Glenn Holland – Mr. Holland’s Opus (1995)

mr_hollands_opus_1995_685x385More than any other movie teacher that I have found, Glenn Holland exemplifies the journey of being a teacher in name only to becoming an authentic teacher.  When the movie first begins we learn two things about him.  One, he is a musician who loves music almost more than anything else in the world.  And two, he got his teaching license as a fall back.

The movie opens in the fall of 1964 as Glenn Holland heads out for his first day of teaching high school music.  He is taking a break from playing music on the road and is hoping the steady paycheque of teaching will assist him in the ability to compose full time.  He learns quickly that teaching may not be the easy street he is imagining.  He begins teaching with a tone of authority and uses a lecture style, projecting music theory to the glazed eyes of his teenage students.


As the day wears on he becomes bogged down in disappointment.  The students are unresponsive.  The school band sounds terrible.  He finds some light when he is befriended by the school phys. ed. teacher, Coach Bill Meister, but even that light is shadowed by Bill laughing at the notion of free time, he can’t remember the last time he had any.

That first year hobbles along for Mr. Holland.  He shows up, he teaches and he sprints home.  His way of teaching music is to lecture the students with none of the love he has for the subject coming across.  He appears more like a music tyrant than a teacher.  He is noticed by Principal Jacobs a few months in.  She approaches him as he is leaving for home at the end of the day, asking if he would assist with a textbook committee.  The exchange that follows is the first challenge he has on the road of becoming more than just someone at the front of a music classroom.

Principal Jacobs: Mr. Holland! Just the man I was looking for. We’re forming a textbook committee for next year’s curriculum. And I would like to have your ideas and suggestions. We meet next Tuesday night in the library.

Glenn Holland: Oh, I’m sorry, Mrs. Jacobs. I’m… I’m very busy on Tuesday night.

Principal Jacobs: Uh-huh. You know, for a good four or five months now, I’ve been watching you, Mr. Holland. I’ve never seen a teacher sprint for the parking lot after last period with more speed and enthusiasm than his students. Perhaps you should be our track coach.

Glenn Holland: Mrs. Jacobs, I get here on time every morning, don’t I? I’m doing my job the best I can.

Principal Jacobs: A teacher is two jobs. Fill young minds with knowledge, yes. But more important, give those minds a compass so that that knowledge doesn’t go to waste. Now, I don’t know what you’re doing with the knowledge, Mr. Holland, but as a compass, you’re stuck.

The next challenge Mr. Holland has concerns a student of his.  Gertrude Lang is a clarinet player in his orchestra who really struggles.  It is not for lack of trying.  She earnestly wants to do well, she just doesn’t.  She becomes the first student that Mr. Holland takes an interest in and begins to give her some of his free time, tutoring her.  As he gets to know her he learns more of why she wants to take music, the family she lives in and what may inspire her.  Her character is an important aspect of becoming an authentic teacher.  A teacher does not just teach a subject matter, a teacher teaches students.  Relationship is an important aspect of teaching.  It is an essential piece.


Although Mr. Holland still dreams of one day leaving teaching to be a full time composer and musician, life still gets in his way.  The next challenge he faces is one of joy and disappointment.  His wife becomes pregnant.  The disappointment piece sounds terrible, but it is a reality of life that keeps him off of his own pursuits.  He will have to continue to teach in order to support his family.  His dream will have to be postponed yet again.  He does find joy in the news as well, he looks forward to becoming a father and sharing his love of music with his child.

As all of these messages come forward to him he begins to open his eyes that there is more to this ‘teaching gig’ than meets the eye.  He sees that his students are doing a terrible job at picking up the course material that he has delivered to them.  They are failing and their answers on his quizzes make no sense.  He discovers that perhaps it isn’t the students who are unteachable, it is he who is not a very good teacher.  And so he tries something new.  He uses their love of popular music (rock and roll) to connect the history that he is teaching to them.  He starts to play the Toys’ Lovers Concerto, which is a take on Bach’s Sonata in G.  This is a defining moment for Mr. Holland. He loves music, his students do to, he just needs to connect with them in a meaningful way.  Knowing your class and your community is a huge aspect of becoming an authentic teacher.  It allows you to relate at a much more approachable, effective way.  He has an opportunity to address this unconventional way of teaching when confronted by the school administration (remembering that this is a time when rock and roll music was somewhat controversial for parents and teachers).

