The Best Films About Teaching

Best Way Story (1961)

An adaptation of the 1957 Broadway musical of the same name, this 1961 movie centres around the tension between two rival groups of teachers, the Trads and the Progs. The arguments and the blockings are all played out through brilliantly choreographed dance scenes and a truly memorable musical numbers.

With music composed by Leonard Bernstein, who can forget the wonderful lyrics from the pen of the great Stephen Sondheim? Every time I watch, I can’t help but sing along to such classics as:

Trad Song

When you’re a Trad,
You’re a Trad all the way
From being postgrad
To retirement day.

Gee, Inspector Spielman

Gee, Inspector Spielman, we’re very upset;
We never had the funding that ev’ry school oughta get.
We ain’t no special measures,
We’re misunderstood.
Deep down inside we’re at least a good!

I Feel Shitty

I feel shitty,
Oh, so shitty,
I feel shitty and gritty and tired,
Ofsted told me
That improvement is required.

Dead Poets Society 2: Special Measures (1991)

In this sequel to 1989’s Dead Poets Society, John Keating, having been fired from the prestigious prep school Welton Academy, has decided to try his hand as a supply teacher. We find him on his first day having been sent to a school that is struggling with poor behaviour.

As he attempts to inspire the pupils to take an interest in poetry, he finds himself facing a variety of obstacles, from getting the pupils to stop ripping up the textbooks to trying to stop them from standing on the tables during lessons.

At first, Keating attempts to use the methods that we saw him use to inspire the pupils at the elite Welton Academy. He tells the pupils at this new school to question authority. They tell him to **** off. He tells them to ‘seize the day’. They take the day off school to play Xbox. He tells them: ‘make your lives extraordinary’. They tell him to **** off again.

Eventually, Keating realises that questioning authority and listening to the trophy cabinet whisper Latin phrases are all well and good if you have already established structure and discipline, and that he needs to work towards building those things before he can inspire the pupils. He realises that this isn’t something that he can do on his own and needs a whole school approach, so he resigns and leaves the school.

As he leaves the school he walks past a classroom, and through the window we see pupils standing on the tables, some making hand gestures and some shouting names at him.

The Breakfast Club (2019 reboot)

An arthouse reboot the original, updated for the modern era. The premise is the same – on a Saturday, five pupils are meant to report for an all-day detention. However, as the pupils’ parents feel that a Saturday detention is inhumane, none of the pupils turn up for the detention. Instead, we follow Assistant Principal Richard Vernon alone in the school all day, going through an existential crisis and questioning his future in teaching.

A largely improvised film, the highlight is obviously Vernon’s melancholic and balletic dance montage to The Smiths’ ‘I Know It’s Over’.

The tantalisation of standardisation: It’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles all over again… and again… and again…

Back in the early 90s, my older brother managed to get me a second-hand Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). It came with two games which, as I had no money to buy any others, occupied much of my time for months on end. One was the classic arcade game Kung Fu Master and the other was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Whilst Kung Fu Master didn’t take long to, er, master, TMNT was a different beast. It was impossibly difficult. It was so difficult that, along with a handful of other NES games, it contributed to the phrase ‘Nintendo hard’ entering the English language. Some of the levels were almost unplayable (I seriously think the one with the van was solely created just to crush the spirit of children), but what made the whole experience impossible was the fact that this was in an era when there was no ‘save game’ feature on consoles. So every time I lost the game, I had to start again at the beginning. I don’t want to work out the number of hours I threw away making barely perceptible progress on TMNT.

But as the saying goes, ‘When I became a man, I put away childish things’. Whilst anyone who even vaguely knows me would know that this obviously isn’t even slightly true of me, I have definitely moved on from wasting endless hours trying to overcome such frivolously difficult tasks – tasks where I ultimately get nowhere and have to start right back at the beginning again after each attempt. That is until I became an English teacher. Because, since I became an English teacher, I’ve had to take part in standardisation. Regularly.

Standardisation, to the uninitiated, is the act of moderating assessment with colleagues in order to establish a standardised level of accuracy in grading. Seems like a wholly appropriate thing for any English department to do, particularly in the days of coursework and controlled assessment. The problem is that standardisation, whilst well-intentioned and seemingly necessary, is a bit like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on the NES.

Because moderating and standardising assessment, certainly in English, doesn’t mean we get standardised grades. Like TMNT, we seem to make progress whilst we are standardising: agreeing on grades and reaching some kind of harmony with our marking. But also like TMNT, the next time we come back to the marking, we have to start all over again: much of what we gained in the standardisation process is lost.

If you don’t believe me, take a look at the Ofqual report, ‘Marking consistency metrics’, on the quality of marking in general qualifications. Bear in mind that examiners of GCSEs and A Levels undertake more rigorous standardisation than your regular classroom teacher, the findings of the report are pretty depressing. For their report, Ofqual put seeded papers (those that have been pre-marked and assigned definitive marks) out to be remarked by the team of employed examiners. Below is a table showing the probability of a candidate being award the definitive mark. For English Literature, it’s around 50%. History isn’t much better at around the 60% mark.

From the Ofqual report: ‘Boxplot of the probability of a candidate being awarded the definitive grade for a range of units. The mean probability for each subject is denoted by the white triangle.’

