Thursday, May 21, 2015

The "Movie-Playin Teacher" - We all know the one.

I love movies. Film can be an invaluable educational tool...sparingly. “Are we watching a movie today?” “No.  Why do you ask?” I respond. “Because we watched movies in my last two classes today.” for four hours straight this boy has sat sedentary watching movies and, naturally, now has no energy to do anything else. When this happens too often, this is not responsible teaching. I’m not talking about the occasional film, full of power and insight that you can’t capture without dramatizing it, or the day you are under the weather but drag yourself into school as to not abandon your students with the risky sub.

I’m talking about habitual movie players: we all know the type. You hear the kids talk about them all. the. time. It starts with, “They are so cool cuz they play movies-we watched “The Little Mermaid” today.” But then...something changes. “They don’t like to talk to us.  They are lazy.  I’m bored in that class.” The students start to get it. They get that this teacher is checked out and is far more comfortable hiding in the dark. The powerful medium of film has become the escape route from connection.

Ironically, in AP Literature we are closing out the year with a first ever Literary Film Appreciation Unit; we are watching three films in four and a half weeks: “The Secret Life of Bees,” “Othello, and “The Handmaid’s Tale.” The kids research the novel and film, share these notes via a mini-seminar on these elements, and then watch the first half of the movie. Next class, we continue the film as they take notes on both elements of film and the literary concepts we have worked on all year.  After the film, we discuss the “So what?” and conclude with a quickwrite. This has been a very cool way to end the year by “reading” three more novels, cinematically. These scholars have worked incredibly hard all year, begging for movies at times. (They did get to see “Frankenstein” in February and some scenes from “Hamlet,” but that was it.) This has been a fulfilling unit to close on and a good example of how film can ignite a class rather than drain it.

It’s funny that in a screen-obsessed world, kids actually get tired of looking at one. They crave positive attention and human interaction. They need to feel as if they are doing something, creating something, engaging with something. These are the activities that make us feel alive: teachers included. You all know the lift we get when a student says something and we know a concept has clicked; we know we have sparked something that will burn for awhile...that doesn’t happen after movie #10.  

I like to think of our students at the customers, and we are here to serve them. They need to get their “money’s worth” each and everyday. On the days I am tired, I slurp up a 3rd cup of coffee and think of my own childrens’ teachers, working tirelessly every day to elevate my kids. I would be so bummed out if they sat and watched movies three times a week all year long.

Like anything good in life: wine, pizza, Twix bars...we must use moderation. Make the movies quality and the exception rather than the rule.  Make them meaningful and break them down in a way where the kids are talking, thinking, writing, and digesting the major concepts. Make the intent genuine, use sparingly, and you won’t wear the title of the “movie-playin’ teacher”!

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