One day recently, when I was roaming through Netflix, something told me to watch the movie, Teachers, a dark comedy from 1984. I remembered this movie from when I was a kid – I was 10 in 1984 – but since the movie was Rated R, I didn’t see it then. I mainly remembered that Ralph Macchio was in it, and that he played a bad kid this time, instead of the lovable whiner he was in the Karate Kid movies.
So, I watched the movie last night. The story is based around a set of burned-out teachers and administrators at an urban jungle high school that is being sued by one of its graduates who cannot read and write. Nick Nolte plays the main character, a drunkard, burn-out, former-hippie-radical social studies teacher who is now jaded about whether or not he can actually “save” kids and who wants to have sex with the lawsuit’s lead attorney who used to be one of his students . . . but that’s not what caught my interest.
This was 1984 – 26 years ago! – and Teachers makes a heavy commentary on the exact same issues we are still fussing about today: behavior problems that disrupt classroom learning, tenured teachers who sleep in class while kids do worksheets, underfunded schools that can’t serve all of the students’ social problems, drugs on campus, smart kids that fall through the cracks in the system, inept administrators, parents who aren’t looking after their kids, politically charged central-office bureaucracies that are more interested in self-preservation than in teaching and learning, school system lawyers more interested in winning lawsuits than anything else, and the ever popular teachers union that protect bad teachers. It’s all there.
In one of my favorite parts of the movie, Nolte begins yelling at the lawyer lady love interest (played by Jo Beth Williams) about how everyone wants better schools but nobody wants to buck up and do what it takes to have them: provide the money and be involved. He shouts angrily that everybody wants to point the finger at somebody else, place blame, etc., instead of doing what it takes to improve the schools. He also questions her as to why politicians and lawyers always want to tell teachers how to fix schools, when teachers are the ones neck deep in it everyday, living with the ineffective policies created by politicians and lawyers.
In a way, this film was depressing. I won’t tell the end, in case anyone reading this will actually go watch the movie, but I will say that it made me feel like nothing is going to change. If the same problems were there in 1984, and if we’re still complaining about them today, and if we’re still scapegoating and voting for lower taxes, then what is going to change?