Thursday, February 21, 2013

Movie in Education: To Sir With Love

To Sir, with Love (1967)
Directed by: James Clavell
Starring: Sidney Poitier, Judy Geeson, Lulu, Christian Roberts

To Sir, with Love is our first of three films in the series that looks at inspirational teachers. Teachers play an undeniably integral role in education; they are the primary purveyors of it.
The film industry has long been interested in portraying teachers as individuals with the power to make a difference, more so success stories of teachers assigned to “trouble” schools.

The movie is a classic that was made memorable by the performances of Sidney Poitier and the students (as well as by the theme song of the same title sung by Lulu).

Set in 1960’s England, Mark Thackeray (Sidney Poitier) is a trained engineer unable to find work. Out of necessity, he takes up a teaching position at a school in the slums of London’s East End.

Assigned to the senior class made up of rambunctious and rebellious students, the film follows his journey with the students from struggle to success and, parallel to this, his eventual conversion to the teaching profession.

Lessons learnt

Thackeray has a hard time with his students — they show him no respect, have no interest and pay no attention during class time — until he realises that he must stop treating them like kids and start treating them as “adults”.

At this pivotal moment of realisation, he symbolically throws all the textbooks into the bin, “These are useless to you,” he tells the class.

“We’re going to talk, you and I. About life, survival, love, death, sex, marriage, rebellion — anything you want.”

From this point on, he no longer begins his class with “copy this down,” but with “what would you like to talk about today?”

Immediately the students sit up; they are more interested and engaged, their class time has become more enriching.

He also implements a strict code of common courtesy and personal grooming in the classroom, advising the boys to be men and the girls to be ladies.

There are discussions, a cooking demonstration (by Thackeray himself) and even, for the first time, an excursion to the Victoria and Albert Museum.

At the same time, the student-teacher relationship improves, perhaps largely helped by the maturity with which Thackeray treats the students. They get to know him, laugh with him and respect him.

In fact, so grateful and attached are they that they even get “Sir” an end-of-the-year present.
From these positive developments, we can see that his teaching methods work well.

Consequently, the film raises an interesting and topical point regarding what is being taught in the classroom: are students being taught the right and relevant things in the right and relevant ways?

Thackeray abandons textbooks in favour of life skills and life issues; exercise books in favour of culture and exploration.

He encourages questions and stimulates discussions.

What Thackeray teaches may not be the prescribed syllabus or curriculum, but by no means is it less of an education.

In fact, by preparing his students for what is waiting for them “out there” and for what they will need in the working world, he is arguably providing them with something closer to a real education.

Talking points

Now that we have started a discussion, these talking points are included in the spirit of furthering it. They are merely jumping boards to help you along with thinking about the film.
  • What do you think a real education is? 

  • Can you think of something important you have learnt in the classroom that has not come from a textbook? 

  • Do you have a good relationship with your teacher/students? Do you have a teacher that inspires you? What do you think makes an inspiring teacher?
We encourage you to watch the film and formulate your own ideas.

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