I spent a couple of years reading memoirs written by teachers and watching movies inspired by teachers’ work, yet I barely scratched the surface of the genre. As we continue our journey, let me point out areas I’d like to pursue further:

1) I didn’t look much at fictional teachers. Are fictional teachers’ experiences generally as exaggerated as they are in Summer SchoolThe Ms. Hempel Chronicles feels real to me, and I’m betting other fictional portrayals feel real too.

2) I didn’t talk much about the media’s obsession with bad teachers… and how news reports of lawbreaking teachers might reflect or impact the portrayal of bad teachers in fiction. I want to read these three books on scandalous teachers, especially The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.

3) I didn’t look at magical teachers on children’s shows. Patient, kind, and always introducing concepts as student-friendly rates… Mr. Rogers, Count von Count (i.e. “The Count”), and others deserve more time.

4) I didn’t give much time to exceptions. I point out that Gregory Michie and Ron Clark move from rural towns to urban areas to teach but leave out that sometimes the migration goes the other way, like in this first-day scene from Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within:

I walk into the classroom in Elkton, Minnesota. Early April the fields around the school are wet, unplowed, not seeded yet. And the sky is deep gray. I tell the twenty-five eighth graders that I am a Jew after I hear that rabbis is one of their spelling words. None of them has ever seen a Jew before. I am aware that everything I do now for the next hour represents “Jew.” I walk in eating an apple: all Jews now will eat apples. I tell them I have never lived in a small town: now no Jew has ever lived in the country. One student asked if I knew anyone in a concentration camp. And we talk about the Germans: many are of German descent.

They are very warm and there’s a beautiful depth of vulnerability about them. They know what well the water they drink comes from, that their cat who ran away two years ago will not return, how their hair feels against their heads as they run. I don’t have to give them any rules about poetry. They live in that place already. Close to things.

5) What else? As you watch Part II, keep an eye out for weak spots and holes. Let me know what I missed.

Derek Smith


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