Popular Culture Review Vol. 24, No. 2, Summer 2013 - Page 81

The Good, the Bad, the Ugly 77 who are not driven so much by their desire to share their love o f literature and language; rather, they are driven by the need to save their students. The stories o f Johnson and Gruell are based on the wom en’s actual careers, and if these films are accurate, their inability or unwillingness to balance their Professional and personal lives and their willingness to sacrifice so much in an obsessive pursuit o f success would raise serious questions about their emotional health. Despite their personal issues, however, the English teachers in all the films I ’ve discussed are Creative and fimctional to a high degree, and in these latest films, they are more selfless than it is reasonable to expect a teacher to be. The films in which English teachers are foils or major characters dramatize what a good English teacher is not. These are the bad and ugly teachers, teachers who take out their personal ffustrations on their students. There are a number o f them and selecting the most pathetic is, as Samuel Johnson noted when asked to make a similar choice between two politicians: “There is no settling the point o f precedency [sic] between a louse and a flea.” Unlike the good English teachers, the personal issues and deficits o f the bad and ugly teachers seriously impair their ability to connect with their students because they are compelled to use their students as emotional punching bags. These are the ugly teachers. Perhaps the most painful o f these representations is Paul Barringer, a failed novelist in Up the Down Staircase. His heartless cruelty— thinly disguised as teaching— is dramatized by the m anner in which he responds to a love letter he received from Alice, the infatuated Student. With her at his desk— and the door closed— he corrects her writing. I ’ll just offer the tenor o f this scene. He reads from the letter: Dear Mr. Barringer. “There’s nothing wrong in using circles to dot I ’s,” he says to her, “but it’s considered an affectation... I hopeyou don ’t mind thepresumption... Look up the spelling o f presumption— and no dots. I thought I saw you in the window, and my heart was throbbing with this love I bear fo r y o u ... No dots, please, and ‘throbbing’ is pretty cheap.” The interview continues in this vein. Alice expresses no emotion, but it is she who the next moming tries to commit suicide by jum ping from the window o f Barringer’s third-story classroom. But he has stiff competition. John Griffin o f Killing Mr. Griffin harbors so much repressed rage stemming from his marital problems that he verbally