By The Landlord
Dewie: OK ... 8:15 to 10, rock history. 10 to 11, rock appreciation in theory. And then band practice till the end of the day.
Frankie: What about math?
Dewie: No, not important.
Brilliant, inspirational, cruel, witty, and unpredictable? Or boring, angry, frustrated, vindictive, and totally pointless? Which were your teachers? And, as for you, you’re a complete waste of time. Do you actually want to learn? Or just mess about? Would you like to share that with the class? No? Go and stand outside. I’ll deal with you later...
It’s a cliche, but you never forget your teachers. It might be the one who throws a piece of chalk at you, just missing your eye. Or the one who talks in sentences without a pause, stares and picks on someone, building to an impossibly difficult question, but then suddenly punctuates the end of his sentence - by swivelling on his heels towards someone else. Please, anyone else. Oh the delicious cruelty of it all. Or the one who waves a stick with a nail on the end of it under your nose, while simultaneously trying to tickle you or make you laugh. I don't suppose that is really allowed any more.
Perhaps it is the primary school teacher, who one day is a bossy woman, but the next day is suddenly the dawn of your first sexual arousal? Or perhaps it is the teacher you, as nasty teenagers, tormented? The teacher who broke down and cried. Or the one who could not help but speak in innuendo but had no idea he was doing it or why everybody was laughing. Or the one who spoke in nothing but innuendo - on purpose. Or the one with the hearing aid? Oh yes, we would hum softy at the back of the class, so he would think he was receiving feedback, so he would get agitated, and then we’d mouth our words so he thought he had to adjust the volume, after which the next person answered him at the top of their voice. Little fuckers.
“Good teachers make the best of a pupil's means; great teachers foresee a pupil's ends.” said the singer Maria Callas, but how are teachers, and any other kind of educators, portrayed in song? And can anybody be a teacher? “Failure is a great teacher,” said Steve Harley. “Everybody’s a teacher if you listen,” said the actress Doris Roberts. So what makes a good teacher or a bad one? Songwriters need teachers to react against, or look for inspiration from, so there’s no shortage of teachers good, bad, ugly, beautiful and a whole lot more in song. But whether its about hating, being inspired by or falling for your teacher, for songwriters and everyone else for whom the experience strikes a chord, teachers are a key part of our exposure to adulthood, marking us for life.
Authority figures of learning, whether at school, or college or later, come in all types, and it is the relationships, communication and feelings they inspire that are just as important as anything they actually teach. To give you some inspiration, here are a few outstanding examples in the world of books and film, many of whom capture some classic qualities that also come up in lyrics:
First up, the gym teacher. At school we had one who, in retrospect, had extremely dubious teaching methods, the least of which was occasionally sending one of us the the local shops to buy for him “20 Bensons”. We’ve all experienced the bullying, vindictive teacher, but is there a less subtle or indeed more outrageously funny hypocritical one than Brian Glover’s Mr Sugden the gym teacher in Kes?
A teacher is supposed to be a moral pedagogue, someone to look up to, someone with life skills. Is there any teacher as cool as Sidney Poitier in To Sir WIth Love (1967) here in contrast to his original rebellious school role in Blackboard Jungle (1955). Note I've chosen a clip without Lulu.
Some teachers are simply terrifying. Mrs Appleyard in Picnic at Hanging Rock: “There are places for girls in your predicament. Institutions. As your fees have not been forthcoming …You will be returned to the orphanage.” Brrr ...
Some are obsessive, fearsome autocrats full of anger. Here's Mr Rooney in Ferris Bueller's Day Off: "“I did not achieve this position in life by having some snot-nosed punk leave my cheese out in the wind.”
For Matthew Broderick, from being that "snot-nose punk" in the 1980s, the tables turn when he becomes the impotent teacher in the brilliantly funny Election (1999):
Some teachers simply become cynical. You can't blame them. But sometimes teacher relationships get out of hand. In another superb performance, Judi Dench in as Barbara Covett in Notes on a Scandal: "“Here come the local pubescent proles. The future plumbers, shop assistants, and doubtless the odd terrorist too. In the old days, we confiscated cigarettes and wank mags. Now it's knives and crack cocaine. And they call it progress.”
But sometimes cynicism can be exploited. Or backfire. Bad Teacher featuring Cameron Diaz and a host of hilarious teacher types, is an excellent lesson in entertainment:
Some teachers become incredibly popular because they actually try to communicate with us. For some of us of a certain generation, we even went on strike to try and reinstate Scruffy McDuffy in Grange Hill:
But I can't help still enjoying Jack Black's supply teacher the most. The School of Rock is jammed with magic lines, not to mention a magic number:
But that's enough examples. Now it's time to do your homework. Put forward your songs about teachers, professors or any other pedagogue figure in comments below. This week's headmaster of music is the disciplined DiscoMonster who will mark your work and come up with a playlist next Wednesday. Deadline? This week we have a strict one. Monday at 12pm UK time. Otherwise it's detention for you...
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