I introduced my husband to the movie The Breakfast Club on Christmas Eve (we were a little overplayed on all the Christmas movies). I found that while I still LOVE the movie as much as I did when I watched it repeatedly while in high school and as a preteen, I am now perplexed by the character of Richard Vernon more so than the teenage characters. I’m sure this has something to do with my working in the school system. I found myself growing more and more agitated with him because of his narrow views of each child and in particular his treatment of John Bender. I know I disliked him as a teenager, but I loathe him even more now as a person who works in education.
For those of you not familiar with The Breakfast Club or Richard Vernon, here’s a quick rundown of his character. He’s put in charge of Saturday detention and of the five students who show up to serve it. As their punishment, they are to do nothing except write an essay telling him who they think they are. Vernon has already stereotyped them—as they all have already done to themselves and each other—as an athlete, a princess, a basket case, a brain, and a criminal. Throughout the film, Vernon continuously mocks and bullies the students but none so much as John Bender, the stereotyped criminal. Many revelations are made throughout the film that make this worth watching, including one or two made by or to Vernon.
I would think that the screenwriters were trying to exaggerate Vernon’s character in the movie, but it’s sad to say that I’ve run across some people working in education like this. I wrote the following during the past year of my substitute teaching. No particulars as to where I was, who was involved, or even when it was.
Last class of the day. Out of breath, slightly sweaty, and a bit pissed that they scheduled my classes on opposite ends of the high school campus. All I can think is I won’t be prepared. I’ll have no idea what I’m walking into as the substitute. Try not to panic. My day planner drops, and papers fly. Shit! Yet another reason why I should have gotten rid of that dinosaur. Thank goodness for the kind student who helps me pick up everything. Jiminy Crickets, you’d think I was in a high school drama. Ugh!
Walk in and there’s another sub already there. Must be an inclusion class and both teachers have substitutes today. He’s an older gentleman who has already ascertained his dominance in the classroom. Think cat spraying all around the teacher’s desk but with all his personal belongings. He won’t even let me see the lesson plans, stating he can handle it. I can just help him pass out papers if the need arises. (Guess I’ll play secretary.)
Class commences. Right off the bat the class is difficult to control even with “the strong arm of the law.” These kids are good; they know the drill. We really can’t do squat. However, most of the class finishes their work within the first thirty minutes of class. Guess, all that peacocking by the students was just for show since they still did their work. It gets loud, though, since everyone is talking and on their electronic devices listening to music and watching movies. I look at him to see what he’s going to do since I don’t want to step on his toes. He shrugs his shoulders at me. Eventually it starts to get to him, though, and Mr. Hard Ass asks for order. Guess that’s an order these kids aren’t going to fill. Another forty-five minutes to go. Joy!
Surprisingly, this was a pretty decent day as a substitute. UNTIL.
“Wow, what a bunch of nothings these kids are going to be,” the other sub says loud enough to me right before the bell rings. I know some of the kids had to hear him say it.
My look must say “incredulous deer in headlights.”
I audibly say, “What?”
And he responds, “I mean, I know we can’t all be winners, but I can’t believe we got a class full of bottom-dwellers.”
The bell rings. Everyone leaves, including Mr. Asshole. I’m still standing in the same spot with a million things I want to say but can’t.
Were we just in the same class—the class where all the students finished their work? Yeah, they were loud. It was also the last period of the day, and they had two subs. Give them a break. It wasn’t like we were exactly being staunch enforcers of every rule. Was he saying that because most the class was African American and Hispanic and below the poverty line? Am I bad for even thinking that? And what had these students done that warranted such an aggressive judgment? Who was he to pass such judgment after only spending one class period with them? I don’t believe any student is a lost cause, and I don’t believe in feeding negativity to students. In fact, positive reinforcement tends to work best.
Sometimes the only people we need to consult before passing judgment is a mirror, for myself included. Hear that, self?