Late Post - Written but unpublished - Teacher's in the Media
It is important to note that while I am talking about Jack Black's portrayal of a teacher in "School of Rock" that I am very clear about one thing: I do not like the movie "School of Rock."
Jack Black in general as an actor (more than as a member of Tenacious D) does not act in movies I enjoy watching.
Beyond general enjoyment the movie did bring up some issues about portrayal of teachers in movies (an example of pop culture), and I especially did more thinking about the problems and complications that come from teaching pop music in the classroom (in this movie's case it was a very limited form of pop music in the form of Rock and Roll that Jack Black likes).
Overall I felt the movie put out the message that anybody can teach. While that sounds nobly democratic, if that were true then teaching would not be a profession, and teaching would be more parenting than actual presentation, evaluation, and classroom interaction.
Jack Black states this not only with his actions by taking over the classroom without a license, but he claims that his friend as a teacher has the easiest job possible. Although there is some transformation of his character by the end of the movie, this attitude that anybody can teach without proper training is never fully debunked as the kids get a worthwhile experience even though they weren't with a licensed teacher.
Things Jack Black did as a teacher:
1. Show concern for high achieving students; but only in order to make them relax. Overachieving is a sign that something is missing from the student's life and it is the teacher's job to make uptight kid's relax (evident in his relationship with most of the students, but especially the keyboard player, and the character Summer).
2. Teacher's real concern for students will be for the quiet and shy students, who will eventually break out of that shy shell and become popular. I dislike this image because I was quiet and shy in school, but it wasn't the teacher's job to change that, it changed for me over time as I became more comfortable with being an adolescent.
3. Teacher's and faculty who are disciplinarians are free spirits that had to learn to be tightly wound - and they all want to go back. I think some people take the job of controlling kids behavior more seriously than others, and while there is research both supporting and debunking some of the more coercive discipline methods, it is not always a reflection of life crushing down on optimists, some people just believe that control is the most important thing in a classroom.
4. Private schoolkids are clever enough to retain basic skills without review or formal instruction. If these had been public schoolkids I don't think the lack of instruction outside of 'rocking' would have bothered me. As it stood, when the principal came back in to make sure the kids were learning the kids happened to be talented enough at a lesson that they might have been learning to cover for it. The implied message I took from it was that private schoolkids receive an excellent formal education but are missing the extra curricular activities. I don't think that's true, if anything parents with more resources seem to give more and more extra curricular activities to their children.
Thinking of the movie in terms of pop music was difficult. Some of the first actions by Jack Black were to critique the student's actual music tastes as irrelevant and not worth his time. This action seemed to get in the way of truly examining pop music in the classroom. If I am going to take pop music in the classroom, I need to be flexible enough as an educator to examine music that the kids are hearing over and over again on the radio. The music Jack Black was willing to show may get play on the ClearChannel Hard Rock radio stations, but it is not music that is currently being made - it is thirty to forty years older than the kids, and it forces them into only observing material that had been written for an older generation. I listened to bands that had broken up a long time earlier, but I also listened to music that was being written currently, and it was that current music that was never talked about by my teachers. I think the only music that was pop music that received attention in my classes (and we did talk about different songs in four of five classes between middle school and high school) was Simon and Garfunkel. I like Simon and Garfunkel but to lift them up like that in multiple classes as music worth studying seems to do the opposite job of approaching non-canonical literature. To lift up certain bands as worthy of study is merely forming another canon that kids will be bored by as they find works less and less relevant. Sure, hang on to a song that is an excellent example of some manner of poetically dealing with a particular issue, or that uses diction in an interesting way, but keep it present. If teaching is a profession than it is not something that you can figure out once and never think about again; these pop music lessons must receive constant revision and constant attention.