Glenn Holland: Mrs. Jacobs, you tell them that I am teaching music, and that I will use anything from Beethoven to Billie Holiday to rock and roll, if I think it’ll help me teach a student to love music.

Her response is a smile and a comment that that is an answer she can take to the board.

The final push that solidifies Mr. Holland as being on the road to becoming an authentic teacher is the challenge of Louis Russ.  Mr. Holland takes on the marching band.  His friend, Coach Meister agrees to teach the band to march if Mr. Holland will teach Louis music for an academic credit.  Louis is a star athlete who has been suspended from sport until his grades are pulled up. Louis doesn’t play any instrument.  But he has the heart to try.  They agree to try the drum.  And it is a challenge.  Louis can’t seem to get it right.  And Mr. Holland persists with him until finally, one day Louis finds the beat.  It is a time of celebration.  Here is proof that Mr. Holland can actually teach.  He can reach a student with no knowledge or experience in a subject and that student becomes successful at playing his instrument.


There are many other challenges that Mr. Holland faces throughout this film.  As he gets more involved in his school and his students, he begins to pull away from his home life.  His son, Cole, is born deaf.  Mr. Holland largely ignores him for many years, dismissing him because he cannot hear the music that Mr. Holland so loves.  His wife becomes frustrated that Glenn spends more time and energy on the kids he teaches, leaving them with not much. This is a very real struggle for many teachers (and other professionals), finding a balance between their work and home life.  There is a danger of using work as an escape from reality.  One can get so caught up in doing good work, important work that they forget the number one priority of their own family.  It can be easy to defend work like teaching because it is an important, meaningful job.  But it is still a job.  It is part of you, not all of you.

Another challenge Mr. Holland faces around the same time his home life is exploding is that of a student named Rowena Morgan.  Rowena is a beautiful and talented singer who takes a part in the senior show, a Gershwin Review.  Mr. Holland is inspired by her and begins to write music again, this time a melody for Rowena.  There is a very careful line here between Rowena and Mr. Holland.  She represents everything that he has given up to become a teacher full time.  She is young and ready to take on the world, heading out to New York to try to make it.  She implores him to join her and he is tempted.  His final decision to send her off on her own solidifies the end of his own original dream of being a musician to becoming an authentic teacher. Finally, his authenticity is complete.


The movie continues with highlights of Mr. Holland’s life.  He is able to resolve his two lives of teacher and husband/father.  He is able to continue on in the classroom, becoming an effective teacher.  He becomes a beloved fixture at Kennedy High.  That is, until budget cuts close his program down.  Mr. Holland has a few choice words about this to Principal Wolters (who has replaced the much loved Principal Jacobs) including:

Vice Principal Wolters: I care about these kids just as much as you do. And if I’m forced to choose between Mozart and reading and writing and long division, I choose long division.

Glenn Holland: Well, I guess you can cut the arts as much as you want, Gene. Sooner or later, these kids aren’t going to have anything to read or write about.


Glenn Holland: You work for 30 years because you think that what you do makes a difference, you think it matters to people, but then you wake up one morning and find out, well no, you’ve made a little error there, you’re expendable. I should be laughing.

The finale of the movie is a tribute from the school. Current and former students of the school gather together to play Mr. Holland’s American Symphony at a ‘retirement’ celebration.  It is a surprise that touches him greatly.  Gertrude Lang is the MC, now grown and the governor of the state.  She pays him a beautiful tribute:

Gertrude Lang: Mr. Holland had a profound influence on my life and on a lot of lives I know. But I have a feeling that he considers a great part of his own life misspent. Rumor had it he was always working on this symphony of his. And this was going to make him famous, rich, probably both. But Mr. Holland isn’t rich and he isn’t famous, at least not outside of our little town. So it might be easy for him to think himself a failure. But he would be wrong, because I think that he’s achieved a success far beyond riches and fame. Look around you. There is not a life in this room that you have not touched, and each of us is a better person because of you. We are your symphony Mr. Holland. We are the melodies and the notes of your opus. We are the music of your life.

