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Life in the trenches of that most honorable and frustrating profession...teaching. It's the start of a memorable new year at Harrison High. The self-conscious Mr. Stroope is convinced that his time has come - this year he will be furnished with the golden title of "Teacher of the Year," if only his smarter students would stop using words that he can't understand. Peek into Mr. Lowrey's History class and you'll see that he's struggling to even call himself a teacher. Woefully inept due to a complete lack of experience and social skills, he earnestly stutters his way through class. The only interaction his students offer him is when they steal his chalk. Men aren't much interested in the spunky and officious Coach Webb, but "not all P.E. teachers are gay" and she pines for some romantic company. Her once best friend, the newly appointed assistant principal, Mrs. Reddell, doesn't seem to have time for her either, as her new power post is all-consuming; battling egos, enduring teacher ... Written by
True to life, but still too amateurish for me to enjoy
I graduated college in 1994 with a bachelors degree in Government, but was unable to get into any post-graduate program that I applied for. So I have had a series of low-paying jobs that don't require more than a high school education. Ever since then, my mother has been asking me why don't I take a salaried position as a teacher like my brother. The trouble is that my brother hates teaching, and only took it up because he couldn't find anything else. And from all of my other friends who have become teachers (or who used to be teachers but burned out), I have heard that it is a high-stress job with very few rewards.
The movie "Chalk" is made by a group of teachers and does nothing to disabuse me of my beliefs about teaching as a profession. The teachers in the film are portrayed as a bunch of social misfits with serious relationship issues and middling intellects--in other words, not the sort of people who should be teaching kids. The one constant in their world is a lack of respect: not only from the students, but also from the parents and even each other.
Troy Schremmer is the emotional core of the film as Mr. Lowery, a first-year history teacher who used to work in high tech. He is shocked to learn that reading "Classroom Management for Dummies" is inadequate preparation for teaching, and is intimidated by his students (and sometimes even their parents). Janelle Schremmer plays Coach Webb, who whines about men assuming she's a lesbian because she's a PE coach who doesn't wear makeup and keeps her hair cut short. She develops a crush on Mr. Lowery during the course of the year. Screenwriter Chris Mass plays Mr. Stroope, who makes up for his lack of brains with his enthusiasm for teaching and massive ego. His goal is to become teacher of the year, not by hard work and discipline but by trash-talking the other teachers and treating his students as if they were his peers. And there is Shannon Harrigan as Mrs. Reddell, a former choir teacher promoted to Assistant Principal. She is harried by all the other teachers--once her peers--expecting her to side with them in their various squabbles with each other, and her new responsibilities are taking a toll on her marriage.
Many viewers have enthusiastically praised this film and compared it with the works of Christopher Guest--"This is Spinal Tap" in particular. The thing is, though, that Guest is a professional actor and director who had years to hone his craft before the cameras started rolling on "Spinal Tap". Michael McKean, Rob Reiner, and Harry Shearer also are show-biz professionals with established careers that predate "Spinal Tap". The director, writers and actors in "Chalk" are all actual teachers at the school where it was filmed. Many say this is an asset in that it gives the film an air of authenticity. I found it insufferable watching a bunch of people who can't act in a poorly shot film. And am I the only one who's sick of hand-held DV?
I did like the fact that the movie avoids all the usual Hollywood clichés found in the typical "inspirational" film about teaching. And there was one funny moment when Mrs. Redell sings "We can teach if we want to" to the tune of "The Safety Dance" by Men Without Hats.
But overall this is the work of amateurs. Appropriate perhaps to show to their families, students and co-workers, but not worthy of a paying audience. 5 out of 10.
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