Screen Lessons

What We Have Learned from Teachers on Television and in the Movies

by Mary M. Dalton (Volume editor) Laura R. Linder (Volume editor)
©2017 Textbook XIV, 242 Pages
Series: Counterpoints, Volume 486


This unprecedented volume includes 30 essays by teachers and students about the teacher characters who have inspired them. Drawing on film and television texts, the authors explore screen lessons from a variety of perspectives. Arranged in topical categories, the contributors examine the "good" teacher; the "bad" teacher; gender, sexuality, and teaching; race and ethnicity in the classroom; and lessons on social class. From such familiar texts as the Harry Potter series and School of Rock to classics like Blackboard Jungle and Golden Girls to unexpected narratives such as the Van Halen music video "Hot for Teacher" and Linda Ellerbee’s Nick News, the essays are both provocative and instructive.
Courses that could use this book include Education and Popular Culture, Cultural Foundations, Popular Culture Studies, other media studies and television genre classes.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • Advance Praise for Screen Lessons
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Introduction
  • Part One: The “Good” Teacher
  • Chapter One: Ron Clark: The Real “Good” Teacher (Adam Dovico)
  • Introduction
  • Background
  • Relationships
  • Engagement
  • High Expectations
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter Two: Katrina on My Mind: Pedagogy, Kate Chopin’s New Orleans, and HBO’s Treme (Walter C. Metz)
  • Chapter Three: Class Wars: How to Use Your Jedi Master (Roslin Smith)
  • Chapter Four: “If You Want to Know, Ask”: What I’ve Learned from Linda Ellerbee and Nick News (Sharon Marie Ross)
  • Chapter Five: I Believe in Love and Friday Night Lights (Mary M. Dalton)
  • Note
  • Chapter Six: The Only Constant Is Change: Half Nelson as an Act of Critical Pedagogy (John Peter Watts)
  • Dialectics and the Trouble with Teaching
  • Teaching as an Act of Critical Pedagogy
  • Conclusion
  • Part Two: The “Bad” Teacher
  • Chapter Seven: The Best Bad Teacher: Dana Marschz in Hamlet 2 (Rob Phillips)
  • Note
  • Chapter Eight: Ambiguous Lessons: Professor Severus Snape in the Harry Potter Series (Shelly L. Shaffer)
  • Introduction
  • Snape as an Effective Teacher
  • Snape as Ineffective Teacher
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter Nine: Learning from a Teacher-Machine: Terror and Implanted Knowledge in The Prisoner (Wendy R. Williams)
  • The Prisoner
  • “The General”
  • Efficiency
  • Compliance
  • Maintaining an Unjust System
  • Chapter Ten: The “Bad” Teacher: Music Man of School of Rock (Dennis Conway)
  • Chapter Eleven: Drunk with Knowledge: Depiction of a Professor in Robby Bresson’s Help (Rosemary Nyaole-Kowuor)
  • Introduction
  • Portrayal of the Professor
  • Elitism or Innovation?
  • Viewer Responses
  • Screen Lesson
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter Twelve: Lessons for Artists: Movies and the Metaphors of Arts Education (Seung-Hyun Lee / Emily D. Edwards)
  • Teaching Metaphors and Arts Education
  • The Garden Metaphor
  • The Manufacturing Metaphor
  • The Travel Metaphor
  • The Consumer Metaphor
  • Movies and the Lessons of Arts Education
  • Notes
  • Part Three: Gender, Sexuality, and Teaching
  • Chapter Thirteen: Out (and Proud) in America’s Classrooms: Gay and Lesbian Teachers on 1970s Television (Stephen Tropiano)
  • Chapter Fourteen: When Worlds Collide: Van Halen’s “Hot for Teacher” and Gender in the Classroom (Christine Mallozzi)
  • Chapter Fifteen: Teacher as Object of Desire in Wes Anderson’s Rushmore (Jennifer S. Dean)
  • Objectification: A Whimsical Ceremony
  • Commonplace Assumptions of the Teacher
  • Seduction of Teaching
  • Ambiguity Perpetuates a Myth
  • A Profession Devoid of Value
  • Chapter Sixteen: “Good” Teacher as Predator: Crossing the Double Yellow Lines in Blue Car (Christian Z. Goering / Shelbie Witte)
  • Synopsis of Blue Car
  • Background
  • Educator Sexual Misconduct
  • Grooming
  • Method
  • Mr. Auster Is a Good Writing Teacher
  • Mr. Auster Blurs the Lines
  • Mr. Auster Crosses the Line
  • Discussion
  • Chapter Seventeen: Bad Teacher: Bad Judgment, Bad Intentions, or Abuse? (Suzanne Regan)
  • Girls (To Women)
  • Shameless (Growing Up Is Hard to Do)
  • Ray Donovan (Sins of the Father)
  • Conclusion (Or More Questions?)
  • Chapter Eighteen: Unexpected Opportunities: Teaching and Learning While Pregnant (Abigail Kindelsperger)
  • Part Four: Race and Ethnicity in the Classroom
  • Chapter Nineteen: Race Up the Down Staircase: Teacher as Savior and Other Identities (Chad E. Harris)
  • Chapter Twenty: Freedom Writers as a Narrative for Teaching Social Justice (Lara Searcy)
  • Note
  • Chapter Twenty-One: Finding Comfort in Room 222 (Laura R. Linder)
  • Chapter Twenty-Two: The Great Debaters: The Inspiring Story of Melvin B. Tolson (R. Jarrod Atchison)
  • Chapter Twenty-Three: Lost in Translation: A Reflection on the Absence of Second-Language Teachers in Media (Raúl Alberto Mora)
  • My Students’ Discoveries
  • Media and Second-Language Teachers: Are They Even Represented?
  • Grounding the Narrative in Reality
  • Chapter Twenty-Four: Not Everyone’s Cut Out for Teaching: Lessons Learned from The Wire (Alexa Erb)
  • Part Five: “Lessons on Social Class”
  • Chapter Twenty-Five: Blackboard Jungle: Poisoning the American Dream (Steve Benton)
  • Chapter Twenty-Six: “You’re Like Us, but You Ain’t”: Lessons Learned from To Sir, with Love (Jacqueline Bach / Susan D. Weinstein)
  • Lesson 1: Your Propriety Is Not Your Students’ Propriety
  • Lesson 2: A Name Is Just a Name, Not a Sign of Respect
  • Lesson 3: When School Gives You Novels, Make a Tossed Salad
  • Lesson 4: Sometimes What You Think You Want Is Not What You Really Want
  • Lesson Learned
  • Note
  • Chapter Twenty-Seven: Mr. Plecki and Me: Lessons about Critical Pedagogy from Cheaters (Robert C. Bulman)
  • Chapter Twenty-Eight: The Golden Girls: Dorothy Zbornak and Lessons about Social Class (Stephanie Schroeder)
  • Note
  • Chapter Twenty-Nine: Solving Problems Like Maria: Governess Guidance in The Sound of Music (Elizabeth Currin)
  • Chapter Thirty: Breaking the Frame: Growing Up Dirty Dancing (Erin L. McInnis)
  • References
  • Film and Television Sources
  • Contributors
  • Index
  • Series index