While Glenn Holland may not have gone into the teaching gig for more than a way to make money, he retires in the knowledge that his life has mattered, he has fulfilled his whole dream, he has become and lived the life of an authentic teacher.1_Everett_MrHolland






McAllister – Dead Poet’s Society (1989)


When I was contemplating the film, Dead Poet’s Society I wanted to make special mention of Mr. McAllister, the Latin professor at Welton Academy.  He is not the dynamic teacher that Mr. Keating is at the school, but he is no less authentic.  He is absolutely himself, a man with a love of language who is comfortable in the traditional methods that he uses to teach it.  He of a kindly disposition, befriending John Keating and sharing a relationship of colleague to colleague.  He goes about his duties in the school, supervising the boys when needed (while enjoying his pipe).  He strikes me as a happy, kind, grandfatherly-type of teacher.  He knows that boys will be boys, when to growl and when to leave them be.  He doesn’t need to be mean to keep the students in line.  He doesn’t need to be dynamic in his teaching either.

McAllister is a small, supporting character in Dead Poet’s society.  There are a couple of key scenes that he appears in.  During one meal he and Keating share the following exchange:

McAllister: “Show me the heart unfettered by foolish dreams and I’ll show you a happy man.”
John Keating: “But only in their dreams can men be truly free. ‘Twas always thus, and always thus will be.”
McAllister: Tennyson?
John Keating: No, Keating.

And that is who McAllister is.  He has found himself and he is content.

The second key scene happens near the end of the movie.  As John Keating is packing his things, he looks out of the window to see McAllister walking on one of the outside paths, conjugating verbs with his students.  The two teachers share a moment of acknowledgement.  Yes,  John Keating is leaving the school, but he has left a small impact.  A man like McAllister can stretch the boundaries a little.  He is still conjugating Latin verbs, and still enjoying his teaching, just taking it a little bit out of the ordinary by taking the lesson outside.


John Keating – Dead Poet’s Society (1989)

bf07db6e45549504e8e6fb34bd80ba64I  hesitated to write a post about John Keating (portrayed by Robin Williams) in 1989’s Dead Poet’s Society.  It seems like a very obvious pick from a movie that has inspired many since it’s release.  I remember when this movie came out, I was still a high school student myself and it came as a huge statement.  This was a movie that said something.  Carpe Diem (Seize the Day) became THE statement to make.  I re-watched this movie this past month, looking at it from different eyes.   What does this movie look like now to me?  Who is John Keating to me as teacher looking at a teacher, rather than a student looking at a teacher?

John Keating is the kind of teacher that most students enjoy having.  He is different, a break from the mundane expectations and routines of traditional learning. He is first introduced to the students of Welton Academy in the fall of 1959 as the new professor of English literacy.  He is a graduate of Welton himself and has a list of impressive credentials.  On his first day teaching the senior class he takes them by surprise, calling them out to the hallway to view the photos of the previous graduates of Welton.  This is where he first introduces them to the notion of Carpe Diem, reminding them at the end of class that one day they will be like all these boys who once lived and roamed the halls of Welton, they will be worm food, pushing up the daisies, dead and gone.  Later, the boys discussing the class reacted with the range of “it was weird” to “it was different”.  And different continues on in Mr. Keating’s class.  From tearing out the introductory pages of their poetry textbook, to standing on their desktops to get a different view of the world, one never knows what they will get when they are in Mr. Keating’s class.  They do know it will be different.

What is the effect of all of this ‘different’?  For Knox Overstreet, he is given the courage to pursue the girl of his dreams.  For Charlie Dalton, he takes the message too far too many times, causing him to be expelled from Welton.  For Todd Anderson, he finds the courage to speak out and break through his shyness.  For Neil Perry, his courage to rebel against his father’s plans and pursue his own dreams, brings out his frustration to the point of suicide.  And this is where I struggle with John Keating.  Knowing what I do about different philosophies of education, where is the place for a teacher like John Keating at a school like Welton Academy?  There is no doubt that he is authentic to his love of poetry.  He is authentic in being himself.  He is authentic in that he cares deeply for his students to be who they are, just as he is who he is.  But there is a value in knowing where you are too.  Welton Academy is a Prep. School in New England.  Parents pay to have their boys schooled in the motto of “Tradition, Honor, Discipline, Excellence”.  Is there a way for John Keating to hold true to who he is while still balancing the pillars of the school?  He is clearly  bothered by Dalton’s antics as going too far.  He reminds him that sucking the marrow out of life doesn’t mean choking on the bone.  Keating knows the value of a good education and wants Charlie to continue at school, teasing him that if nothing else he would continue the opportunity to attend his classes.

