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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Sunday, February 20, 2011

entry arrow3:19 PM | The Classroom in Film

When I was in high school, I dreamed of becoming a medical doctor one day. It wasn't mainly because I was seized with the missionary fervor of being physician to the world's sick, and it wasn't because many of the doctors I knew were people of some standing -- and wealth -- in the community, although these were very good parts of the appeal.

It was because I read Erich Segal's Doctors one day, and the novel romanticized for me the almost heroic efforts of getting through medical school. In my head, I was Barney Livingston and Harvard Medical School was my Mecca. Later on, in old Ever Theater downtown, I watched Marisa Silver's medical school drama Vital Signs [1990], starring Diane Lane, Jimmy Smits, and Adrian Pasdar -- and my silly high school crush on Mr. Pasdar cemented more of my romanticism. Medical school looked so glamorous to me. By the time senior year came around, I was one of those who took the UPCAT in Silliman High, bent on applying for the University of the Philippines' notoriously hard INTARMED program. Of course, I didn't get in -- and the school guidance counselor later advised me that based on my aptitude scores, I was more suited for a degree in the humanities.

But did I listen to Dr. Aguilan's advice? No way.

And so in college, I made myself choose between two options, which I thought would lead me closer to my goals of becoming a doctor: it was either nursing or physical therapy. But the latter, in 1993, was all the rage and most of us incoming freshmen packed into the course attracted by our romance of the medical field -- and the green bucks Physical Therapy promised then. Much later, junior year found me despondent: my heart wasn't in the course. I hated it. My first hospital duty as a student physical therapist came, and I was told to get the vital signs of a patient assigned to me. I went in: I found an old woman on the obese side, and she was glaring at me while I fumbled with my stethoscope and my BP monitor. Her obesity made it impossible for me to get a good pulse -- but I pumped on, anyway, embarrassed and feeling spectacularly lost. When I got out of that patient's room, I remember standing for the longest time in that seemingly never-ending, fluorescent-lit corridor of the hospital, experiencing a sad -- but exhilarating -- epiphany. Can I actually see myself working in a place, like a hospital, forever? And the answer was clear: no.

In the middle of the semester, I told all my teachers I was quitting Physical Therapy, sold all my books, and waited for the term to end. I still went to my classes, still took the exams, still managed to go through the practical demonstrations in Kinesiology. But it was with a heady knowledge that I was through with the charade. I was happy.

But I never planned to be a teacher, either. I remember once telling my best friend in college to shoot me if she finds me grinding away at a classroom. But it was a profession that fell on my lap, and I couldn't say no. That I enjoy the best parts of it -- and I don't mean the paper checking and the grade crunching -- is also something I can't deny. But like my romanticization of a career in medicine, I also know that whatever has pushed me into teaching and whatever I do as a teacher have also been touched by the movies I've seen.

Watch me in the classroom, and you will see traces of what I do in the following clips.

This is Barbra Streisand's Prof. Rose Morgan in her film The Mirror Has Two Faces [1996], in a scene where she teaches a rather large literature class in Columbia University on archetypes and the place of sex and love in literature. This is my ideal: a conversation with an engaged classroom, talking about things I love...

This is Robin Williams' Prof. John Keating in Peter Weir's Dead Poets Society [1989], in a scene where he teaches his high school literature class about constantly looking at things in a different way. My EL 33 student will find this scene quite familiar. This is my ideal: the classroom as a form of theater, with teachers as actors playing a part. Another ideal: the essence of what we do as essentially challenging our students to always try to think outside of the box they've grown up in. (You have no idea how many deeply-ingrained prejudices we have to challenge in our students -- biases and narrow thinking they've inherited from parents or friends. How do you exactly battle that?)

This is Julia Roberts' Katherine Anne Watson in Mike Newell's Mona Lisa Smile [2003], in a scene where, in her art class in Wellesly College, she confronts the expectations of women's roles prevalent in 1950s society. Again, like Williams' Keating, this is about challenging the students about the norms they -- we -- accept without thinking.

And finally, this is the very thesis of what the teaching profession is all about, found in Jerold Tarog's very powerful Faculty [2010]. In this acclaimed short film, two college teachers battle it out about what their vocation is really all about. What do we teach our kids? Where do you draw the line? Must lines be drawn?

There are other films that tackle the teacher in the classroom -- John N. Smith's Dangerous Minds [1995] or Ramón Menéndez's Stand and Deliver [1988] or John Singleton's Higher Learning [1995] -- but the four I've discussed above are the ones that have shaped me the most as a teacher. This is me at work teaching Manuel Arguilla's "Midsummer" a couple of years ago in summer school, captured on film by a former student:

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