Night School – Film Review

Tiffany Haddish’s character is a high school teacher earning an extra buck running the night school classes for grown-ups trying to pass their leaving exams. Kevin Hart, one of her adult students, storms in on her at one point, when she is in the middle of giving additional help to a struggling young student.

It is not an uncommon situation to find the giving teacher providing additional support, homework or counsel to a young child. Sure, teachers can clock on and clock off when the bell tolls, but many don’t. They are thinking about their young proteges most of the time.

That’s not to say Haddish is playing a self-sacrificing  character like Hilary Swank in Freedom Boys. She’s not that type of teacher. In fact, despite the broader slapstick elements of Night School, Haddish embodies a more balanced approach with a matter-of-fact approach to education. She’s not overly invested. If she sees a problem, she fixes it. When Hart’s character thinks she’s emotionally invested, she cuts him down a few pegs and tells him to get over himself.

She sees teaching as a job, and she does a good job. She goes beyond the call of duty, where there is a need, but she doesn’t let it tangle up with her personal life.

If we could all take a piece of pedagogical style from this film, we’d have injected a well needed counter-weight to the molly-coddling sentiment of some of the currently fashionable teaching trends, without of course losing our humanity.

Kid #19 – Dealing with broken dreams

The nineteenth kid I hated had aspirations of becoming the next Steven Spielberg by sulking.

I was teaching in a sixth form college in South London, covering some media classes. Some of the students were excellent in their production skills. Others were killing time. Their interest in cinema generally did not extend to the silver screen, but dwelt somewhere between Misfits and a Twisties commercial.

The kid I hated would arrive to class late, put his feet up on the furniture, answer his phone in the middle of class, talk to his friend as soon as you tried to tell the class something and for the most part had an expression so sour you’d have assumed he’d eaten a mouthful of turned raspberries. However, unlike his apathetic counter parts he did want to make films. This was part of the problem. He spent the majority of his time away from the classroom constructing ideas and hair-brained schemes for re-imagining the special effects and Shakespearean acting he had seen in Marvel superhero films (an obsession directly caused by the course’s subject material, which included the film Spiderman 2).

Sometimes when you have a sulking teenager, you begin to think it’s something you’ve done that caused the sulking. Every time I asked for the kid’s attention he appeared to become more sullen. The mere presence of me seemed to weigh down upon him like a lead trumpet.

I soon came to realise these feelings were just my own paranoia.

I spotted him in the corridor and down by the bus stop a few times. He was equally depressive then, which made me realise he was in a perpetual state of affliction. Seemingly the world had dealt him an unfair hand and if he didn’t spar against the global population of the planet singlehandedly, he’d never become the filmmaking legend he wished to be. He was a more angst-ridden version of Dawson from Dawson’s Creek, but without the girlfriends.

Then when I finally saw his finished products, I was more than underwhelmed. One featured an escaped serial killer, who looked more like a well-shaven hipster sporting a felt-tip drawn scar under his left eye. The mise en scène was less film noir and more like the cinematographer forgot to turn the light on.

Considering schools these days are normally working with equipment one hundred times better than what I used in my final year of university (less than ten years ago), it’s disappointing when you see something that looks like it’s been recorded by an ancient relative on a handy-cam in the mid-eighties. What this student produced couldn’t even be passed off as an avant-garde David Lynch recording.

These types of students are why it’s difficult for me to teach media. I don’t profess to be any sort of Stanley Kubrick myself. So it’s not particularly the incompetence that bothers me. After all it’s my job to educate and fill the gaps in learning. But the apathy and slapdash construction of the student cinematic ‘farse’terpieces is sometimes so frustrating I want to wrench them from the editing suite shouting, “Just let me do it!”. This in itself is a bad approach, which is why for the most part I’ve decided it best to avoid teaching media classes for now. And for the pupils producing perfect moving pictures, I tend to become jealous of their potential and end off wallowing in my own self-pity regarding my broken dreams of cinematic success. So my decision to steer clear of such classes remains.

So although my former media student may have snapped out of his pubescent mood, if we met again in Hollywood I doubt I’d fork out the cash to watch his productions at the cinema; I’d wait for their DVD release – and then borrow a copy for free from the public library.

Kid #16 – A hyperactive attention seeker

The sixteenth kid I hated told me London had kebab shops, just before I moved to the UK.

I told him there were kebab shops in Perth, Western Australia. Perhaps he’d never been to the Australian ones because the best were only available past his bedtime.

To be honest, I didn’t really hate this kid at all. He was just a massive handful. If anything, I feared him. Feared how he might lead to my undoing as a qualified professional.

He was the ringleader of his 16 year old counterparts and their horseplay. I was left to babysit them under the guise of teaching them remedial English. The content of the coursework needed heavy dressing up to provide any engagement. Mostly it was a battle of wits between myself and the wannabe gangsters with their varied attempts to twist situations to their advantage.

One such win on their part involved the screening of a film about football fan violence in a West Ham football firm. The kid, in my class, had recently moved to Australia from Manchester. He had a thick accent and would regale his comrades with stories about the rough streets where he’d grown up – hence his referencing of kebab shops I suspect. In reality he probably grew up in a respectable suburb where his mother wouldn’t have allowed him out the house after 4pm. Lucky for him the rest of the cohort had not been further than the nearest Shopping Centre since birth; and their only experiences of gang culture would have been standing dopily in large groups inside Big W during Thursday late night shopping. So the rest of the class hung on his every word.

