Popular culture is often characterised by feature films and television serials which target a broad audience in an effort to systematically convey social commentary through inviting the perception of the viewer to interpret representations of everyday roles. This concept is central to 'Reel to real: Popular culture and teacher identity', in which Mitchell and Weber (1999) encourage their audience to challenge the status quo of the teacher role as commonly perceived by society. Particularly, the text draws attention to the complex relationship between the 'larger than life' teachers in popular feature films and television serials and the everyday reality of the ‘real classroom’ as defined by cumulative cultural texts. Mitchell and Weber (1999) argue that a cumulative cultural text must have three features; multidimensional, meaning it has popularity; intergenerational, it is timeless and intertextual, material which is continually relevant.
Prospective teachers are a critical demographic amongst the target audience of popular cultural material, as they are invited to readily identify with the ‘larger than life representations’ portrayed in film and television mediums. Identifying with this representation presents a challenge for many prospective teachers, as popular representations may provide a reflection which exposes their own vulnerabilities as educators. Mitchell and Weber (1999) discuss that it is “easier to be critical of fictitious teachers than we could otherwise be of ourselves” (p. 164). Hence, critiquing fictitious teachers deflects the potential to scrutinise their own teaching methods and practices. Therefore, the larger than life teacher in popular feature films and texts allows current and pre-serviced teachers to distant themselves from the reality of methods used, experiences encountered and understanding of knowledge and curriculum within a real classroom (Mitchell & Weber, 1999). Consequently, the relationship between the ‘larger than life teachers’ to the ‘real classroom’ is challenged through providing an insight to the reality of a teachers day to day role and popular screen representations of this. These texts can also alter a negative perception of ‘lazy teachers’ and theoretically convey the reality of a teachers work. Effectively, the authors argue that, cumulative cultural texts encourage discussion and debate regarding the advantages of identifying with these representations in order to redefine the teacher role. Thus it is evident that cumulative cultural test will “stimulate discussion and reflection in the context of teacher education” (p. 184).
Moreover, Mitchell and Weber (1999) strongly argue that popular texts can influence pre-serviced teachers in the wrong way and also one may feel pressured into fitting into a mould of a fictitious teacher, therefore these texts construct a certain façade. In order to understand this complex relationship between the ‘larger than life teacher’ to the ‘reality classroom’ Mitchell and Weber (1999, p. 170) suggest that “we unmask and use the collage of contradictory images, clichés, and stereotypes of teaching to advance professional development”. Thus, one must illustrate how the stereotypes are either wrong or right and portray what really happens in a classroom. Therefore, one should not overlook these texts, but rather examine and study these to convey what is correct. In doing so, these representations will not be harmful and somewhat dangerous; hence these texts will not be left with wrong representations and studies of the ‘reality classroom.’
The popular film Freedom Writers (2007) is based on the book, The Freedom Writers Diary (1999). This film is an example of a cumulative cultural text which conveys how a teacher must reach out to the students and attempt and work out the boundaries which are preventing a student from receiving optimum education, and then identifying with these boundaries. The film is set at a school in Long Beach,...
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