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Thursday, May 04, 2006

"The Emperor's Club"

To start off the annual in-service training for teachers, our new principal had us watch the movie, “The Emperor’s Club” (2002). I had watched this movie in the past, although only in part; I tuned in to HBO a tad too late, so I missed a good part of the start of the movie. It turned out that I didn’t miss all that much.

The story revolves around a classic history professor, Mr. Hundert, ably played by Kevin Kline, and Sedgewick Bell, a student who is a source of trial and tribulation to Mr. Hundert. Despite Mr. Hundert’s best efforts, he is unable to effect any noticeable change in Sedgewick’s character, even when Sedgewick is all grown and poised to make his entry into the U.S. political arena. Still, Mr. Hundert realizes in the end that it’s not his failure with Sedgewick that defines his career as a teacher. What is more important is that he is able to influence others without him knowing it.

What I like about the movie that, unlike other inspirational movies about teachers such as “Dead Poets’ Society” and “Stand and Deliver”, “The Emperor’s Club” focuses more on the supposed failure of the teacher in influencing his student.

But is it truly a failure? No. While he had “failed” with Sedgewick, he succeeded with Sedgewick’s classmates, notably Martin Blythe, whom Mr. Hundert had dropped from the school’s prestigious Julius Caesar contest in favor of Sedgewick, who failed to live up to Mr. Hundert’s expectations. In the end, Blythe shows his strength of character and his faith in Mr. Hundert by entrusting his son to Mr. Hundert’s tutelage.

As a teacher, I have to remember that, while I do have an influence on my students, I will not succeed 100%. There will always be Sedgewicks in a teacher’s career; I have a few of my own, whom I will not name here. But I have to remember that, while I have a few students I was unable to influence, these students do not define who I am as a teacher. There will always be students whom I did not notice, but were influenced by my presence in their lives.

During the sharing that followed the movie, the English Department had a spirited discussion, wherein some of the insights above were mentioned. The bottom line we came to agree on (I think) is that we teachers must be able to display the passion for learning to our students, in order to have an impact on them.

It was a good way to start the preparations for this school year, to remind us of what it means, and what it takes to be a teacher. Thus, strengthened and inspired, we are better able to face the challenges ahead, and, hopefully this will be positive for the students entrusted to us.

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