Teacher Sterotypes in Writing

As a teacher myself, I get pissed off by the repetitive sterile behaviors writers give teachers in books and films. It seems that almost every educator is a “nice guy” out to help the students. Trust me, this is certainly not the case.

A good example came from a book Wonder where the teacher said, and I quote, “Settle down class.” I’m sure you’ve heard this hundreds of time as I have from other films and books. I’ve never uttered that phrase in class. Ever. Mostly because it’s completely ineffective. It’s what new, right out of university, teachers say because they want to be the students’ friends. Hell with that. I’m not twelve. The kids have enough friends. But only one teacher. I say, “Sit down and give me your attention.” This usually works. I don’t mean to be a hard ass, but every time I ease off on the kids, they go bananas and cause trouble.

Another thing I see in far too many films and novels: the teacher half sitting on the edge of his desk. This is a casual folksy style of teaching that says, “Hey, listen to me. I have some great stuff to teach you.” Nuh uh. This doesn’t work. The kids ignore you and keep doing anything but pay attention. Besides, I’ve tried it and it’s damn uncomfortable.

I’m guessing, and this is long shot, that most people that write about teaching have never taught. Not really. A seminar to adults does not compare to little kids or amped up teens.

Uber teacher Amy Squirrel

Uber teacher Amy Squirrel

The best film that depicted teachers was Bad Teacher. There are plenty that could care less about the students. Others that go overboard in zealous one-up-manships. School is a dramafest, for the students and the teachers. If only writers could capture this.

Tim Kane

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10 of the Worst Reality TV Concepts and Catchphrases

I watch a lot of reality TV. Not because I adore it. Mostly because I hardly watch TV at all these days and there’s little commitment with these shows. You can watch one or two episodes and see all you need. I was recently watching Craft Wars (with Tori Spelling) and caught the most ridiculous elimination catchphrase: “Pack up your glue gun. You’re done in this craft war.”

This got me thinking. There have been as many lousy reality TV concepts as there are bad elimination catch phrases. Here are few that, thankfully, no one has tried yet.

10 American’s Top Politician
Honestly, this is how we should do elections. More people would watch and probably vote. However, it would truly underscore the shallowness of our political system.

Elimination Catchphrase: The votes are in… Your campaign is over.

Will Ferrel and Zach Galifianaki compete for congress.

9 Barista Wars
I’m guessing baristas would battle over who could whip the best foam on a cappuccino or churn out the frostiest frappe.

Elimination Catchphrase: You’re frappe was forgettable.

8 Top Neighborhood Watch
Inspired by the movie, The Watch, perhaps warring neighborhood watches could compete over the best way to foil car thieves and burglars.

Elimination Catchphrase: Pack your flashlight and leave the neighborhood.

The Watch movie starring Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill, and Richard Ayoade.

7 Top Skating Pro
Yes, we have the X Games, but what about the drama behind the half-pipe? Here skaters would compete for the best moves and the most stellar personality.

Elimination Catchphrase: You’re ollie ollie outta here. (Ollie is the name of a basic movie in skateboarding.)

6 Project Gossip
Rumors always plague us wherever we go. Yet who can dish it out the best? Finally a Reality TV that has snarky back-biting during AND after each competition.

Elimination Catchphrase: The dirt you dished didn’t stick. Time to clean up you game.

5 Hacked
Gardeners compete each show to create the best landscape. There’s a special segment with a mystery shrub. Ooo, so exciting.

Elimination Catchphrase: Pack your shears and mow. (Can you hear the rim shot? I can.)

4 Garbage Wars
Dueling sanitation workers compete to collect unusual trash items in the shortest time. Imagine Fear Factor but as a job.

Elimination Catchphrase: You’ve been kicked to the curb.

3 America’s Next Top Teacher
As a teacher myself, it sometimes feels like this. Here we give a set of teachers the worst students, no supplies, and a cramped room to teach in. (Hey, it’s called reality, people.)

