Saturday, September 5, 2009

To Teacher, With Love

This is a portion of an article paying tribute to teachers this teachers day that appears in DNA Me, September Issue. To read the full article, do buy a copy.

It is said that a student is not a vase to be filled, but a candle to be lit. And though teachers who inspire the love of learning instead of stuffing minds with information are few, almost all of us have been touched by one such special angel of a teacher who has changed the course of our lives. Cinema has often paid rich tributes to these 'miracle workers', who are often more stubborn than their most adamant students. Here are a few depiction in cinema of teachers, who saw more potential in their students than they or their society dared to see in them.

To Sir With Love (1967)

Sir Fighting His Way Into Their Brains And hearts

How do you teach students who have greater problems in life than education - like poverty, hunger and street violence? The answer is, you don't. At least that's what the teachers of this school do, as they are content with running the school in this impoverished part of London just for namesake. When Mark Thackeray, a young black teacher joins, he is told to do the same. Mark does not think much of the school and the rowdy students (who harass him) either. For he is an engineer and this is just a stop-gap, before he lands his big job. Yet, he tries to do a respectable job out of it. When he fails to connect with the students miserably, something snaps inside him. As he gets involved further into the lives of his unwilling students struggling with daily survival, he realises the stupidity of thrusting conventional education at them. What they need, he realises, is life-affirming, practical education. So, he adopts a flexible approach, talking to them about problems that affect them the most. Slowly, but steadily they not only develop an interest in learning, but in bettering their lives and rising from their harsh surroundings. And the same kids who were once up at arms against him (literally as well), now love him (one even has a crush on him). But, he is offered a high paying, respectable engineers job. Will he take it? We all know the answer to that question as the passionate teacher learns a lesson himself - that it is noble to build buildings, but nobler to construct healthy, able minds with the motivation to face life. The film made Sidney Poitier a sensation and the emotional song 'To Sir With Love' by Lulu (who also acts in the film) climbed to No. 1 on the US charts.

The Miracle Worker (1962)

The Master And Her Masterpiece

An unwilling student can be cajoled into learning by talking or listening to him. But what do you do to a girl who is blind, deaf and mute. That is the momentous challenge Annie Sullivan faces as she gets down to teaching Hellen Keller (now famous), a violent and aggressive girl not too keen to learn, frustrated as she is to be imprisoned within herself. But if Hellen is stubborn, her teacher is doubly so. Using unconventional methods, often being very harsh to her while locked in a battle of ego with such a child, she finally manages to instil and inspire the love of knowledge and that is the miracle of the film. Based on the biography of Hellen Keller, the film has been made into numerous plays, but it is this film with two breathtaking, Oscar winning performances that has stayed in the consciousness of the world and inspired countless copies and remakes worldwide, including 'Black' starring Amitabh Bachchan and Rani Mukherjee which in many parts is a scene by scene copy of the original. However, while 'The Miracle Worker' leaves the audience at the moment of discovery by Helen Keller, 'Black' delves further into the life of the protagonist.

Mr. Holland's Opus (1995)

His students were his greatest composition. One of the best symphony ever.

It is often hard to forget that the practitioners of the noble profession of teaching are human beings with their own personal aspirations. Glenn Holland is one such man who dreams of composing his own magnum opus that would make him famous. He had taken up the job of teaching music to school children as a backup position that would give him time to compose. He had never imagined that his next 3 decades would be spent in classrooms. The film follows him during this period as he comes to terms with the two frustrations in his life, one of being a failure unable to realise his dream and of having a son, who is deaf. However, with his passionate teaching and by introducing the magic of music into the hearts of his students, he has affected their lives in more ways than he can understand. In the end though he realises that he has not been a failure and that his magnum opus is the inspiration and joy he has brought to the lives of his students, that their better life is the greatest composition he could have ever composed. Richard Dreyfuss as Mr. Holland was nominated for an Oscar in this film that tells the story from the perspective of a teacher, telling us that life is often what happens when we are busy making other plans and that its greatest rewards come at the most unexpected moments.

Dead Poet's Society (1989)

Stand Up Against Conformity - He Taught And They Imbibed

Conformity to tradition is often the chain used to stifle creativity. Respect for customs is necessary for students, but not at the cost of inspiration. This, John Keating (Robin Williams), the new English teacher in a conservative and aristocratic boys school understands and using literature and poetry dares his students to change their lives of conformity. Though initially reluctant, the students one by one, experience their moments of epiphany and self realisation. However the self-actualisation of their potential causes an uproar as it threatens to uproot the established tradition of the school and the families to which the students belong. This creates a war between Keating on one side and the authorities on another and when a student who was forced away from his passion by his parents, commits suicide, blame is put on Keating who is expelled. He goes, but not before getting the greatest reward – the satisfaction of knowing that the lessons of life he imparted to his students, had been learnt. A loose adaptation of this Oscar winning film in Bollywood was the hit 'Mohabattein' starring Shahrukh Khan and Amitabh Bachchan which reduces this beautiful film into a juvenile love story.

Stand And Deliver (1988)

"A Negative Times A Negative Equals A Positive'' - Mathematic Can Inspire

Mathematics is not a subject particularly liked by most. That it can be used to change the lives of volatile kids and inspire them, would sound like a far-fetched idea to even adults. Yet in 'Stand And Deliver' Jaime Escalante, a dedicated high school teacher, does just that. In a school where rebellion runs high and teachers seem to prefer discipline over academics, Jaime is not liked as he is threatened and taunted. However, using unconventional teaching methods like using props and humour to demonstrate abstract ideas of mathematics, he is able to win them over. When he realises that they can do more, he decides to teach them calculus, much too advanced for their level, over summer class. Despite the conflicts in their disturbed homes between what they aspire to be and the desires of their parents, they find the courage to pull through with the help of Jaime and pass the test. However the school board challenges their score. When Jaime challenges the board, the students are asked to take a retest, with only one day's preparation. The students are surprised themselves when despite the difficulty, they pass thus reaffirming their teacher's and more importantly, their own faith in themselves. Based on a true story, this low budget but uplifting film won audiences over and was nominated for an Oscar.


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