The tragedy of Neil Perry’s death is one that deeply affects Keating.  He is the one who takes the fall for the school.  They put the onus on him.  In the school’s eyes Keating is the one who caused Neil to step away from his father’s wishes, he is responsible.  What they don’t see is how deeply troubled Mr. Keating is by the turn of events.  The truth is Keating encouraged Neil to speak with his father.  Neil lied, telling Keating that he did, thinking he could get away with it.  Neil’s account of things compared to the reality of things distorted how Mr. Keating viewed Neil’s life.  Upon learning of Neil’s death, Mr. Keating becomes tormented.  This is not what he wanted either, and now he has to take the fall.  I wonder how Mr. Keating proceeds from here?  Does he continue in teaching once he has left Welton?  What kind of a teacher is he?  What impact does Neil’s death have on him?  There is a balance in authentic teaching with staying true to yourself and being aware of staying true to the limits of your school and community.  Is there a place where Keating can do both?

One of the most uncomfortable scenes for me to watch is the one where Mr. Keating pulls out a poem from Todd Anderson.  Anderson is extremely shy and self-conscious.  After crumpling up many attempts at poetry, he decides to come to class and say he didn’t do it.  Any other teacher at Welton would have given Todd a failing grade and let it stay at that.  But this is John Keating’s class and Mr. Keating does not let Todd off the hook so easily.  He reads a piece of poetry describing a barbaric YAWP, asking Todd to Yawp, taunting him until he shouts through the room.  He then has Todd describe the picture of Walt Whitman that hangs from the walls.  The method that follow is certainly unconventional and Todd begins to speak with beautiful, poetic language.  How Mr. Keating works with Todd has me hope he does so because he knows Todd well.  I question how he embarrasses him, a boy already very shy and awkward.  Is it authentic to pull something like this out of a student?  Or, is it more authentic to find another way to bring him out of his shyness in comfort?  Now, because this is a movie, it works.  In real life, I’m not so sure it would.  This is something that could make you lose the relationship with your student.  I remember though, when I was a teenager watching this part of the movie, I thought, “Wow!  That’s amazing!”.  Is Mr. Keating then an authentic teacher?  Or, is he just what Robin Williams and Peter Weir (the director) wanted in the character, the kind of teacher they always wished they had had?  Maybe he is a bit of both.

Ms. Norbury – Mean Girls (2004)


Tina Fey’s portrayal of Ms. Norburry in 2004’s Mean Girls is an authentic teacher is a very modern way.  She is a supporting player in the film, portraying the protagonist Cady’s high school math teacher.  Cady is new to the American high school scene, having spent her life thus far home schooled while living with her parents in Africa.

When we first meet Ms. Norburry she comes in on the first day of school and quickly demonstrates that teachers are in fact real people.  She has just gotten divorced.  Coffee spills all over her.  She mistakes the African American girl in her room as the new student from Africa, instead of Cady.  She tries to cover her embarrassments and maintain composure with a smile.

As the film progresses we find she often uses humor (a combination of wit and sarcasm) which gives this teacher a very human edge often missing in teacher portrayals.  She says what we often think.  There are other elements of the reality of teaching in the American high school added in.  In one scene we discover that Ms. Norburry works a second job waitressing to make ends meet (wearing a very embarrassing button covered green vest).

norburyThe importance of Sharon Norburry in Mean Girls is in her relationship to Cady.  Cady is someone who struggles to find her true place in the American High School social scene.  We know from the get go that Cady is very a smart, academically oriented student.  She is in 11th grade taking 12th grade calculus.  Ms. Norburry picks up on Cady’s intelligence and makes attempts to come along side her and encourage her in academics.  We can imagine that Ms. Norburry knows a thing or two about being a smart woman in a field traditionally frowned upon by men and social peers.  She teaches high school mathematics.  As Cady gets caught up in the social life of high school, she allows herself to intentionally begin failing her courses (in the mistaken effort of gaining a boy’s attention).  Ms. Norburry sees through Cady’s ruse and attempts to reach out to her.  At one point she speaks out stating, “I know having a boyfriend might seem like the only thing important to you right now, but you don’t have to dumb yourself down in order for a guy to like you.”  A point ignored by Cady.

