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Tough Teachers 
19th-May-2006 05:26 pm
slanty, martha
I saw Akeelah and the Bee last week. I enjoyed the movie, but Spellbound, a documentary on a very similar subject, is a much better movie.

Seeing these two in close proximity got me to thinking about fiction and non-fiction, and the way people indicate their views in the fiction they write.

Specifically, the Laurence Fishburne character in Akeelah and the Bee is a character like dozens I've seen in books and movies before; he's the Tough Teacher. In this case, he's Akeelah's tutor that helps her prepare for the regional, and then the national, spelling bee. He's incredibly strict, constantly critical, and extremely sparing with praise, demands to be treated with absolute respect himself, but treats his student incredibly disrespectfully, or in ways that would be considered disrespectful outside of this special teacher-student relationship. The implication, here and in other depictions of the Tough Teacher, is that while the experience of being taught in this way may be unpleasant, it's effective; you need a Tough Teacher if you want to succeed. The Tough Teacher is sometimes a coach teaching a sport, and sometimes a serrgeant teaching how to be a soldier, but the same lesson is always being taught; you need a Tough Teacher if you want to win.

While this is common in fiction because it makes good drama, is it true? I certainly try not to act like a Tough Teacher when I'm teaching people. I've had a couple of Tough Teachers, but none of them have been effective; the teachers I've learned most from have been friendly and respectful, not slave drivers.

Am I anomalous? Does anyone reading this feel they've learned from someone with the authoritarian Tough Teacher style, and if so, was it because of that style, or in spite of it?
19th-May-2006 11:27 pm (UTC) - tough teachers
I didn't see the movie you mention... However, I did have one tough teacher I can remember...

I had never had anyone criticize my writing before (had always done really well, in fact), and he would not give me a good grade for writing style. I struggled for a year, trying to get to an 'A' for style. He'd also chuck erasers at students he caught talking, and he had deadly aim.

It really felt like an accomplishment when I finally got an 'A-' for style from him. I used up all my all-nighters for life in that class, too... :)
20th-May-2006 02:08 am (UTC)
Laurence Fishburn got to be the nice teacher in "Searching for Bobby Fisher" (compared to Ben Kingsley's tough teacher). I suppose it depends on the student's personality. I think it's possible to be both kind and to clearly expect extremely high standards.
What struck me about "Spellbound" (haven't seen Akeelah yet) was the difference from parent to parent. They seemed to range from confused to supportive to high pressure, and yet all the kids did well.
22nd-May-2006 12:09 am (UTC)
First, I didn't think that Fishburne was much of a tough teacher in this movie. Like, he was a moderately tough teacher at the start, but seemed to quickly soften up.

I must say, I never had much success with Tough Teachers. Of course, I'm pretty much a poster child for not really achieving one's potential, so I'm not sure that bolsters the argument either way.

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