Teachers on TV

OK, I have to get this out of my system.  I get really stinking annoyed at how the teaching profession is portrayed on television.  I could go a lot of different directions with this, but for now, the part that bugs me the most is the lack of ramifications of either entering or leaving a specific job.  TV teachers hop in and out of their jobs with no consideration for the concept of schedules and a school year.  They leave and come back, and no one questions what happens to the students or the course curriculum in the meantime.  It drives me nuts!

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Alyson Hannigan, who plays Lily Aldrin on HIMYM. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Take Lily Aldrin, for instance.  I love How I Met Your Mother.  I’m highly entertained by that show.  Lily and Marshall are easily my favorite couple on television.  But when Lily was a kindergarten teacher in the early seasons?  It wasn’t realistic.  She majored in art in college, but somehow she has a teaching license.  Yes, teaching licenses are required to teach Kindergarten, except maybe in some private schools.  So maybe Lily taught in a private school, and I’ll let that one slide.  If that were my only concern, I’d let it go, but it’s not.

After Lily returns from a summer pursuing art in San Francisco, she goes through a phase of career self-discovery (season 2, episode 6, “Aldrin Justice”).  She doesn’t think she’s passionate about teaching, so she takes a job as a waitress while cycling through several other “life callings” trying to find a passion.  Then her friend offers her a job as an assistant at his architectural firm, and through that job she realizes that she does actually love teaching, and returns to her old job teaching Kindergarten.  Here are my questions…

 Exactly how long did this self-discovery search take place?  She spent two months in San Francisco, which covers most of the summer.  She then worked as a waitress, and then as an assistant at an architectural firm before ending up back in teaching.  There’s usually a narrow window in which schools hire teachers, and there’s no way Lily’s time-table fits that window.  Hiring usually happens April through July, maybe into August if the schools are desperate.  But Lily managed to get her old job back in a snap, after travelling all summer and then pursuing several other jobs.  That’s not how the teaching profession works!  The school wouldn’t have been waiting around to see if Lily would come back.  They would have secured someone else to teach those students in her absence.  Ah, the wonders of teaching on TV…

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Zooey Deschanel, who plays Jessica Day on New Girl (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Then there’s New Girl.  I have mixed feelings about this show.  Sometimes it’s funny, and sometimes it’s too cringe-inducing for me to handle.  I do watch it from time to time, though.  The main character, Jess, is a teacher.  She’s laid off at the beginning of season 2, which unfortunately is a realistic reality of teaching these days.  However, she comes home with a box full of stuff the same day that she receives the news.  She’s done and doesn’t go back.  So did the administration wait until the last day of school to tell her?  If not, who’s teaching her students now that she’s gone?  Unless she was doing something scandalously inappropriate, there’s no way a school would lay her off without allowing her to finish out the school year.  That would create such a huge hassle for the school, it’s ridiculous.

Later, Jess finds another teaching job (yay for her!).  In a recent season 3 episode (ep. 19, “Fired Up”), she helps one of her friends get a job at her school teaching PE (does he have a teaching license?  I doubt it).  Then in that same episode, we learn that the vice principal has resigned and Jess wants the job.  She asks the principal, and he gives it to her on the spot – no taking her request to any board or superintendent first.  No paperwork or interview.  He just tells her she has it, then hands her a stack of work.  The principal also tells her that part of her job is laying off other teachers due to budget cuts.  “Last one in, first one out,” he says.  Meaning Jess must lay off her friend.  When she does, the friend says goodbye to his students and leaves that day.  So do those kids no longer have PE in their schedule?  Where do they go instead?  It makes no sense!  And finally, when her conscience gets the better of her and she wants to hire her friend back, she just does it.  When questioned about the budget concerns, she says that they can rent out a multipurpose room instead.  Really?  Does that add up financially?

I think this episode bothered me because I’ve watched good friends go through those budget cuts and layoffs.  I’ve seen the bureaucracy of large school districts and the emotional turmoil and frustration caused by job loss.  I know teachers who had to continue teaching for weeks and months, finishing out the year with the knowledge that they’d been laid off and wouldn’t be coming back the next year.  Jessica Day’s odd rise to administration and then unprofessional handling of scheduling and layoffs bugged the crap out of me, even if the episode was supposed to have a “feel-good” ending.

I’ve decided not to touch Glee in this post.  The teachers and administration in that show behave so unprofessionally and rearrange themselves and their schedules so often it’s laughable.  I don’t want to try breaking down individual examples because they’re rampant in almost every episode.  Suffice it to say, William McKinley High School would be buried in lawsuits if it actually existed, and most of the teaching and coaching staff would be fired.

I know this is probably true for any profession portrayed on screen.  Any time TV shows try to get scientific, my husband rips apart their science in annoyance (the man has two doctorates; he knows his stuff).  I’m sure doctors roll their eyes watching medical shows, and crime dramas irritate anyone actually in law enforcement.  So we must take our TV with a grain of salt and take it for what it is – fiction.

Is it too much to ask that the fiction be somewhat accurate to real life, though?

9 thoughts on “Teachers on TV

  1. Sadly, you have hit the mark on this one. Very few shows actually show the reality of teaching and even shows that are ABOUT teaching don’t get it right. Perhaps we should install two way mirrors in classrooms and allow the public to watch what happens from another room? Would that solve the misperceptions about education? Probably not.


  2. My favorite teacher portrayed in television has always been Mr. Feeny from Boy Meets World. I wish more TV shows nowadays followed that example. I get the entertainment value in portraying some teachers as funny and goofy, but it seems like most TV shows stick with that portrayal these days, which is unfortunate.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I was dedicated but a lot are not. During Mardi Gras, we had four teachers take a break and go, we are in Florida. That meant four teachers short plus regular absent teachers. I could not in my mind justify this. A good time and the students suffer. I did not get it.


  4. I think you are so correct about this. These are examples of teaching that just bother me, too. I don’t know why television shows do this, but it doesn’t do teachers any justice. This view of teachers causes the beliefs that anyone can teach and that it is such an easy job, which, anyone who has ever taught knows it isn’t! Thank you for completely capturing my view on this as well, as I couldn’t have put it better myself!


  5. Classes last 11 minutes. . .kids all sit still and pay attention except in comedies where they act like animals. . .teachers always stand at the front of the room and write out notes on the board, as if classes all run that way. . Annoying.

    I have always thought education would make a great reality series, but that would violate so many child-privacy laws. . .and probably end up faked.


  6. I wish more careers were portrayed accurately on TV too, but they make changes to get people to watch. About the only way we see careers depicted accurately is in documentaries.

    I wonder what you’d think of the Matthew Perry film, “The Ron Clark Story”, based on a real-life teacher at a tough NY school. Ever seen it?


  7. Thanks for such a thoughtful take on this. As a 6-12th grade teacher myself, I couldn’t agree more! I think TV tends to mirror society’s current views and values, which helps to create trends. Teachers aren’t really valued in this country, so why portray teachers accurately on TV? Sure, TV shows have to “cut to continuity” and can’t show an entire class period, but does our profession have to be boiled down to a whiteboard, a cutesy/boring/ill-tempered talking head, and little else? There are people in entertainment who appreciate teachers. Take movies like “The Great Debaters” or “Freedom Writers”. They’re both based on true stories and show the impact teachers can have on students. But, I suppose a realistic portrayal of a teacher is asking too much of TV these days.


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