Some Districts Learn Motivation from Alec Baldwin
June 25, 2008 in Personal Reflection, Reading Response
Tags: alec, baldwin, cadillac, classroom, edublog, edublogosphere, education, film, fired, glen, glengarry, jack, knives, lemmon, metaphor, motivation, movie, not safe for work, nsfw, rant, ross, speech, steak, teacher, teachers, you're, youtube
Technically, the following video is not safe for work. Personally, I think it’s perfect for work.
During Alec Baldwin’s tirade against the failing quality of this particular office, salesman Jack Lemmon responds with excuses.
The leads are weak, Lemmon says.
You’re weak, Baldwin says.
In this short clip from Glengarry Glen Ross — spoilers ahead — this exchange describes much of the working world, and most professions.
Let’s use education.
So many educators make excuses, as they try to make do with the alleged students in their classes. Some favorite excuses: It’s the family life at home; it’s the socioeconomic level; it’s that they’re learning English as a second language. Alec Baldwin character, transposed to education, could care less about these excuses.
In the movie, it’s Lemmon’s job to sell real estate. In education, it’s your job to teach children content, at the very least. but you’re having trouble with the group of kids you have, over at that urban school district. In this transposition, you are Lemmon.
Baldwin comes from downtown. He doesn’t care. Why aren’t your kids passing? You are a teacher: Teach. It isn’t that hard. They’re showing up, and are just waiting to learn. He knows: He has years of experience in education.
In the movie, when Lemmon gets a lead, he is paid to sell property to that investor. When you get children — sometimes you even get students — you are paid to teach them, whoever they are. That’s the bottom line, says Superintendent Baldwin.
Professionals can do it easily. If you can’t do it, you aren’t a professional.
No ifs. No ands. No buts.
Even late in his rant, Baldwin’s mentality easily translates to the teaching profession: I do have some positions at Glen Ross Unified, that golden, trouble-free district in a wealthy part of Florida — but you can’t have even interview for them. That district is for teachers, and you peons aren’t very good teachers at all if you can’t teach who you have, already. If your students right now aren’t learning, you can’t teach anyone.
There are a lot of Baldwin characters angry at education in this country. They don’t care about your excuses. They care about your results. If you don’t have results, you’re worthless. Excuses just prove it, and so Lemmon does himself a disservice by offering up his excuses.
Yet some excuses are legitimate. Sometimes, just sometimes, the cards are as stacked against you as you claim they are. That students have a rocky home life is important, and does affect the effectiveness of your teaching. That students can’t speak much less read English, yet, will affect their score on the test. When the cards are stacked against you, you really can’t do anything about it.
As Lemmon finds out at the end of the movie, this was exactly the case. The cards were almost purposefully stacked against him, and Baldwin isn’t his enemy. He had been all-but doomed even before Baldwin showed up and made all that noise.
To wit: In both the movie and the field of education, Baldwin’s appearance didn’t raise the difficulty of success. It raised the stakes of failure.
First prize: Cadillac. Second prize: steak knives. Third prize: you’re fired.
Every day, we experience a thousand moments, each of those moments setting in motion a thousand slightly different possibilities in the future. When we make these choices, we are thrust toward another day's crossroads, where we have another thousand choices.
Given the infinite number of choices we make in a lifetime, why do we choose so many of the same routes and make just as many of the same mistakes as our parents and grandparents?
I plan to learn from their mistakes. Let's see how far I get.
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