10 Basic Principles of Our School System, Part 10: Teacher Focus

10 Basic Principles of Our School System, Part 10: Teacher Focus

Finally, after all those weeks (actually, it’s been almost 5 months!), we get to the last part of this series. And we finish with a major issue that dictates most conversations we have about school: teachers. Teachers seem to belong to schools as much as students and the way they act in school seems natural and inevitable. It is one of the biggest problems our school system because it puts the focus in the wrong place. The focus of course is on the teachers themselves. They are the node where everything comes together and where the fate of every student is decided. One of the most common expressions when talking about school is “Well, that depends on the teacher.” Let’s break down what exactly that means.

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I Still Want to Hear What You Have Got to Say (Even If You Don't Like Me)

I Still Want to Hear What You Have Got to Say (Even If You Don't Like Me)

It’s that time of the year again, the end of the school year, the summer seems so close and school is dragging as bad as the worst internet connection. I wrote about that time about a year ago (or, hold your hats, 203 posts ago!) and I thought it’s interesting to go back to that topic again. The topic being feedback.

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10 Basic Principles of Our School System, Part 5: The Curriculum

10 Basic Principles of Our School System, Part 5: The Curriculum

Ugh, the curriculum. Of all the topics I dreaded this the most, so maybe it’s good not to put it off much longer. The curriculum is this weird thing that is something completely obscure for students, who nevertheless hate it because many teachers use it as an excuse for doing boring topics. “Why do we have to do this?” “Because it’s in the curriculum.” It’s a comfortable answer for teachers but basically a non-answer for students. To them it’s almost a myth, that mysterious guidelines which teachers follow all the time and which tells them exactly what to do. Does that sound like reality?

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Notes on a Scandal (2006)

Notes on a Scandal (2006)

Notes on a Scandal is fascinating right from the start. I had the big fortune of not knowing what the movie was about at all. In fact, I was under the impression I was watching Veronica Guerin and was waiting for Cate Blanchett to become involved in politics and spies. This way, the movie surprised me several times because if you really have no clue, you don’t expect many things that happen. The main drive comes from the incredible performances by Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett who are really as good as any review says. In a way, it doesn’t matter what they are talking about because they inhabit their characters so perfectly that anything they do would be interesting to watch. The direction by Richard Eyre is also excellent and Philip Glass’ score is breathtaking (again). It is a captivating movie that forces you to keep watching the disaster unfolding.

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10 Basic Principles of Our School System, Part 1: Homework

10 Basic Principles of Our School System, Part 1: Homework

I decided to start a meta-series about school. After discussing the principles of our school system with a class again (something I do on a regular basis), I thought that it would be interesting to look at everything that we consider basic aspects of this system and discuss what doesn’t work about it and why. “Wait,” you say, “does that mean you’re trying to dismantle the school system from the ground up?” Well, yes, in a way, but I also want to look at those aspects and see what could work or how you could change it. But still, I do believe our school system is one of the biggest problems in our society, shaping young people in a way that makes them accept many absurdities and lies that keeps our culture alive and destructive. So any suggested change is relative to my overall disregard of this system. Note also by the way, that when I say “our school system” I mainly talk about the German school system as I know it. I know there are other systems or simply other schools (which is one way I was inspired to write this), but I’m sure much of it also resonates elsewhere. So, here you go, the 10 basic principles of our school system as I see it (in no particular order):

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The Habit of Standing Up

The Habit of Standing Up

Resulting from the long “holiday week” and a couple of sick days I came back to school today after about 1,5 weeks to my first class of the day. I put my stuff on the desk, waiting for everyone to get ready to and saw some students getting up and slowly most students were standing after a while. I saw some students tell other students to get up too, so that we could start. I couldn’t help laughing at the sight of the standing class and said: “It’s obvious I’ve been gone for too long, since you all forgot that you don’t have to stand at the beginning of my class.” Even then, after reminding them that this is something they don’t have to do, there was some confusion before everyone got back to their seats, some admitting to a certain stupidity for having forgotten this.

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Jonas (2011)

Jonas (2011)

(no real spoilers)

Jonas is an unusual and unique movie that is hard to categorize. It is a German movie, first of all (which I have been trying to catch up with a little bit more), but it only features one real actor in a mixture of fiction and non-fiction. Christian Ulmen is put into a real situation, acting as a student in a school, surrounded by real students and teachers and seeing what happens. To me, it mostly worked because of the fascination with his character and how much you can learn about school from it. Still, the problem is that the movie never really lets you know how much is orchestrated and how much is spontaneous. Maybe it doesn’t matter, but there is an uncanny feeling that remains. Still, Ulmen’s acting is really amazing, especially since he does not turn it into a caricature (apart from the silly love story which is not really working).

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Student Looks at Teacher

Student Looks at Teacher

Here she comes. Damn, I hoped she was late today. Why can’t she be late? It’s not like we can’t wait a bit longer to start the lesson. It’s not like anyone cares. Including her. That’s why she is so late so often, right? She probably has better things to do than teaching us. And we certainly have better things to do as well. Oh, look at her, she didn’t prepare anything again and just checks the textbook to see what she can do today. She didn’t prepare at all! And she never does. Why should we care about any of this shit if she obviously doesn’t? Such a waste of time. And I can’t look at my phone because she’ll confiscate it right away because she has the power. It’s so stupid.

