Have you ever seen the movie “Finding Forrester”?
Jamal Wallace is an inner city kid from the Bronx who has excellent basketball skills. While playing basketball with his friends in the public playground one day, Jamal’s friends dare him to break into the house of William Forrester, a recluse who lives in an apartment near the playground and whom they often see watching them from his apartment window. Jamal breaks in and is surprised by Forrester, so much that he accidentally leaves his backpack in Forrester’s apartment. When Jamal goes back to retrieve his backpack, he finds his bag has been dropped on the street. Looking inside, he sees that Forrester read his writings and made some editorial notes on it. Jamal goes back to Forrester’s apartment and asks him to edit some more of his writings. Though things started on a rocky note, Forrester eventually became Jamal’s mentor and close friend.
While Jamal has always been a C student, he suddenly gains the attention of an exclusive private school in Manhattan, Mailor Callow, when he scores exceptionally high in a nationwide standardized test, revealing his true intellectual gift. While Mailor Callow offered him a scholarship based on his intellectual abilities, both Jamal and the school knew that the real reason for the scholarship was due to his prowess on the basketball court. At his new school, Jamal makes friends with Claire Spencer, but clashes with his arrogant literature teacher, Prof. Robert Crawford. Prof. Crawford is a failed author and continues to harbor this bitterness. When Jamal starts turning in literary masterpieces in his class, he concludes that a student like Jamal could not possibly be a genius at writing – he must be getting help somewhere or copying somebody else’s writing. It is during this part of the story where William Forrester utters the line, “Bitterly disappointed teachers are either very effective or very dangerous.” This line definitely struck a chord with me, because, as a former student, and now, a practicing teacher myself, I find this quote to be so very true.
We teachers are also human after all, and our lives, like everybody else’s, does have its share of joyous moments and bitter downfalls. And how we deal with these disappointments affect our life views and the way we teach and handle our students. I do admit there are days when I just don’t feel like facing a hundred students – just because we’re used to standing in front of a large crowd doesn’t mean we always want to do it.
I think bitterly disappointed teachers can be very effective when they use that experience as fuel for their teaching – like, “I had this bad experience and I don’t want you kids to go through the same thing, so I’ll do everything I can to prepare you for the future and hopefully, you won’t make the same mistakes I did.” When I first started teaching, I was clueless as to how to do it. Then, I thought, why not emulate the things that I admired from my old teachers? And, don’t do the same things that I really hated from my old teachers. See, I didn’t want my kids to have to go through the horrors some of my old teachers subjected us to – extreme favoritism to the rich students to the point of unfair grades, being made to feel like a total idiot for forgetting something or not being able to memorize a Chinese paragraph, you get the idea. That was my fuel for teaching.
On the other hand, bitterly disappointed teachers can be very dangerous if they use the disappointments in life as a form of revenge – like, “I didn’t have the privilege of getting this or that, so why should you kids have it?” This is usually the case with people who really wanted to do something else in their life, but ended up “just being a teacher”. Like in “Finding Forrester”, Prof. Crawford failed as an author and ended up as a literature teacher. So, when faced with a student who had a real knack for writing, he just couldn’t accept it and lashed out in envy.
But come to think of it, this quote doesn’t really just apply to teachers.. it can apply to EVERYONE. In fact, we can rephrase it as “Bitterly disappointed people are either very effective or very dangerous.” Makes sense, right? Everyone goes through disappointments in life and it’s up to you how to take it – is it the fuel that keeps you going and motivates you to do better? or the thing you hang so stubbornly on to so that you can always wallow in self-pity and have an excuse for your failures? As Robert Kiyosaki said, “The size of your success is measured by the strength of your desire; the size of your dream; and how you handle disappointment along the way.”