My last session with EDGD824, my English pre-service teachers at the University of Wollongong, arrives this week and I wanted to say something to inspire them. There’s endless pages of quotes that Google can deliver in service of such oratory and many American or British television shows, novels and films that could provide an uplifting excerpt or inspiring Youtube clip. I looked at my bookshelf and rifled through my memories. What about our Australian literary or cinematic culture? Hmmm…I searched, thought some more, tweeted, asked my friends and colleagues:
There are many fictional teachers in novels and films but can you name any inspirational Australian teacher-characters?
What did my search and own memories uncover? Wake in Fright by Kenneth Cook is a great novel and film but hardly the stuff to inspire. In fact, I read this just before heading off to my own first country appointment and almost didn’t make it. Read the synopsis if you need to know why it is a dose of unhealthy realism and why it won’t feature. Similarly, the novel and film of Fortress by Gabrielle Lord is not what is needed and is all a little desperate.
I was sent links with no Australian texts and offered some very negative portrayals, including, from my good friend Mark who said, “Picnic at Hanging Rock…hold on, the teacher lost the kids”. Brendan tried to help, “what about Heartbreak High”? It was soon pointed out that the teacher had an affair with a student. The Bamboo Flute by Garry Disher has some poignant moments but I just remember when the teacher threw the flute in the bin (even though he redeems himself later on). Various tweets and Facebook posts mentioned The Getting of Wisdom and Letters from the Inside but neither seem to fit. The novel and film of Storm Boy, by Colin Thiele, is a personal favourite but the protagonist is avoiding school. He learns much though from the enigmatic Fingerbone Bill who memorably teaches him about the cycle of life. When Storm Boy does eventually go to school the teacher is very nice.
If one widens the search and thinks about teachers in a more holistic sense, we do not seem to have many, if any, Yoda-like characters or wise ones. Is there an Aboriginal elder in our fiction or cinema besides Fingerbone Bill whom fulfils this role? Not that I can find or has been suggested yet. The laconic bushman as teacher? Not really. Crocodile Dundee is not the answer either. Mr Fisher in Home and Away does not inspire, in my opinion.
Mr G from Summer Heights High was suggested – but not seriously. Although, I love our comedy, especially the ability to satirise, lampooning, with a skewer, hypocrisy and pretension, perhaps this skepticism is, in some ways, debilitating? Do Australians celebrate ordinariness to such an extent that holding a figure up as wise, or as someone to learn from, just feels uncomfortable?
In an era where teachers are often criticised by politicians and our standing in the Australian community is often talked down, certainly in comparison to Asian and Scandinavian countries, it is important that we work to build an improved attitude towards learning. Maybe my words should be about a shared future shaped by a generation of creative teachers and their students? It would be wonderful to build a vision into something tangible, something that that allows us to have a society where such positive imagery about teaching and teachers enters our popular, cinematic and literary culture and is not viewed as pretentious, elitist or cringeworthy. Wouldn’t it?