Unfit For The Grind

This whole year I’ve been focusing on these kids who have these discipline issues and these kids who don’t care and I realize now it’s the kids who do care that really matter to me … and that I really miss a lot.

confessed to the camera without irony by teacher-cum-assistant-principal, Mrs. Redell, in Chalk, a movie which is to teaching what Major League is to baseball.

I'm Dan and this is my blog. I'm a former high school math teacher and current head of teaching at Desmos. He / him. More here.


  1. A few of us actually got to see the cast in person, and it was so moving to see how well they acted even with having little to no teaching experience. After only doing it for a summer, they seemed to have a better understanding of the dedication it takes to be a teacher. I thought Mrs. Redell’s character reflected the attitudes that the good APs have.

  2. let’s try that again…

    a movie which is to teaching what Major League is to baseball.

    It is a movie, after all.

    This brings me to wonder, though – you dislike a lot of the popular representations of teaching in entertainment, from Prezbo to Freedom Writers.

    I think that part of the problem is that it’s impossible to capture the nature of teaching in a two hour movie. Heck, I think it’s hard to capture the nature of teaching without throwing someone into a classroom by themselves for a semester. Even that would only highlight the difficulties, and not the solutions.

    My question, then, is whether there are any depictions of teaching you find worthwhile, or whether you’d relegate everything to the same trashheap as Kindergarden Cop?

  3. One movie that portrayed schools spot-on was Election. Not only did it do a great job with the kids, but the teachers in the movie equally. Maybe it is because I had a principal who was EXACTLY like the principal in that movie.
    The first few minutes of Summer School was classic as well. I haven’t seen the movie Teachers in years. I’ll have to watch it again to render a verdict.

    Other movies that did a good job with teacher portrayal

    Fast Times at Ridgemont High
    Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
    3 O’clock High (Skinner from the X-files-Mitch Pelliggi was the principal I think).

    I am sure once I hit the submit button, I’ll remember about fifty more.

  4. I liked that portrayal, but it might have been personal because it was a similar “epiphany” that led to me to quit teaching at Community Day School. A co-worker who had done a lot of teaching at CYA and Community Day took me aside, and said, “Look, you want to teach, this is not about teaching subject matter, it’s about teaching behavior and helping kids, you need to find a job where you can teach.”

    In certain AP positions, you deal only with behavior (and almost never with good ones in that position). If you want to see a variety of kids, with a variety of behaviors, you won’t get that. I like having a variety of kids, I’m more effective with the “problem” students, and I’m not burnt out. I get to teach the kids about content, and about behavior. It’s a nice mix. That’s why I get where she’s coming from.

    We bring to the movie theatre our background, and we see the characters in different ways. You may think that movie and that character sucked, I don’t.

  5. I agree with A. Mercer. There were things about Chalk that I thought didn’t work but all around I thought it was a pretty great movie. I mean, for once it was a teacher movie that wasn’t a treacly piece of pap.

    Oh and hey … don’t knock Major League. That’s a quality flick.

  6. I can only knock Chalk so hard. The Hornet spelling bee was pretty awesome, as was the movie’s generally good ear for teacher dialogue.

    I can’t, however, find any sympathetic interpretation for the quote above. Are we meant to believe that Mrs. Redell, upon stepping back into the classroom, will suddenly embrace the burden of giving kids a reason to care about school? Or will she continue to focus her efforts and affection on the kids whose parents buy them pencils and binders, who come to school with the engagement switch set to “on”?

    It is my privilege to give kids a reason to care about remedial algebra who otherwise wouldn’t. It is my challenge. It is my joy. It isn’t some adjunct to my job description, which I can embrace or shrug off at my discretion.

  7. Judging by your new post, I think you over-generalized from one character (and one line) as to the point of the entire movie. The character of Mr. Lowery, and his failure to inspire or motivate his students and his realization that maybe he shouldn’t be a teacher because of that seemed to make the opposite point. You can’t just go up there and start talking and expect to earn the respect and attention of students.

    Ken’s point, in the next post, that movies and tv rarely provide realistic portrayals of any profession is worth noting. Also, I don’t know if Chalk had one point to make about the profession.

    As an afterthought, I have to admit that you came to mind when I saw Mr. Stroope, starting the year/class by greeting his students at the door.

  8. Point of the movie? Nah. But the line’s inclusion as a culminating realization for Redell’s character indicates an underlying pedagogy I find thoroughly disappointing.

    And FWIW at various times I’ve embodied the worst characteristics of both, Lowrey’s totally inadequate classroom management and Stroope’s centerstage preening.

  9. I think ALL of us have had a Lowery moment of complete impotence in front of a class. I suspect anyone who says they haven’t is LYING.

    But, you are giving me food for thought about Rendell, OTOH, she is NOT a teacher, but an administrator, and lots of teachers, like that character, cannot make that transition. I doubt I could. Anyway, I liked the movie, even if I didn’t like all the characters. You didn’t. I doubt we’ll get any further on this topic.