Elimination Catchphrase: You have a failing grade. You’ve flunked out of school.

2 Project Spreadsheet
Finally, a show that explores the devil may care life of accountants. Each episode sees which accountants can make it through various financial challenges and… (wait for it) come back in black.

Elimination Catchphrase: You’re bottom line didn’t hold up. You’re downsized.

Although Dwight Schrute isn’t an accountant, he certainly could do the job.

1 Top Surgeon
Life or death. Who wouldn’t watch? One slip of the scalpel and we lose the patient. At least they pay the patient volunteers well. Plus you get to be on TV.

Elimination Catchphrase: You didn’t make the cut. Pack your scalpel and exit the hospital.

Forever watching…

Tim Kane

How Teachers Have Killed Generations of Writers

First off let me admit that I am a teacher. I teach every subject: from math to reading. Yet, I’m also a writer. These shouldn’t be mutually exclusive, yet somehow they are.

Let me explain. I hated creative writing in school. From my third grade book project, where I got a C because of my atrocious spelling, up through high school and some off the wall assignments, my writing accomplishments were few and far between.

What repulsed me so about creative writing was The Prompt—that teacher generated idea that completely sucks the life out of any creativity students have.

Need some examples? Takes some of these:

  • Imagine you’re a snowflake.
  • What would a day as a squirrel be like?
  • Write about your most memorable day.
  • Write about one of your challenges.

And the list goes on. I mean, really? That’s the best the teacher could think up? Though the truth is somewhat sadder. Most of these ideas have been generated years ago and simply persist, like viruses, ready to infect the creative writing spirit in new hosts.

Let’s explore these narrative nuggets, shall we?

Imagine you’re a snowflake.
Sure. I fall. It’s cold. I land. I melt. Story over. Maybe, if I’m really creative, I’ll land on some kid’s sticky tongue and melt.

What would a day as a squirrel be like?
I don’t know. Boring? I collect some nuts. Climb a tree. Twitch my nose. A whole lot of nothing.

The problem with these two prompts is that most kids will write pretty much what I have. Then the teacher will glance at it and ask for more. Then the kid will sit in his or her desk and look busy for the next twenty minutes, frustrated that no more ideas come. Hey, at least these prompts give you a few sentences to jot down. Let’s look at the next two.

Write about your most memorable day.
Write about one of your challenges.
Even one of these is enough to cripple even the brightest student. I’ve seen it before. The kid sits there, for twenty or thirty minutes, wondering what to write about. Even starting is hard because first you must pick your “memorable” event. Or decide what has “challenged” you. These are the sorts of prompts colleges dream up as submission guidelines. That’s fine. Colleges are meant to challenge you. But a sixth grader could use more help.

Eleven years of this sort of torture might have obliterated my writing spirits, had it not been for one teacher. In my senior year at high school, I lucked into a new course by Susan Vreeland called “Writer’s Workshop”. Her writing prompts were entirely different.

She’d show us a photo of a barn and then ask us to describe it in 100 words or less. However, we couldn’t use the words: barn, red, paint, or hay.

Although there was some head scratching at first, these seemingly strict limitations actually freed me. I had the picture to start with, so I wasn’t stuck dreaming up what to write about. Yet with the word limitations, I couldn’t phone it in by describing the red barn with peeling paint and stacks of hay.

I recall that students came up with all sorts of stories. One guy had a murder in the bard. Another talked about the animals inside. I can’t even recall what I wrote. All I knew was the words flowed.

So is there a solution? Yes, as a teacher, I want to give my students some guidance—a direction—to write. Then I want to step back and let them create. I don’t want a prompt so arbitrary and restrictive that it makes it impossible for anyone to write.

Yes, there are certainly those kids who can and will write about their memorable day as a squirrel. I’ll let those kids go for it. For the rest of us, let’s try something that will kindle our imaginations rather than douse the fire.

Tim Kane