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You Belong on the Radio - 1980 Edition

You Belong on the Radio - 1980 Edition

Of course I couldn’t do a year’s theme week without looking at this year’s songs. Because there is only one 1980 week, I decided to look at the top 10 of the top songs of the year from Germany, the UK and US simultaneously, since they also overlap pretty much. Is the music of 1980 as dark, detached and depressing as everything else this week? We’re about to find out!

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Why Being a Teacher Sucks (Sometimes)

Why Being a Teacher Sucks (Sometimes)

My holidays are almost over and once school starts, I will probably return to more thought pieces on school and general things. But to get ready for school and after Detachment, I thought I could spend two posts on reflecting what exactly I like and don’t like about being a teacher. And as I dutifully learned in school, I start with the bad things now and continue with the good things on Sunday. I heard this will strengthen my conclusion. So, in no particular order and without an end in sight as I write this now, some of the reasons what’s bad about being a teacher (and if you haven't seen, I explained why I'm a teacher already).

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Detachment (2011)

Detachment (2011)

(spoilers ahead)

Detachment is a movie about school, so it’s made out for me, obviously. It made me very angry. The movie is directed by (yeah, yeah, "the infamous") Tony Kaye and I would put most of the blame for the failure of the movie on him, especially since he is his own cinematographer. I’m not sure if the script could have been filmed better (as Bryan Cranston claims, who has the most unnecessary role in the movie, so the feelings might be mutual), but the direction seems totally misguided. But even apart from that, the movie is full of clichés and school tropes, thereby neglecting its own purpose of trying to show what school is like. The great actors are mostly wasted. Yes, Adrien Brody is great, they’re all great, but why have some big names in the credits only to make them say one or two lines? The editing is sometimes off (look at the first principal scene) and the camera work is pretentious. But the biggest problem I have with the movie is the message it sends and the contradictions it gets caught up in. A movie doesn’t make me angry often, so I want to dive into why in more detail.

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Our Life Is a Movie: Dead Poets Society (1989)

Our Life Is a Movie: Dead Poets Society (1989)

Joining the Robin Williams honorary bandwagon? I’m happy to! Dead Poets Society is one of my favorite and most influential movies, so it seems obvious to look back at it now in the late aftermath of Williams’ death. The movie works for me on many levels, mainly in its depiction of a good and unusual teacher, but also by showing an authoritative, limiting and cruel society and the effects it has on its young people. This way the film inspired me in many ways, not just for becoming a teacher. I must have seen it the first time early, when I was around 11 or 12 and I watched it again and again. What's really a shame is that in schools, the novelization is often read when there is no reason on earth not just to use the movie. Curiously, this is one of the few movies where I really disagreed with Roger Ebert (who got me into movies so much more than I already was, so I'm a big fan of his), who called it “manipulative” and full of “platitudes.” Reading his review makes you wonder how he even came up with two stars. I get what he says and maybe even understand how you could view the movie this way, but to me, it’s just a great inspirational movie. Here’s why.

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Fack ju Göhte (2013)

Fack ju Göhte (2013)

(spoilers ahead)

Fack ju Göhte is the most successful film in Germany in 2013. Does that mean anything? Probably not, as success is rarely in conjunction with quality when it comes to movies (or anything). The movie is something like a school comedy, which might be a reason why it is so beloved by students since they enjoy laughing about school. But the plot is… you can’t even call it absurd because it so obviously is just an excuse for the movie to get a bank robber into a school posing as a teacher – that’s the “gimmick” of the movie and the plot behind it (that his bait money is buried under the school) is not believable for a second. Does the movie work? It’s difficult for me to say. My expectations were very low and the movie was better than I had thought. But it wasn’t great. It has its moments but the style of comedy, a sort of constant noisy, over-the-top, aggressive humor, is hard to bear at first, but you get used to it. The characters are mostly clichés, but they are allowed to have some depth at times and even some growth, more or less. Some of the humor works too. The movie strangely grows on you over time, if you don’t think about it too much. I wouldn’t recommend it, but it didn’t hurt to watch it.

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I Want to Hear What You've Got to Say

I Want to Hear What You've Got to Say

Every year every teacher and student dreads the last weeks before the holidays. Once the grades are made, all potential motivation vanishes and everyone just waits until it’s over. This is interesting because it shows the pretense we hold up that we learn important things in school. If they were so important, it wouldn’t matter if there are grades or not, but the last weeks always unmask how everything is governed by grades, thereby taking away any interest students could have in a subject. But that’s a different story.

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Power Reversal (II)

Power Reversal (II)

I tried my experiment again recently. Two different students tried to be teacher for a whole lesson. They are generally good students, they had a plan and motivation, so what could go wrong? Yes, everything! At the end of the lesson, they felt depressed, angry and frustrated. They did not understand what had happened. No one was listening to them. They lost control quickly. Their plan didn’t turn out as they thought.On the other hand, I made some observations myself while sitting in the last row with the other students. I was shocked at several things. How I didn’t hear anything anyone else said when they participated and how little anyone cared. How quickly I fell back into the role of a student, talking to others, looking at the clock repeatedly, waiting for the lesson to end. How other students completely went nuts, running around in class, throwing stuff, insulting the teachers, although I saw everything.

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