Friday, January 6, 2012

Teaching that inspires

Before the school holidays ended, we made time for a family movie night. The chosen flick was Mr Holland's Opus. Set from 1965-1995, it's about Glenn Holland, a professional musician who starts teaching music at a local high school thinking it would give him time to compose his own music.

Initially, he is unable to make any inroads in teaching but over time, grows to become an adept teacher. The story also outlines his struggles coming to terms with having a deaf son. After 30 years of teaching, the music programme at the school is cancelled, putting Mr Holland out of a job and leaving him wondering if he had wasted his life.

There are several reasons why I love this movie. One, Mr Holland, played by Richard Dreyfuss, is portrayed as not your typical, idealistic individual but a very real, down to earth teacher with human failings that anyone can identify with.

Second, I like that Mr Holland is a music teacher. Just like in Singapore, music and other "soft" subjects are considered non essential in the US and this comes through in the movie. I love this quote towards the end of the movie, when the Vice-Principal broke the news to Mr Holland that the music programme was being canned:
VP: I care about these kids just as much as you do. And if I'm forced to choose between Mozart and reading and writing and long division, I choose long division.

Mr Holland: Well, I guess you can cut the arts as much as you want, Gene. Sooner or later, these kids aren't going to have anything to read or write about.
It's inspiring without being saccharine and overly dramatic, like many American attempt-to-feel-good movies.

Maybe I love it so much because it has so many parallels in real life. When Mr Holland started out as a teacher, it was simply out of necessity and he left the kids cold. It was only when he grew to love teaching and his students that he touched so many of them.

I've discovered that the best teachers are often not the ones who know the best methods. Andre has had teachers who no doubt, know how to teach. But some of them have completely turned him off lessons because they teach with the impersonal indifference of someone merely executing a task.

Kids are very perceptive. They know who are the teachers who care and who are the ones who don't give a damn. (Andre's friend had a math teacher who openly declared to the class after a frustrating session, "I don't care if you understand this, I still get paid.")

That's why I'm totally against those who go into teaching purely to chase a career path. Teaching is a calling, much like nursing. If you're annoyed by kids, you'll quickly find them a burden in your life and these kids will be left uninspired and unimpressed.

Schools may be surprised to know this but it's also not about how strict the teachers are. I've consistently found that the best-loved teachers, some of whom are the fiercest human beings around, are the ones who have a heart for the kids and truly want the kids to do well. The ones who love the kids they teach will find ways to motivate them to do better. The ones who don't, well, even with the best techniques, will leave the children disinterested. It's time we realise that learning is less about methods and more about attitudes.

This year, both Lesley-Anne and Andre have been assigned excellent teachers, for which I'm deeply thankful. In fact, when Lesley-Anne heard the names of Andre's teachers, she went, "wah, strike lottery!"

Indeed, getting good teachers is like striking lottery, since every school, no matter how good, will have its fair share of good and not-so-good teachers. I can think of few things in our children's school life as important as the quality of teachers. It is infinitely more important than the brand of the school or the range of its facilities.

So, back to Mr Holland's Opus. Do watch it, if you haven't already, for a dose of heart-warming inspiration. If I were the NIE, I would make all teachers-to-be watch this movie. In the end, it's not the grand gestures of teachers, just everyday little ones, that make a lasting impression.
"What the teacher is, is more important than what he teaches." ~Karl Menninger


Lilian said...

I've not watched the movie, will try to get hold of it since you recommend it so highly. Richard Dreyfuss is a very good actor.

Am so happy for Andre that he has solid teachers this very crucial year. I think for L-A, teachers are not so huge a factor cos she's the super steady sort who is unfazed by what goes on in the classroom and still does well no matter what.

Wishing both of them a great school year, not just in academic achievements but also memorable experiences in and out of the classroom!

monlim said...

Lilian: The movie is just great. Maybe also cos I'm partial to the Lennon references, haha. L-A loves it cos one of the characters is a female student who plays the clarinet!

I agree with you the solid teachers will benefit Andre especially since he's so easily distracted.

Thanks for the wishes - here's also wishing your kids a fantastic learning experience with equally fantastic teachers!

Anonymous said...

Hi to read ur views but have to say that not every nurse can be a mother Teresa nor every teacher mr. Holland....we need to manage our expectations and so do our children..just my opinion.... Diana

monlim said...

Diana: Agree, not every teacher is a Mr Holland but having said that, we'll increase our chances of them being one if they join the teaching profession for the right reasons.

We never expect good teachers, we just hope. If our kids get them, it's a bonus!

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