Teacher Feature: Talking about Scree

There’s a lovely moment in the 2007 film Son of Rambow that will resonate with anyone who’s ever sat in a classroom, bored out of their mind. The film is set in the 1980s, and focuses on the relationship between two twelve-year old boys, one shy and well-behaved, the other the school tearaway. Early in the film, the shy boy sits in a Geography lesson at his new secondary school. For anyone who was at school at that time, it’s a beautifully evocative scene. There are dustmotes in the air, faded displays on the wall, a globe, a television set on a metal stand. There’s even one of those revolving chalkboards that you can balance a board rubber on top of and wait until it falls off onto the head of the next person to pull the board down. The children are drowsy. And the Geography teacher, shirtsleeved and bearded, remonstrates with them: ‘You’d do well to keep your wits about you when I talk about scree.’

Paul Ritter as the geography teacher in Son of Rambow, with his wits definitely about him. (Source: hotflick.net)

As teachers, we’ve all been there. Some lessons you’re on fire: others you’re trying to convey something that might well be essential but is nevertheless mind-numbingly dull. Sometimes you catch yourself saying something to your students that would have made you roll your eyes when you were a teenager, and think: hang on, when did I turn into that kind of teacher? Sometimes, you just have to cajole them through a topic that isn’t very interesting but just needs to be covered. I tell myself – and my students, when they whinge – that there is value in this. Not everything has an immediate appeal. Education isn’t about entertainment. Patient persistence is an important habit to acquire.

Ever since I saw Son of Rambow, I’ve thought of those moments as my talking-about-scree moments. And sometimes, I remind myself that even though we all want to be our own version of Michelle Pfeiffer in Dangerous Minds, or Robin Williams in Dead Poets’ Society, we all have lessons when we’re the Geography teacher in his dusty classroom, exhorting his pupils to keep their wits about them.

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