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.

That’s motivation.


  1. Ed_Thoughts

    Although I don’t like the way Baldwin speaks to the employees, I do like your comments in this post.

    Just teach. Teach them. No excuses. The parents (or lack thereof) sent you their best kid that day. Teach them.

  2. Don’t be skipping whole grafs on me, now.

    Yet some excuses are legitimate. …

    The cards are stacked against teachers in the inner cities. How they deal with this is up to them.

    Something that happened in the movie that I didn’t address — spoilers ahead — is that however uncouth and seemingly unproductive Baldwin’s criticism, Lemmon tried harder, only to find that the sale he nailed would fall through. Three other salesmen would outright give up, given the weakness of the leads — students — and the futility of the situation.

    Giving up because of the clients, especially as we apply it to teaching, is an option. I don’t particularly like that option.

  3. Tim S.

    Interesting clip. I’ve never seen the movie. Now I am intrigued. I’ll add it to my Netflix que.
    A couple of thoughts. Was your post directed mainly at inner city school employees? I hope you are not implying that those that teach in wealth suburban districts are better motivated than those that teach in “da hood”. Also, suburban teaching jobs are not better than inner city jobs. It is sort of like sports. What is the better job? Head football coach at Notre Dame or head football coach of the Chicago Bears? The inner-city is the NFL, the ‘burbs are college. It’s personal preference what job you would take.

    While I see what you are trying to say about motivation, as millions of other educators have said before, you can’t equate education with the private business sector.

    Here is how Superintendent Baldwin would act if he walked into a 2008 teachers meeting at any public school in America…

    “So, we at Edison Schools, Incorporated were sent here to make some changes…Mr. Music Teacher…how is teaching these customers of ours how to sing going to get our school to make AYP???…Mr. Art Teacher, how is having a six year old freakin’ finger paint, going to make him proficient on the state exam?…Mr. Principal, how is allowing recess, RECESS, WE’RE TALKING ABOUT FREAKIN’ JUMPIN’ ROPE going to get them to pass the state exam and make AYP?? SO FROM NOW ON, NO ART, NO MUSIC, NO RECESS, NO FIELD TRIPS, NO NUTHIN’ THAT AIN’T GONNA MAKE THEM PASS THE STATE EXAM!!!”.
    Unfortunately, since NCLB, those kind of Alec Baldwin moments are happening all over America’s faculty meetings. I’m not really sure what the point of schooling is anymore. Nobody really knows. The economy is in the tank, Peak Oil is here and means the world is changing more than most people are even remotely aware of. These are kids we are teaching, not property we are trying to sell.
    By the way, it seemed ironic, maybe, that you picked a clip that dealt with real estate. Aren’t you in Fresno? From what I heard Fresno is ground zero for the housing bubble.Houses that weres bought in 1999 for $150K sold in 2005 for $750K and sold last week for $150K.

  4. Fresno is ground zero for a lot of things. Police corruption used to be big here, and we were the per capita carjacking capital of the United States not too long ago. Most relevantly, in a recent assessment Fresno ranked No. 1 in the country for concentrated poverty.

    That was before NCLB got passed. Angry men in suits may be around because of that legislation, but they didn’t create the situation. Blaming and complaining about them, however unfair they are, is to some extent like getting mad at the foulmouthed police officer because he gave you a fix-it ticket. It’s unproductive, and takes your focus off of fixing the situation.

    That said, I’ve never personally seen the Baldwin mentality at my school or in my district, but I’ve heard about it offline, and I’ve read about it online.

  1. 1 Her Friend, the Parasite « One Past Fallbrook

    […] He swears he’s made up this time, that he has a few good job opportunities on the horizon. Press a little harder, and you’ll find that these opportunities are no opportunities at all. They entail selling insurance, providing your own leads and working solely on commission. I’d rather work for Alec Baldwin. […]

  2. 2 Her Friend, the Parasite « One Past Fallbrook

    […] Of course, he swears he’s made up this time, that he has a few good job opportunities on the horizon. Press a little harder, and you’ll find that these opportunities are no opportunities at all. They entail selling insurance, providing your own leads and working solely on commission. I’d rather work for Alec Baldwin. […]

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