eat potentially deadly cafeteria food. Worse yet, Miss Trunchbull maintains a modified version of an iron maiden known as ‘the chokey’ that she uses to torture ‘misbehaving’ students. Her cruelty is not restricted to students, however, as she psychologically torments her staff, particularly her own niece, Miss Honey, whom she has victimized since childhood. Her repeated phrase of, “I’m big, you’re small. I’m right you’re wrong, and there’s nothing you can do about it” serves as her motto in life as she transforms what should be a haven of learning into a children’s prison. Although portrayed to an absurd extremity, Miss Trunchbull personifies education at its most tyrannical.