A real live inner-city school teacher tells it like it is today in the New York Times when it comes to the dangerous myths perpetuated by Hollywood in movies like Freedom Writers. While the ongoing problems of poor working conditions, low pay, lack of respect plague the profession, teachers are expected to be miracle workers and heroes in a failing system. A system that leaves millions of children behind in wretched, underfunded, understaffed schools located in war zones. Unless the real problems of real teachers and real students are addressed eventually there will be no teachers left, period.
Every year young people enter the teaching profession hoping to emulate the teachers they’ve seen in films. (Maybe in the back of my mind I felt that I could be an inspiring teacher like Howard Hesseman or Gabe Kaplan.) But when you’re confronted with the reality of teaching not just one class of misunderstood teenagers (the common television and movie conceit) but four or five every day, and dealing with parents, administrators, mentors, grades, attendance records, standardized tests and individual education plans for children with learning disabilities, not to mention multiple daily lesson plans — all without being able to count on the support of your superiors — it becomes harder to measure up to the heroic movie teachers you thought you might be.
It’s no surprise that half the teachers in poor urban schools, like Erin Gruwell herself, quit within five years. (Ms. Gruwell now heads a foundation.)
I don’t expect to be thought of as a hero for doing my job. I do expect to be respected, supported, trusted and paid. And while I don’t anticipate that Hollywood will stop producing movies about gold-hearted mavericks who play by their own rules and show the suits how to get the job done, I do hope that these movies will be kept in perspective.
While no one believes that hospitals are really like “ER” or that doctors are anything like “House,” no one blames doctors for the failure of the health care system. From No Child Left Behind to City Hall, teachers are accused of being incompetent and underqualified, while their appeals for better and safer workplaces are systematically ignored.
Every day teachers are blamed for what the system they’re just a part of doesn’t provide: safe, adequately staffed schools with the highest expectations for all students. But that’s not something one maverick teacher, no matter how idealistic, perky or self-sacrificing, can accomplish.
Tom Moore, a 10th-grade history teacher at a public school in the Bronx, is writing a book about his teaching experiences