Freedom Writers: Saving the World at What Cost?

I love vacations from school. Not because I hate school, but I like change. Vacation is change, rest, and time to watch movies. So this past weekend Sarah and I watched Freedom Writers, a movie starring Hillary Swank as a High School English Teacher in LA shortly after the Rodney King incident. The acting wasn’t so hot, but the story was inspiring…at least a little. The movie is based off of a true story, and it was heart breaking hearing kids talk about their parents getting beat up, neighbors shot, and friends killed. As Swank’s character gets more and more wrapped up in her new teaching career, her husband grows more and more distant. Eventually he leaves her and they divorce. That’s how her personal life is resolved.

My wife and I spent a good amount of time talking about the divorce bit. Teaching is taxing on a family. I love going to see students perform. Whether its sports, stage, or music I like to invest in students outside of the classroom. They come (some trudge, grumble, and even fart) to my class everyday. The least I can do is go to some events. But it takes coordinating. Our schedule is busy enough without throwing in High School activities, but it’s an important element of teaching. Sarah and I have had to work through this. She’s learning that attending some of these function can be fun, and I’m learning to tell my students (from time to time) that I’m not going to such and such a function because I’m spending time with my wife. As much as kids need teacher support at events, I think they also need to hear from me that my family is a priority. To say the least, it’s like juggling firecrackers.

And this is where the movie went wrong. The husband (I forget the actor’s name–Patrick Dempsey maybe???, but Sarah thinks he’s dreamy–gag) never clearly communicated his needs. Swank was oblivious to her re-prioritized life, clueless to the fact that every new job she picked up further alienated her husband. It came to the point where she was telling her hubby (non-verbally) that her students, who had nothing, were more important than him. What a tough line to draw. I know because I’ve done the same thing.

Fortunately, I married a fantastic woman that’s willing to tough it out and communicate, because regardless of how effective I am as a teacher, there’s always graduation and moving on. When my students get into the real world, they may or may not ever think of me again, much less maintain any form of communication. I have to be okay with that. But where would I be without my wife when that time comes? Sure more students come along, but then there’s a vicious cycle of never really getting anywhere or never developing deeper-level relationships. And that’s a shame. Thanks Hollywood for giving us the story of an inspiring teacher. I hope to do better.


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