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Curriculum & Leadership Journal
An electronic journal for leaders in education
ISSN: 1448-0743
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Teaching and the movies: UNE explores fantasy in popular teacher films

Melissa Howarth
Pre-service teacher, University of New England

This paper is one of three articles by pre-service teachers examining the representation of teachers in popular films. The three authors are each completing their first year of the Bachelor of Education (Primary) at the University of New England, Armidale. EDCX100: Passionate Pedagogies, a core unit of the course, contrasts film representations of teachers to the NSW Quality Teaching Model. In the current article, Melissa Howarth provides an overview of the series.


Film has come to play a large role in everyday life, and popular images in film are often viewed uncritically by audiences. Studying teacher films is an effective way to look at the stereotypes associated with the teaching profession.

As pre-service teachers, it is important to learn how to differentiate between reality and fantasy, whilst not disregarding the fantasy completely. 'Inscribed in the fantasy structures of film and in their spectators' readings one finds material fundamentally useful in teachers' learning' (Robertson 1997:27).

Mr Holland's Opus, Dead Poets Society and Dangerous Minds are three of the many teacher films that portray teaching as a heroic profession, in which rebellion can bring about success. Such films often provoke a sense of fear and anxiety within pre-service teachers, as we come to believe that to be a 'quality' teacher we must perform extraordinary tasks.

Passionate Pedagogies at the UNE

EDCX100: Passionate Pedagogies is a core unit offered to first year students studying primary teaching at the University of New England (UNE). It focuses on films and images that portray stereotypes associated with the profession, and aims to help pre-service teachers to recognise the typically romanticised view of the teacher within these media.

During the course pre-service teachers also look more broadly at cultural representations of the 'teacher'. The prescribed text for this unit, Reinventing Ourselves as Teachers Beyond Nostalgia (Mitchell & Weber, 1999:54) employs the term cumulative cultural texts to describe concepts, in this case of the 'teacher', built over a number of decades through a number of text types. This approach helps to explain how Hollywood has succeeded in creating its stereotypical view of teachers.

The course compares these films to researched frameworks, principally the NSW Quality Teaching Model. The course identifies the strengths and weaknesses in both romanticised views of the teacher and in researched models.

By critiquing such films against the Quality Teaching Model, pre-service teachers become aware of the fact that being a 'quality' teacher is not about performing heroic miracles. Although teachers in film may play a large role in the teacher they wish to become, it is important that students learn that there is a lot more to the teaching profession than these films convey.

The following two papers follow through these ideas in relation to two of the most popular teacher films, Dead Poets Society and Dangerous Minds.

Reference List

Mitchell, C. & Weber, S. 1999, Reinventing ourselves as teachers: Beyond Nostalgia, RoutledgeFalmer, London.

Robertson, J.P. 1997, 'Screenplay pedagogy and the interpretation of unexamined knowledge in pre-service primary teaching’, in Taboo: The Journal of Culture and Education, 1, pp. 25-60.

NSW DET 2003, Quality Teaching in New South Wales Public Schools: Discussion Paper, Professional Support and Curriculum Directorate, NSW DET. Retrieved 14 September 2005.


Subject Headings

Teacher evaluation
Education philosophy
Teaching profession
Teaching and learning
Teacher-student relationships
Teacher training
Mass media study and teaching
Arts in education