As the movies winds up to its climax all hell breaks loose in the school.  A burn book created by Queen Bee Regina (Cady’s friend and nemesis) is released out into the school by Regina as a way of getting back at Cady.  The principal of the school gathers all the female students together in the gymnasium to try to sort out their behaviour.  Feeling very male and ill equipped to reach out to the female population, he turns the meeting over to Ms. Norburry, who he believes would be better able to relate to these girls.  What happens next is a moment of improvised teaching brilliance and honesty.  Ms. Norburry is able to redirect the anger of the girls into some soul searching work.  She takes the thoughts and intentions behind the burn book and turns it around on themselves.  She makes it very clear that what is written in the book is what they are thinking and doing to each other in secret and that it is not okay.  One of the most quoted lines from the movies happens here: “OK, so we’re all here ’cause of this book, right? Well, I don’t know who wrote this book, but you all have got to stop calling each other sluts and whores. It just makes it OK for guys to call you sluts and whores.”  What follows is a time where these girls are able to be real with each other.  The masks of high school are dropped and they are (for the most part) able to open up.

Although Cady doesn’t come clean about her involvement with Regina and the messages in the burn book at that point, she does begin to become more real.  She begins to take note of how her actions have affected herself and others, including Ms. Norburry (about whom she wrote a very nasty message).  She joins the Mathletes in an attempt to bring up her failing calculus grade, allowing her and Ms. Norburry to bridge the gap in their relationship as well.  Ms. Norburry could have chosen to allow Cady to fail, but in a demonstration of how teachers can put aside their own feelings to teach and guide their students she comes alongside Cady, forgives her and encourages her in her journey.  One of my favorite lines here demonstrates how well she knows and relates to her student Cady just before the Mathlete competition:

Ms. Norbury: You nervous?
Cady: Yes.
Ms. Norbury: Don’t be. You can do this. There’s nothing to break your focus, because not one of those Marymount boys is cute.


Tina Fey created and wrote the movie, Mean Girls after reading Rosalind Wiseman’s book, Queen Bees and Wannabees.

200px-QueenbeeszThe book is a non-fiction book, created to address the very real school issues of girl fighting, cliques, and gossip.  Tina Fey turned the heart of the message of that book into this movie.  What I find interesting is the character she portrays, this teacher, sees the social battles that these girls are facing and tries to guide them through it.  She was once one of them.  This is the hidden curriculum that can often be ignored.  Yes, teenage girls are at school to learn, but teenage girls are also at school for their social life.  That is often where their focus is.  So many of us have walked that journey and navigating the halls of high school are difficult, often shaping our perceptions of ourselves for years afterwards.  Having navigated these halls herself, Ms. Norburry knows that there is so much more to life than those 4 years.  These girls are better than how they treat themselves and each other.  She wants them to know that it is okay to be who they are, they can be smart and successful and still be likable in the end.

Mr. Collins, The Wonder Years, season 3 (1989-1990)


Mr. Collins was a math teacher on the TV show, The Wonder Years.  He appeared in a 3 story arc in the third season.  At this point in time the show’s protagonist, Kevin Arnold, is feeling pretty good about himself in junior high school.  He knows how to negotiate those hallways and where he stands on the social totem pole.  He is a good enough student who thinks he has things figured out.  Meeting Mr. Collins altered that.

Mr. Collins first appears in the second episode of the season, called “Math Class”.  He sets the tone on the first day of school.  There are no ‘getting to know you activities’ that are found in Kevin’s other classes.  Here is a man who is serious about math and imparting knowledge onto his students. He is s very traditional teacher who teaches the material and frequently quizzes his students on it, forcing them to work hard.  Kevin finds this very difficult, especially when he begins bringing D’s home.  At first he tries to question Mr. Collins, doesn’t he know who Kevin is?  Kevin is used to just getting by and doing well with just getting by.  As the episode progresses Kevin gets more and more frustrated until he comes to a point of giving up, failing one of Mr. Collins’ tests, unable to answer a single question.  What happens next is key in understanding the character of Mr. Collins.  As Kevin hands in his test in he speaks in frustration, stating, “you don’t have to mark it, it’s an F, I didn’t answer any of it.” He then admits he doesn’t understand any of it, Mr. Collins smiles and says, “Good, now maybe you are ready to learn.” And crumples the test up.

