I Am a Professor in a Movie

Inspired by the “I am a ____ in a movie” phenomenon on Twitter where people in different professions tweeted the unrealistic portrayals of their professions on the big screen.

I am a professor in a movie. I enter a college classroom on the first day. The classroom is filled with first-generation college students with few learned academic skills. With excellent lighting, a good soundtrack, and tremendous enthusiasm, I transform the entire classroom of 55 students into an engaged community. The students can’t wait to come to class, they interact eagerly, and are always sorry when class is over. There are a few strugglers and stragglers, but in the end, I win them over and am proud as they go on to graduate cum laude.

I am a professor in real life. I enter a college classroom on the first day. The classroom is filled with first-generation college students with few learned academic skills. With poor lighting, a persistent buzzing noise, and my tremendous enthusiasm, the first day is okay. I have hope that this is the semester that I transform the entire classroom of 55 students into an engaged community, one that can’t wait to come to class, interact eagerly, and are always sorry when class is over. I hope to win the strugglers and stragglers over and, if I do, I will be proud as they go on to graduate cum laude. (Despite my first day optimism, my history as a professor in real life tells me that I will likely fail to achieve this.)

I am a professor in a movie. In the middle of the semester, one of the students I have tremendous faith in, despite their continued lack of outward enthusiasm, disappears. I track them down and find out that they are working two jobs to keep their family afloat. We strategize and come up with a plan. The plan works. The student returns to the classroom when they can and ends up writing the best damn essay ever.

I am a professor in real life. In the middle of the semester, one of the students I have tremendous faith in, despite their continued lack of outward enthusiasm, disappears. I am able to track them down and find out that they are working two jobs to keep their family afloat. We strategize and come up with a plan. The plan fails. For a while, the student stays in touch, swearing they will come and meet with me. After a few weeks, I never hear from them again.

Screenshot of several Twitter posts.

Or, I am a professor in real life. In the middle of the semester, one of the students I have tremendous faith in, despite their continued lack of outward enthusiasm, disappears. I call. I email. I ask around. I never hear from them again.

I am a professor in a movie. I bring Todd, the reluctant student, up to the front of the class and tell him, “Free up your mind, use your imagination, say the first thing that pops into your head, even if it is total gibberish.”1 After some initial resentment and some hesitation, I get Todd to free up his mind. The class cheers for him.

I am a professor in real life. I am in my teaching groove. The class is working on analyzing an advertisement for a slave auction. I walk around the room, waving my arms and providing historical context. For a moment I believe every single one of the students who came to class that day is engaged, but then I make the mistake of looking at all the rows of students. There, in the last row, a student leans back in their chair, madly scrolling and typing on a smartphone. Another student has their head down on their arms either sleeping or zoning out. Nonetheless, I go ahead and ask Todd, the reluctant student, to tell me one thing he can learn from the advertisement. Todd mumbles, “I don’t know,” and when I prod him further for an answer, he completely shuts down. No one cheers.

I’m a professor in a movie. It’s the end of the semester and I’ve won them over. They stand on their desks, proclaiming, “O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,/ The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won ….” We cry and some come to embrace me, swearing they will stay in touch.

I’m a professor in real life. It’s the end of the semester, and I actually have won a small handful of them over. This small handful comes down when class finishes to tell me that they never liked history before, but I had made it interesting. One shyly hands me a gift bag that includes a packet of hot chocolate mix and a candy cane. I get a manly handshake and some smiles. The student who disappeared for a while in the middle of the semester because they were working two jobs to keep their family afloat thanks me for my intervention. Weeks later, when I read my evaluations, I also get a chance to hear from those I didn’t win over. These students tell me they hated my clothes, my laugh, my approach to the subject, my enthusiasm.

I am a professor in real life. On many days, I feel as if I am making a difference despite the fact that my day-to-day life as a professor never reflects what I have seen on the big screen. I will never be John Keating or Jaime Escalante or LouAnne Johnson.2 However, I will be Dr. Swedberg and I will find the courage every day of my teaching life to summon energy and enthusiasm and step back into the classroom to do the best I can.

Notes

  1. Steven Haft, et al. Dead Poets Society, Burbank, CA: Touchstone Home Entertainment, 2006. Return to text.
  2. Dead Poets Society, Stand by Me, and Dangerous Minds. Return to text.

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2 Comments

Eric Watters

A familiar tale Sarah, but even winning over one is enough to keep us coming back. Thank you for caring about our students!

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Vincent Patarino

My big screen moment was “To Sir With Love,” from 1967. Not only do I rarely see these epiphanies (though I am eternally hopeful), I am certainly no Sidney Poitier! Still, the rewards are there, palatable and true. Thanks for your fresh perspective on our passions and struggles as college teachers, Sarah.

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