Monday, April 13, 2015

Whiplashing Teacher

It has been a routine since a few years that once the Best Movie nominations for Oscars are done, i would watch them all prior to declaration of awards. The idea perhaps has two intentions; one to watch the cream, or as one would like to believe, of the years movies and two to see if my perception of deserving and undeserving is reflected in the results. 

This year however the routine could not be followed. But when the opportunity arose now, I watched them all. And the one movie that I thought i would first make a comment on would be Whiplash.

Reason? Simple. Because I am a teacher.

I will not comment on the merits of the movie. It is excellently made and various reviews have embarked on that. I read The Guardian’s review for a UK view, The NYT for an American view and The Hindu for an Indian view. Barring Sudhish Kamath in The Hindu, the other two reviews have not discussed the ‘teacher’ as depicted in the movie. Perhaps it was not necessary to do so in a ‘movie review’ and I completely understand that. Perhaps the Indian viewpoint is stark regarding a teacher’s role and thus was given a few lines in the review. 

Time and again a teacher who is a taskmaster, who is an epitome of perfection, who is stiff as his cane, who is demanding like a hungry canine, has been shown in movies and successfully so. The point that has been driven home is that such a person, hateful, vitriolic, yet perfect, soft within, caring can bring about the best in a pupil. There has been a contrary depiction too in movies. 

The teacher in Whiplash is a perfectionist who doesn’t care if the pupil is bleeding into the drum for he believes the greatest threat to mushroom mediocrity is to compliment someone with ‘good job’. While it is good to expect a student to excel, to nurture the potential in one, to boost someone to aim higher, to push someone to strive harder to attain that pinnacle, it is equally important to pay heed to the process that one undertakes to achieve that.

At the cost of moulding, creating, chiselling someone to fit the image of perfection, one cannot scar the psyche, hurt the emotions or bruise the ego. It will only create a perfect professional who is broken at many places within. A Michael Jackson could be moulded by his father into the greatest star ever but the process left the child so shattered that he could not pick the pieces up to join them to make a normal life.

Societies have adored such taskmasters, such military generals for teachers who have under their tutelage produced success stories like no other. The gruelling and grilling is thought to be normal. It might be at one point of time but not to an extent as shown in the movie Whiplash. Throwing a chair or a drum or drum sticks is unacceptable. Am sure the reader would not want his or her child to be with such a teacher however assured of success one is. 

Feedback from teachers have been greatly researched on and there is a general consensus that it should be goal oriented, tangible, timely, transparent, actionable, consistent, etc., but the most important element being sensitive to individual needs. My way or the highway approach of a teacher will not work with all in the class. And if one is not thinking about all in the class, is he fit to be a teacher for the whole class?

I personally have had excellent teachers who were terror, to use an oft used term, in class. They were able to convey what they set out to convey, there was certain romanticism about their classes, but the majority of the class could never muster courage to ask doubts, forget about those at the bottom who would just pray the class finishes without them being caught in the crosshair. 

This is not to suggest that mediocrity is to be passed for in the garb of being student friendly. A teacher, like students, is a work in progress. She is not a godsend who has come laden with information; she is not the encyclopedia herself. She is rather one or should be one who instils enough curiosity for the pupil to become a life-long learner. She should be the one who motivates. She should be the one who just throws light on that long path of wisdom and takes hand to show a initial steps through it.

The teacher shown in Whiplash is better relegated to the celluloid. He has no place in the classroom. Such teachers can cause young students to feel bitter about themselves and everything around. Such teachers are ones who can push pupils to take their own lives. In the bargain of creating that one masterpiece should one take the risk of tearing off other attempts?

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