There are not whole a lot of early 90s Steve Martin movies I’ve only seen once that I think about at least twice a month. Actually, there is only one and it is Leap of Faith. In case your interest has been piqued here is the trailer (be sure to keep your eyes open for future action star and former Belfast pool champion Liam Neeson). I promise to come back to the movie after a sharp turn into the world of teaching and teacher training which will start after the movie poster. It should probably go without saying but there are spoilers for this 1992 movie within the post.
In my previous job as a teacher trainer for in-service Korean teachers of English there were plenty of “aha moments” for me. One of them was talking to a teacher about her students back at school and how surprising it was for her that many students simply did not care about English or her English class. I think she found this unfathomable. You see, she was always among the smartest and hardest working students in class and always did her best. I guess she found it so challenging to deal with students who didn’t care at all about school because it was so far from her experience. I think it was important for me as a trainer to understand where she was coming from. Still, I found her surprise surprising.
As a teacher, I have no problem empathizing with and understanding students who give absolutely no shits about school. I was that kid. I have memories of biology class my junior year where all my classmates were scrambling to hurry up and complete their homework, mostly by copying, just before class. I just sat there with no homework and no desire to even copy from my classmates. My decision not to copy was not based on any sense of morality, I was too lazy to even copy. I didn’t care about the assignment or my grade enough to copy. I spent the few minutes before class just chillin’ (like a non-villain but not like a hero of any sort). When it came time to hand in my homework I just said, “Sorry I didn’t do it” but I guess I wasn’t all that sorry because I wouldn’t end up doing my homework the next time either.
Back in high school (and even earlier) I had no motivation for schoolwork and just went through the motions and did the bare minimum required to pass. I don’t remember exactly but I think I mostly somehow managed to get Bs and Cs along with the occasional D. I don’t think I ever got an F in anything except handwriting in around 5th grade (some might say I was divining the increased importance of personal computers and the internet in the future). I do know that my parents and teachers were not exactly thrilled with my academic performance. I am not really sure how I passed because I didn’t do much of anything in terms of assignments.
I often wonder if my poor performance as a student is actually an advantage as a teacher because I can better understand slackers or if it is a disadvantage or of no meaningful advantage at all. I wonder what other people think on this one. I’d appreciate any thoughts or comments on this, especially including personal experiences. My opinion at this moment is that being a “bad” student in the past is not a real advantage but it is generally advantageous to understand students and their motivations (or lack of motivation) but being a crappy student earlier on in life is not required in order to do this. Again, I’d love to know what you think.
Perhaps you are wondering how or if this ties in with the movie mentioned above. Well, there is a scene in the movie where the preacher played by Steve Martin is confronted (you might be “taken” by surprise when you see who does the confronting) for being a fraud and a criminal and not the clean and righteous preacher he has been pretending to be. He turns it around by stating he is better prepared to serve his flock because he has not always walked on the straight and narrow. This scene (which can be seen starting at around the 2:45 mark and truly picking up around the 4:40 mark) comes to mind when I consider teachers who have always been angels struggling to understand students who are far from that.
I can almost imagine giving an impassioned plea if for some bizarre reason training course participants took exception to my less-than-stellar high school transcript. I might say “If you wanna learn how to motivate the unmotivated who you gonna talk to? Someone who has always been motivated and at the top of the class or someone who struggled to be motivated in school?” before going on to explain how I am uniquely positioned to understand students who lack motivation. I have been thinking about this blog post for years (and the movie for even longer). Perhaps writing about it will help me exorcise my demons. Thanks for reading.