We meet Mr. Collins again, later in the season in an episode called, “Math Class Squared” (episode 9).  The episode begins with the statement that every boy needs a hero, showing the contrast between a baseball star and Mr. Collins.  Mr. Collins has become Kevin’s hero.  He admires him and he is working hard in his class, pulling what he calls, “a respectable C”.  As the episode progresses Kevin finds that not everyone holds Mr. Collins in high esteem.  A few other boys make fun of him, calling him a “middle aged man, teaching algebra in a bad suit”.  These boys have found a teacher’s edition of the text and have a plan to cheat through the class as Mr. Collins takes his quizzes and exams from this book.  Kevin is at first convinced that Mr. Collins will see through this plan and refuses to join in.  That is until he observes the boys blatantly cheating and Mr. Collins missing the whole thing.  The other boys receiving A’s on their quizzes brings Kevin’s respectable C down to a D as Mr. Collins grades on the Bell Curve.  Kevin tries to get Mr. Collins to see what is going on without actually telling him what he knows.  The only advice Mr. Collins gives is that “every problem has a solution” and leaves it at that.  Kevin begins to question the man he thought Mr. Collins was and joins up with the boys who are cheating.  As a result his grades go up and up until his 72 average turns into a 96.  Mr. Collins response is to place Kevin into the advanced math class, to which Kevin agrees in a panic.  It becomes apparent that Kevin is in way over his head, especially as Mr. Collins continues to call on him and not let him off the hook in the new class.  As Kevin struggles in advanced math he overhears the boys that he was cheating with complaining that they all failed their most recent math exam, Mr. Collins did not take that one out of the book.  Kevin decides to speak with Mr. Collins and before he gets the words out of his mouth, Mr. Collins asks, “Had enough?”  That’s when you know that Mr. Collins knew what was going on all along, “every problem has a solution”.

The third episode featuring Mr. Collins is titled, “Goodbye” (episode 20).  We find that Kevin is continuing on, working at maintaining his C’s in math.  He thinks everything is fine until he sees that Mr. Collins has commented on his friend Paul’s test, “Good job Paul”.  At this point Kevin starts to seek more approval from Mr. Collins.  He wants to hear, “Good job Kevin”.  Kevin approaches Mr. Collins to ask how he thought he was doing.  Mr. Collins looks at his grade book and states that Kevin is earning a C.  On his next test, Kevin works a little harder and earns a B and holds it up for Mr. Collins to admire.  Mr. Collins says nothing.   Mr. Collins decides that Kevin is looking for tutoring to help bring up his grade for the next exam and tells him to come in after school, they can begin to work together.  And so Kevin does.  He works diligently on his math, beginning to understand it better, answering questions correctly in class.  Then one day, a few days before the exam, Mr. Collins is not there.  Kevin finds him in the parking lot and asks what’s up?  Mr. Collins looks very rushed and says he has an appointment and can’t make it.  He says he’s sorry but Kevin will have to work on the rest of the material on his own.  Kevin becomes angry and says, “Hey, I thought you were my friend” to which Mr. Collins replies, “Not your friend, your teacher”.  Kevin decides to give up and on the day of the exam fills in all sorts of sarcastic remarks and drawings.  As he hands it in, he has this look that says, ‘what do you think of that?’  As he walks out Mr. Collins says his name, ‘Kevin’.  This is the first time he’s called Kevin by his first name, up to this point it has always been, ‘Mr. Arnold’.  Kevin keeps walking.  Later at home, Kevin starts to feel guilty, opens his books and starts working on his math in earnest.  On Monday morning Kevin approaches the Faculty Lounge to seek out Mr. Collins for a second chance.  Vice Principal Diperna tells Kevin that Mr. Collins is not there.  When Kevin shares that he would like to leave him a message, Diperna lets Kevin know that Mr. Collins had passed away that morning, they had just found out and were going to tell the students later in the day. In the scenes that follow Kevin is mourning the death of Mr. Collins and feels unsettled about the last time he saw him.  A week or so later Diperna asks to see Kevin.  Apparently Mr. Collins had marked those exams the weekend before he died, but Kevin’s was missing.  There is a blank exam left with Kevin’s name on it.  Kevin sits down and writes his exam.  As he hands it in, he says to Mr. Diperna, “You don’t have to mark it, it’s an A” .  As he walks away he says, “Good job Mr. Collins.”