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Name the issues that matter to you. Justice? Equality? Freedom of speech? Whatever your list looks like, it’s more than a fair bet that you first learned about these concepts from a teacher—in a classroom or on a screen. Teachers and teacher characters remain central to the national discourse on a range of critical education issues from accountability and privatization to more fundamental discussions about what it means to be human and the very meaning of truth. Schools are a primary site where democracy is learned and identities are formed, and teachers are the ones who teach it, explicitly through lessons and implicitly through modeling and various hidden curricula. This volume bridges the gap between some of the most iconic teachers in popular culture and those working in classrooms across the United States and points beyond as students, teachers, and teachers of teachers.

Our teaching careers now span decades, but working with students and energized colleagues (you know who you are!) keeps us feeling vital and relevant. We have information and ideas to investigate, and just as important, we strive to provide a forum for other vital voices to share and explore. It is from that space that this project arises—the juncture of the popular, personal, and political—and it comes at a critical time when systematic efforts to strip teaching of its professionalism have taken root. Many of these efforts have come from the political right where support for public schools has dwindled and, at the same time, resources have been diverted to private entities that compete with, and sometimes undermine, public education. An enforced culture of rigidly-packaged curricula and endless standardized testing leaves teachers with so little autonomy that innovation and passions are often pushed out of the classroom. ← xi | xii →

With this volume, we celebrate teachers and teaching by letting people at all stages of their careers, and those who practice their art and craft in a wide variety of classrooms and other public spaces, talk about what inspires and influences them in popular depictions of teachers. In 1995, Mary published the first edition of The Hollywood Curriculum. Three revisions later, there is still more to say about teachers in the movies, and this book is structured around categories explored more fully in that book. In 2008, Mary and Laura published Teacher TV: Sixty Years of Teachers on Television, which looks at the history of teacher characters on the small screen and examines the implications of those representations.

In this book, our contributors write about teaching and learning. They write about screen lessons derived from a variety of time periods, genres, and critical perspectives. Some of them were students, undergraduate and graduate level, at the time the essays were written, and most of them are or have been teachers, either in actual classrooms or in public arenas. Taken as a whole, this is an intersectional approach to representations of teachers. Beyond looking at the relative value of various depictions, our authors write about race and ethnicity, sexuality, and social class, all essential prisms for creating a more holistic image of educators in popular culture. Of course, no single volume can be comprehensive, but we have tried to make this book engaging and useful, and we hope you will find it to be so, too.

