Loving to hate the ‘bad teacher’

“Bad” teachers are hot, writes Dana Goldstein. ”The bad teacher has also become an overhyped target for our national anxiety about public education.”

In Alissa Nutting’s new novel, Tampa, a Florida middle-school teacher lures two eighth-grade boys into sexual relationships.

(Celeste) Price is a coldhearted nymphomaniac who, after feeding her sexual needs, wishes for the deaths of her victims. She is based on Debra Lafave, a real-life Tampa pedophiliac teacher — and former high school classmate of Nutting’s — who avoided jail time after her lawyer argued that she was too beautiful to get locked up.

. . . Though the writing in Tampa is pedestrian in comparison with Nabokov’s Lolita, the great classic on which it is based, it certainly represents a gutsy attempt by a young, female author to embody a wholly unsympathetic female narrator and probe the question of whether society lets women essentially get away with crimes for which men are excoriated.

Sexually abusive teachers exist, but they’re very rare, Goldstein points out.

Price, who’s depicted as a lousy teacher, has one ally, “an obese, ‘joyless’ woman who seems to hate children and eventually loses her job after cursing out students and throwing a chair,” Goldstein observes. Although most of the action takes place in a school, Tampa portrays no competent teachers.

The Cameron Diaz movie, Bad Teacher, will become a TV series about a “former trophy wife who masquerades as a teacher” to find a new sugar daddy.  (Who looks for a wealthy husband in a school?)  It’s a “vote of no confidence” in teachers, writes Lisa Suhay on Christian Science Monitor.

The premise, which plays to every possible negative stereotype of educators and women, may make the grade with network executives, but it will set up middle- and high-school teachers for failure in the eyes of students who watch the show.

The movie teachers that “being a narcissistic, sadistic, incompetent teacher is cool” and “bullying is funny,” writes Suhay. Also, “competent teachers are socially inept, overweight, clueless, and timid.”

A sequel to the movie, Bad Teacher 2, is in the works.

(Bad) Teacher of the Year

Bad Teacher, starring Cameron Diaz, is doing well at the box office. The black comedy is the “most scabrous portrayal of public education ever put to celluloid,” writes Sean Higgins in The American Spectator.

(Diaz’s character) doesn’t bother to teach the kids at all, regularly shows up to class hungover, solicits bribes from parents in exchange for good grades, embezzles money from school fundraisers and tells the one go-getter in her class to give up her dreams of becoming president in exchange for something more realistic, “like a masseuse.”

When I first started teaching, I thought that I was doing it for all the right reasons: Shorter hours, summers off, no accountability …” she explains.

Instead of teaching, she shows movies about inspirational teachers in class. Her job is safe — even when another teacher tells the principal she’s doing drugs on campus. He doesn’t want to tackle the union.

When she learns of a bonus for the teacher whose students earn the highest test scores, she tries to teach, but is lousy at it. So she tries to cheat on the test.

When her rival tries to expose her fraud, Halsey has her — a teacher who actually does inspire students — framed for drug possession and bounced out of the school. And that’s the happy ending.

I doubt viewers will see Bad Teacher as a documentary. It’s a take-off on Bad Santa‘s boozing, foul-mouthed safecracker, which nobody thought was telling the real truth about Santa Claus. Bad Santa is funny because we like to think of even department store Santas as jolly and kindly. Bad Teacher plays off the stereotype of the dedicated teacher. If that image didn’t exist, there’d be nothing funny about a kid-hating teacher.

Merit pay and 'Bad Teacher'

To balance the state budget, Texas cut 90 percent of funding for the nation’s largest merit pay program, reports the Dallas Morning News.

A Texas Education Agency study of the merit-pay program found slightly increased test scores at participating schools and higher teacher retention rates.

Some districts spread out the bonus money to most teachers, cutting the average payment to $1,361. Other districts gave bonuses to teachers at select schools; the average payment was $3,344. “Generally, larger bonuses produced better test scores and teacher retention,” notes the Morning News.

The movie Bad Teacher, which is getting mixed or negative reviews, features a gold-digging, booze-swilling bimbo who becomes a middle-school teacher (not sure how) in hopes of making enough money for breast implants to attract a wealthy substitute teacher. She stops showing movies in class and tries to teach when she learns of a bonus for high test scores. Not credible, points out the National Council on Teacher Quality.

We must point out that such incentives don’t exist in Chicago, where the film is based. In fact, of the 100 largest school districts in the country, according to our TR3 database, only six offer bonuses on the basis of performance to individual teachers that would be substantial enough to cover the average cost of breast augmentation surgery — around $3,800.

In order for performance pay to make a substantial impact on teacher recruitment and retention, the incentives have to be significant enough to make a real impact in teachers’ lives. Bad Teachers unquestioned premise is more anecdotal evidence that the public, inside and out, overestimates the true role of performance pay in schools today.
Also, middle school is not a great place to find a wealthy husband.