To Sir with Love.

 

Greta Tvys Balen circa 1975

Greta Tvys Balen circa 1975 outside her grade 3 classroom.

Since I come from a family of teachers,  many people believed I would be a teacher, too. But I defended my right to be myself. I vigorously proclaimed to the world that I would not be a teacher, that I did not get the teaching gene.

And yet on occasion something would happen that would make me, for a moment, rethink my anti-teaching stance.

To Sir, with Love (1967) was one of those moments. I was not yet a teenager when I first saw the movie, and the powerful combination of Sydney Poitier and Lulu’s song captured my imagination. Although I have seen the movie many times since then each time appreciating something new about the film, this year’s viewing really struck a chord. Let me set the scene…

Sir, or Mark Thackeray to his colleagues, has taught his rambunctious charges to refer to each other using the formal “Miss _____” for girls and the surname for boys. One day, one of Thackeray’s boys comes to the staff room looking for a ball. The boy encounters the negative and argumentative  Mr. Theo Weston, who is confused by the boys politeness. He mocks Thackeray’s attempts at civilizing these kids. The following conversation ensues between Weston and another teacher, Josie Dawes:

Josie Dawes:  Do you object to being taught manners by one of the boys, Mr. Weston?

Theo Weston:  I don’t expect to be taught manners by those morons!

Josie Dawes:  So long as we learn, it doesn’t matter who teaches us, does it?

We are teachers and learners–we must be both. We want our students to be learners and teachers–they must be both. We are told this is the new dynamic; the current shift in educational thinking and practice. John Hattie in both Visible Learning (2009) and Visible Learning for Teachers (2012) instructs us on why and how we need to ‘know thy impact’. He confirms for us the power of relationships in learning and that the most important feedback is that given to teachers by students. Of course, Hattie’s conclusions are based on his huge meta-analysis, whereas To Sir, with Love comes from a generation that simply believed in the possibility of change and the hope for a better world.

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