We wish to thank all of our contributors for sharing their stories. In effect, there is a wonderful pedagogic function of these essays. Not only do they examine teaching, but they also express lessons learned in personal and critical terms. Taken in this spirit, these chapters function as a delightful sort of intellectual paying it forward. To “pay it forward” means that the recipient of a good deed does not return the favor but, instead, performs a good deed for someone else. Though the term and the concept are hardly new, many people today associate it with the movie Pay It Forward (2000) in which a physically and emotionally damaged teacher, played indelibly by Kevin Spacey, inspires his young student, played by Haley Joel Osment, to go out and make the world a better place. It seems like a good idea, and we hope that reading this book may serve as a catalyst for positive change. We have assembled material we find inspiring and insightful; let the teaching and the learning begin!

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The “Good” Teacher

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Ron Clark

The Real “Good” Teacher



The flyers were plastered around campus: 2000 National Teacher of the Year to speak at Wake Forest University. It was 2003, and I was a junior at the time, majoring in elementary education. I knew little about Ron Clark but had learned that he had just written a book, endorsed by Oprah, so naturally I was curious! His rousing speech included a number of personal tales—from his stint as a singing and dancing waiter in a British restaurant called the Texas Cantina to the time he streaked the field at an East Carolina University football game (recounted while running up and down the aisle) to a story about getting locked in a Dunkin Donut’s oven. The audience that night left in awe of this young man’s energy, story-telling ability, and the passion he had for children. Personally, I could not have been more excited to enter the world of education after hearing his motivational talk.

Six years passed after hearing Clark speak, and I was enjoying a successful teaching career in Charlotte, North Carolina. My principal at the time put out a call to see if anyone was interested in attending professional development training in Atlanta, Georgia at the Ron Clark Academy, an innovative middle school that he opened in 2008. Excited that I would get to see this phenomenal teacher again, my co-workers and I prepared for the trip by watching the 2006 TV movie about his life, The Ron Clark Story (and, incidentally, the director is Randa Haines, who directed another iconic teacher movie, Children of a Lesser God [1986]). The film, which is inspiring in its own way, stars Matthew Perry, who has great name recognition but does not hold a candle to the actual Ron Clark in terms of dynamism. ← 3 | 4 →

After visiting this “Disney World meets Harry Potter” school and seeing Ron Clark teach his students, I was flooded with the same energy and excitement that I had upon first hearing him speak. Remembering his tag line, “Dream big and take risks,” I did just that and applied for a teaching position at the school. The dream was fulfilled, and I am proud to say that I spent four great years working with Ron Clark at his school. Teaching under Clark (literally, my classroom was underneath his), I learned that what I had previously believed were high expectations for my students and my efforts toward creating an engaging classroom were far from what was really possible. Ron Clark never accepted “okay” or “good” from the students, staff, or himself, and that forced all of us to strive to be great. I can personally vouch that he is the epitome of the “good” teacher both in Hollywood terms and in real life. And, while The Ron Clark Story doesn’t match his energy, many of the essential lessons about teaching that Ron Clark conveys are found in the movie.

Photo 1.1. Matthew Perry as Ron Clark in The Ron Clark Story, 2006. ← 4 | 5 →


The film begins inauspiciously with the question posed by a forlorn, young boy standing in a garbage can outside of his classroom in rural North Carolina. “Is you gonna be our new teacher?” Ron Clark reluctantly replies, “I guess so.” This exchange marks his entry into what will be a challenging, yet illustrious, journey into teaching. Ron Clark’s success in North Carolina inspires him to blindly travel to an area where he feels he will be needed even more: Harlem, New York. With little preparation for what he will encounter there, he takes the loving relationships, unique engagement strategies, and high expectations from his previous life to a classroom with students labeled “bottom of the barrel” by the principal.

Clark immediately injects his vision into the dilapidated classroom by establishing his first four rules:


XIV, 242
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2017 (February)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2017. XIV, 242 pp.

Biographical notes

Mary M. Dalton (Volume editor) Laura R. Linder (Volume editor)

MARY M. DALTON is Professor of Communication and Film and Media Studies at Wake Forest University. She is the co-editor of Screen Lessons: What We Have Learned From Teachers on Television and in the Movies and of The Sitcom Reader: American Re-viewed, Still Skewed with Laura R. Linder. In addition to her scholarly work in the area of critical media studies, she is a documentary filmmaker and a media critic. LAURA R. LINDER is a semi-retired Media Studies professor. She is co-author of Teacher TV: Sixty Years of Teachers on Television with Mary M Dalton and co-editor of The Sitcom Reader: American Re-viewed, Still Skewed, both with Mary M. Dalton, and the author of Public Access Television: America’s Electronic Soapbox.


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