When he proclaimed the movies I was asking the class to study as ‘boring’, he raised the suggestion of Green Street Hooligans. This was a clear attempt to fool the other students into thinking he’d been part of a violent football firm himself, despite this anarchic culture having being at its height in the 1970s and 80s, well before his birth; and for that matter mine. Nevertheless I found a copy of the film in the bargain bin at the local DVD store and showed it to the students. They thoroughly enjoyed it and then bam I gave them a series of tasks and tests relating to the film. Seemingly unexhausted from the analysis I forced them into, they requested to watch Green Street Hooligans 2 and Green Street Hooligans 3. I refused on the grounds that Elijah Wood did not appear in the sequels. Even if he had, I had frankly seen enough of Frodo Baggins falling in with the wrong crowd to put me off any non-hobbit related outings by Mr Wood.

As if this student’s penchant for screen violence wasn’t bad enough – he also wanted us to watch Gran Torino, a film full of racial violence and Clint Eastwood – the student also insisted on pestering young staff members about their marital status. The less he was told, the more speculative the pestering became. On one occasion a young female staff member entered the classroom, at which point the kid I hated claimed I was blushing. This was awkward for the other staff member also. I told the child to stop projecting his infantile mating rituals onto his teachers. He did not take my advice.

About a month later he began concocting an elaborate conspiracy about myself and another male teacher being in a relationship (conspiracies had become all the rage again. It was around the time of the tenth anniversary of 9/11 so the media was whipping up a new frenzy of conspiracies at the time). Accusations of homosexuality were water off a ducks back to me, in comparison to the persecution I’d been subjected to as Harry Potter’s long lost brother. My colleague, however, was getting the interrogating questions and relentless earbashing worse than me. A curious fact, considering he didn’t even teach this imbecile of a person. So after weeks of wearing down our heterosexual standing with aspersions of doubt cast upon it, my colleague finally snapped, stating publicly that both he and I were dating separate female people and were most definitely not gay.

This of course opened a whole new line of questioning in regards to the nature of our dating partners. So the oppression never really ended.

This student was going too far. He was getting more and more obnoxious. He’d convinced me to show the class films that psychopaths may watch during their leisure time. All of a sudden I was thinking it normal to include episodes of Australian true-crime series Underbelly or the Will Ferrell and Mark Walberg buddy cop comedy film The Other Guys in my teaching of the English Curriculum. In addition, he now knew various sordid details of the fabricated events in my non-existent romantic relationship. Knowledge was power, and his file on me was getting bigger.

To aggravate matters further, the back wall of the classroom adjoined the room my head of department taught classes in. The student drew great pleasure from rocking his chair back to slam into the wall and disturb the other class. Luckily his reputation preceded him and the head of department was on him like a rash to stop it. His persistence with the chair banging charade, encouraged his flock of buffoon disciples to follow suit, eventually forcing me to move the entire set of desks two metres forward from the back wall. At this point, I was then forced up against the whiteboard with barely enough room to rotate my body and press the playback button on whatever crime thriller we were about to watch next.

It wasn’t just myself he caused grief for. He also clearly didn’t realise how annoying he was. Even after he had been told in no uncertain terms. He’d begun an apprenticeship two days a week at a local cabinet makers. Each week, when he returned to the classroom, he’d blather on about how he’d spent most of the time relaxing in the corner and passing his boss the wrong tools. He was learning little or nothing about work ethic from this apprenticeship. It also turned out that when he was at the worksite he blathered even more than in the classroom. I know this, because he proudly announced to us one day how his boss had become so agitated by the incessant babbling, he had grabbed the student and pushed him to the floor and given him a stern talking to. I remember thinking at the time, how nice it would be if we could do the same thing to our students every once in a while; albeit I don’t have the upper body strength. Nevertheless, the student learnt nothing from the dressing down. His quest in life was not to make cabinets but to make headaches for the grownups that surrounded him.

Despite the nonsense, there were times when the young lad was certainly an entertaining fellow. If you weren’t in a position of authority, I’m sure he’d have made a loyal friend.

When I finally left the school, I did not tell any of the students until the final week. This was due in most part to my fear of the delinquent class this child belonged to. If they knew I was about to leave, they would have gone from doing stuff all to doing whatever comes below that. So it was to my surprise that upon hearing of my departure on the final day of term, the student exclaimed that I should have told him earlier so he could have organised a proper farewell. In true cavalier style he jumped from his chair and rushed down to the English office to request some card. There was none. He returned with an A3 piece of paper which was neatly folded in half and passed around the room in front of me for the worst kept secret signing of a card I’ve witnessed. But it is always the sentiment. Even if that sentiment comes from a place of avoiding more essay writing. The kind words of well wishing, demands for Facebook friend requests, and usual misspellings of my name are still kept in that prided card now sitting on my bookshelf (or in the trash. I can’t remember exactly). There may even have been mention in the card of a recommended kebab shop

So if I ever meet this child again on a high street somewhere, at 2am in the morning, with a craving for E coli in a wrap, I know I’ll chip in a couple of pounds so he can get extra topping on his shredded lamb and salad snack; because sometimes there are kids I tolerated.