Popular Culture Review Vol. 24, No. 2, Summer 2013 - Page 71

The Good, the Bad, the Ugly: Cinematic Representations of High School English Teachers The Blackboard Jungle, released in 1955, is a film that chronicles the struggle o f first-semester English teacher Richard Dadier to teach basic language skills to a group o f students hostile to education in general and him in particular. This film, says the trailer’s announcer, addresses the problem o f juvenile delinquency, the “modern savagery” of “teenage terror in the schools.” This film is considered the first to discuss Problems in Am erica’s schools, and it also appears to be the first American film to have an English teacher as a protagonist.1 Since the appearance o f The Blackboard Jungle, a good number o f films have been made that chronicle the struggles o f high school English teachers, typically novices, to convince resistant students that English d ass has something valuable to offer. While the education themes in these films have attracted some attention, little has been paid to the portrayal o f the English teachers in them. As a first Step toward remedying this state o f affairs, I offer a few observations on the cinematic representations o f English teachers in films where they are protagonists or major characters and point to a problem with these representations. M ost o f the storylines in these film s, be they com edies or dramas, are essen tially the same: they dramatize the struggles o f inexperienced teachers w h o are thrust into less-than-optim al teaching conditions to engage at-risk students in English. This set o f circum stances w ould seem contraindicated w here Student leam in g is the objective, but despite their inexperience— and som etim es questionable credentials— these teachers are all successful for essentially the sam e reason: they care deeply (or in the case o f the com ed ies, com e to care deeply) about their students, and they are w illin g to m ake w hatever personal sacrifices are necessary to engage them. W ith one exception, all the teachers in these m ovies are Outsiders, and because they are, neither their m otivations nor m ethods are obstructed by the negative attitudes toward the students that impair the efforts o f their more experienced but less su ccessfu l colleagues. In these film s, experience is a liability; inexpe ɥ