Mr. Collins is a teacher who has left a significant impact on the life of his student, Kevin Arnold.  At first he appears to be this very traditional teacher, focused solely on imparting math knowledge to his students.  As you get to know him you begin to see the person that he is.  He is a person who genuinely takes an interest in his students, challenging them to not just get by.  He has these little moments where he just smiles that lets you (the audience) and his student (in this case Kevin) know that there is more to Mr. Collins than just a robotic math teacher.  He is the kind of teacher who inspires greatness in his students.

There are a number of contrasts within the show that demonstrate the impact that Mr. Collins has had in the life of Kevin Arnold.  The first, clearest contrast is between Mr. Collins and Kevin’s dad, Jack.  There is a point where Kevin brings home another ‘C’ and looks a bit down about it.  Jack (a blue collar worker) looks at Kevin and says, “There’s nothing to be ashamed of there”.  Mr. Collins redirected Kevin’s questions about a C with what he thought.  Kevin had responded, “A ‘C’ is better than a ‘D’, but not as good as an ‘A'”.  Mr. Collins then stated, I think you can be that student that gets that ‘A’.  A thought that has never crossed Kevin’s mind before.

One of the most telling scenes about who Mr. Collins is to Kevin happens in the episode, “Goodbye”.  Kevin had questioned Mr. Collins asking, “I thought you were my friend!” to which Mr. Collins had responded, “Not your friend, your teacher”.  The teacher/student relationship is a unique one that many find difficult to define.  Kevin is not the first student to confuse the kindness and attention of a teacher with that of a friend.  Great teachers are not friends to their students.  They are in a different role.  Mr. Collins takes on this role to teach, to model, to encourage, to guide and to challenge.  Kevin hasn’t experienced a teacher who has taken such an interest in him before and isn’t sure how to receive that attention.  Mr. Collins’ response to him is perfect.  He is in control of their relationship, giving his approval in a very appropriate way that Kevin has yet to understand.

It is very telling that Mr. Collins understands his student in the different ways that he responds to Kevin’s attitudes in his class.  Not many teachers would take a test that was incomplete and crumple it up.  Mr. Collins understood that Kevin was at the point where he was challenged enough to want to learn.  This is one of the places where Mr. Collins gives Kevin one of his secret smiles, turning him from a regular teacher to an inspirational teacher.  We know that Kevin has taken this challenge seriously as he compares Mr. Collins to a hero in the next episode and is clearly working hard to understand the material.  Mr. Collins also knew that Kevin would learn best about the effects of cheating when he placed Kevin in advanced math.  It becomes very apparent that Mr. Collins knew about the cheating all along, but had to deal with it in his own way, the way that would impact the students the most.  If he had let Kevin fail by letting him write the same exam as the others, he would have lost Kevin’s trust.  Putting him in the advanced math gave Kevin the challenge he needed to come clean.  This had a greater impact on his student.

There are two full circles that jump out in these episodes.  The first circle begins in the first episode when Kevin hands in a blank test to Mr. Collins and says, “You don’t have to mark it, it’s an ‘F'”.  In the final episode Kevin hands in his test to Mr. Diperna and states, “You don’t have to mark it, it’s an ‘A'”.  Mr. Collins has brought Kevin around from a frustrated student, not used to putting in much effort to a dedicated, challenged student who has worked hard for that ‘A’.

The second full circle happens within the episode, ‘Goodbye’.  When Kevin sees that Mr. Collins has written an approval comment on Paul’s paper, Kevin seeks to be singled out and have a direct approval from his favorite teacher.  While Kevin never does get that verbal or written, “Good job Kevin”.  He begins to understand that he had Mr. Collins approval all along.  Kevin’s last remark to the memory of Mr. Collins was, “Good job Mr. Collins”.  He finally gets it.  He understands who this teacher is and what he did for him.  That is the approval.  He doesn’t need more.

As I re-watched these episodes thought of these adjectives that would best describe Mr. Collins character: hard-working, dedicated, caring, and creative.  He has inspired his student to expand his realm of what he thought he was capable of.  Kevin can now go forward, understanding that there are more possibilities in life than just getting by and doing okay.  He can work hard to achieve greatness.