Analyzing A Teaching Style
Dangerous Minds was a Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckhemere Production. It explored the challenges of being a teacher in an urban setting. There was a backdrop of depravation and ignorance. This was not only reflected in the student-body but in the administration as well. It sent a message to many in academia. Teaching can involve much more than merely communicating a curriculum to students. It can entail empathy and emotional adjustments as well for both students and teacher.
Being a good teacher requires a lot of patience and understanding. The teacher, Ms Johnson, (played by Michelle Pfeiffer) was given the task of instructing a group of “educationally challenged” students. These students had behavioral problems and felt victimized by the current educational system.
Being An Innovative Instructor
Ms Johnson was not given an accurate description of the type of students in which she would be teaching, nor the environment surrounding the students’ destructive behavior. The assistant principal offered Ms Johnson what seemed like an interesting and challenging assignment.
Any teacher would feel apprehension if faced with a challenge of this magnitude, and without a genuine love and commitment to the teaching profession would flee in terror. And, in the beginning this is what Ms Johnson did. However, with prompting from a good friend and fellow teacher, Ms Johnson decided to make an attempt at teaching these students.
If given the same scenario, it would be interesting to incorporate some of the techniques used by Ms Johnson to gain the cooperation and respect of the classroom. One technique that could prove beneficial is the concept of having the students beginning their academic adventure with an “A”. Ms Johnson informed each student that this was in fact what they would have and it should be the endeavor of every scholar to maintain that grade. This method does work, because it was incorporated in a junior college in Tennessee. The students really appreciated the concept of knowing that they had already possessed the desired grade and that it would be up to them to keep it. Of the students who were “stakeholders” of this concept, 99% of them were able to maintain their averages. The only students who were not successful were the ones who fail to attend class, therefore not meeting the attendance requirements.
There is always the Problem Student ...
However, what should not be integrated in any classroom that was adapted in the movie was having one student dominate the class, and to use that student’s influence to ensure the cooperation of the other students. It can be concluded that when any one student believes that he/she has the upper hand in an academic situation, there can be long-term problems trying to “accommodate” that student. It would be more beneficial to strategize with other teachers to see what should be the acceptable approach, an approach that is both accommodating to the teacher and the other students.
Diversity is good when addressed properly ...
There were many other challenges besides the “lead student” peer problem. Ms Johnson’s class had ethnic diversity. Her class consisted of Hispanics, African-Americans, and poor Caucasians. Ms Johnson’s class was considered both economically and socially disadvantaged.
One scene consisted of a Hispanic young man and an African-American young man in confrontation over a Judo movement explained by Ms Johnson, and demonstrated by the young men. Ms Johnson attempted to use the lesson as an icebreaker to achieve the students’ attention. A more non-threatening demonstration should have been incorporated due to the volatile nature of the student body. Although Ms Johnson meant well; she was severely reprimanded by the principal.
Make your students Stakeholders in Learning ...
In another scene from Dangerous Minds, Ms Johnson attempted to introduce the students to the poetry of Dylan Thomas by offering a reward to the students who could find similarity between the writing style of the Songwriter, Bobby Dylan and the Poet Dylan Thomas. Ms Johnson called the contest the Dylan-Dylan Contest.
Since this particular scenario was in a classroom setting; it can also qualify as a teaching experience because a new skill was being reinforced. This skill was the ability to distinguish similarities in writing styles of different authors. Ms Johnson was also exposing them to the writings of Dylan Thomas.
The students had already been exposed to Bobby Dylan and his unique writing style. By conducting a “contest”, the students would have to actually read the poetry of Dylan Thomas to be able to find a similarity between his writing and the writing of Bobby Dylan. And, as a further inducement, the student would be rewarded with a dinner engagement with Ms Johnson in a fancy restaurant.
The strengths of this particular presentation/technique are that it gives each student the opportunity to go to the library and research the poet Dylan Thomas and read some of his writings. However, this could have backfired if a student found someone else to do all the work for him, and he just took credit for writing the paper. The teacher is relying on the honesty of the students, and these students were street smart and could have realistically found other methods to achieve the same results. When teacher instruct students with special needs it is important to create a level of honesty and reliability.
Educating your students is a Total Experience ...
The principal and the assistant principal in this movie were not supportive of Ms Johnson’s techniques for creating a learning atmosphere in her classroom. The principal again reprimanded Ms Johnson and made her aware that she was to comply with the board of education guidelines and use the required learning materials. Although it is good to introduce innovative ideas into any learning environment—it is also necessary to have the approval of your administration before executing these changes. When you can show that it will benefit the students in ways that traditional methods cannot; there should be fewer obstacles in making this technique apart of your teaching curriculum.
Although the movie centralized on the teacher and her students; it would have been interesting to discover how the parents’ attitude added to the negative perceptions of their children. One would also wonder why the principal was more concerned with how a student entered his office, than to try to ascertain the need a student possessed that would cause him to violate a rule. It must always be noted that a teacher or any other educational practitioner should understand that although rules must be followed, there could be extenuating circumstances that negate protocol.
There was a bitter-sweet ending to the movie that is a message to all academia—never be too concerned with procedure at the risk of losing a student.
Taking It a Step Further
Are you a Traditional or Innovative Instructor
© 2014 Jacqueline Williamson BBA MPA MS