The elephant (or turtle) in the room when we standardise is that, when left to our own devices, much of what we gained in standardisation is lost – lost to unconscious bias, lost to the subjective nature of grade descriptors, lost to tiredness, lost to caprice, lost to the fact we might subconsciously compare against the previous piece of work we marked.

And yet we still seem to give up lots of time to standardisation.

The idea that, by practising assessing, and by moderating with colleagues, we are standardising our marking and getting more accurate is a tantalising one. And tantalising is the perfect word for the whole process, as its very etymology brings to mind another good analogy for the largely futile activity. For the word derives from the character in Greek myth, Tantalus, who was punished by his father, Zeus, in a rather spectacular way. Tantalus, a mortal, was invited to dine with the Gods on Mount Olympus. He wanted to test whether the Gods really did know everything, so (obviously) he decided to kill his own son, Pelops, chop him up, cook him and serve him up to see if they knew what they were eating. The Olympians immediately knew what had happened (except Demeter, who was probably looking at phone and so wasn’t paying full attention). Zeus then dished out the most delicious punishment: Tantalus was made to spend eternity in a pool of water which sat beneath trees hanging with bounteous fruits just above his head. But every time he bent to drink the water, it would drain away so he couldn’t get to it, and every time he tried to reach the fruits above his head, they would rise up away from his grasp. Hence: tantalising – ‘tormenting or teasing with the sight or promise of something unobtainable’.

That’s the perfect analogy for standardisation: it torments and teases us with a promise of accuracy, something that is ultimately unobtainable. We should probably be cautious about investing too much time on it. Which is exactly what my mum kept telling me about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Mums are always right.

(Yes, gamers, I know it was called ‘Teenage Mutant *Hero* Turtles in the UK; the original US title is used here to avoid quizzical responses from non-European readers.)

Tes Education Resources: An Open Expression of Concern

This post has been agreed by several teachers and is shared across several blog sites.

In the last couple of years, we have openly expressed concern at the approaches taken by Tes Education Resources to plagiarism and copyright violation, theft of resources, and the selling of resources that violate copyright. This is not a blogpost intended to cast disapproval on those who sell resources. It is a simply an open expression of concern at the approach taken by Tes Education Resources, when these incidents are uncovered. We also wish to make clear that this is not about an individual or anybody working for Tes Education Resources. We believe that this is a systemic problem that should not fall on one person to solve.

We feel that the following issues need to be properly addressed by Tes Education Resources:

·         The fact that people upload and sell plagiarised resources, which have been clearly copied from free shares on Twitter, Facebook, and sometimes from colleagues.

·         The fact that although Tes Education Resources offer ‘goodwill’ gestures to those who give public challenge, and offer compensation when they recognise plagiarism, the onus is on the victim of theft to report and prove the theft.

·         The fact that customers are being advised to buy resources to check the content if they suspect a theft has occurred, and then claim the money back.

These issues need addressing because:

Plagiarism can constitute copyright violation, which is covered by legislation in both UK and EU law, as well as being a feature of international treaties and agreements. We believe that this is not being taken seriously by Tes Education Resources, who provide a platform for the sale of resources which have been taken, copied, and presented as original resources by the thief. Tes Education Resources describe themselves as ‘one of the world’s largest peer-to-peer platforms for teachers to trade and share digital teaching resources’ (Tes Education Resources Ltd: Annual Report and Financial Statements – Directors’ Report 2017). We feel that a company of this scale, regardless of financial status, should not be placing the onus on individuals to identify instances of copyright violation.

A goodwill gesture is something given on a case-by-case basis. It means that those with the time and tenacity to challenge instances of copyright infringement are being offered compensation, but there are victims who are unaware of the issue, or perhaps who do not have the time and resources to prove the provenance of the resource. We believe that the Tes Education Resources could and should ensure there is parity here.

Tes Education Resources have conceded that only 5% of their resource downloads are purchased. The rest are free downloads. We appreciate this valuable resource, but feel that the 5% are being prioritised over the 95%. It is understood that the 5% is the download, rather than the upload, figure – but the point still stands – 95% of people downloading from Tes Education Resources are downloading free resources.

We also believe that asking people to buy resources to check for copyright issues, in order to then claim a refund, is an unfair and illogical request.  Perhaps most pertinent is the fact that all of these issues are contributing to our workload. The Tes recognise this too. In fact, they have an entire section of their website dedicated to this issue – you can read this here: https://www.tes.com/news/hub/workload. In refusing to adapt their practice, either by demonetising the site or by taking further steps to prevent these incidents, teachers are being forced to spend time searching the site for their own resources. When teachers locate stolen resources, the expectation that they buy their own work and prove its provenance is onerous and frustrating.

What Tes Education Resources Can Do:

–          Have a long-term aim to demonetise the site and subsidise it, to enable an entirely free sharing platform for those working in education.

In the meantime:

–          Improve checks on resources to identify plagiarism and/or copyright infringement.

–          Allow for full download with retrospective payment, rather than asking people to buy resources simply to check for copyright infringement.

–          Enable reviews of paid content without purchasing – so that copyright infringement which is clearly evident in the preview pane can be challenged in a review.

What you can do:

–          Avoid downloading from Tes Education Resources until the long-term aim (above) is fulfilled.

–          Use your Social Media account to inform your followers that you are doing this.

–          Share your resources through Dropbox and any other suitable medium.