Sidney Poitier – To Sir, with Love
Sidney Poitier plays the character Mark Thackeray in the classic movie To Sir, with Love. Mr. Thackeray, a displaced engineer, finds a job teaching in one of the worst schools in a poor area of London, where he is assigned to a classroom full of at-risk students. These are the kids that many teachers avoid because they are the most difficult and challenging. Mr. Thackeray, who was only interested in the job for immediate financial reasons, soon realizes he might have bitten off more than he can chew, and we have no doubt he has been set up to fail as many teachers feel they have been. His job is difficult-not only is he supposed to teach but he has to manage the class, as well.
In the beginning, the kids are cantankerous, rude, obstinate, and mischievous; they give Mr. Thackeray a tough time, trying to drive him away. But he uses wit and creativity and finds clever ways to make his subjects relevant to the context of his class. He also makes strategic moves to develop relationships with each student, and even a few parents. He eventually wins the hearts of every rough-edged student in his class. Mr. Thackeray went beyond his duty and found himself caring about the job and the students more than he had planned.
Teachers – Change Agents
Eventually, Mr. Thackeray is offered another engineering job, a very exciting moment for him, because he has been searching aggressively for months. However, he is now confronted with the decision to use his gifts in the corporate world or in the public sector. After serious deliberation, he realizes that his investment has helped transform several rough-neck rebellious kids. Mr. Thackeray gave them hope and helped them believe in their own abilities and human potential. He became a transformer-a change agent-and knew that he was truly meant to be there, doing what very few could do.
This movie was made in 1967, but its truths and message transcend time. It illustrates the belief that every kid has the ability to learn and evolve into something better-something great. In addition, the movie also uses the unbelievably essential lessons this exceptional, transformational teacher learned about influence, commitment, and creativity to enable us “real-life teachers” to overcome the unique but real-life issues that students drag through the doors of every school in every city, every day. We would never survive if the teaching profession were not one of transformative power.
We will begin to experience amazing stories and see unparalleled successes in schools across the country when more teachers view themselves as transformers and change agents rather than classroom managers. In the public education field, we deal with lives, not numbers. Mr. Thackeray came to understand this notion and worked intentionally to find methods and approaches that would penetrate the barriers of failure each student had built to hide behind. When the students finally unmasked themselves, Mr. Thackeray was able to begin surgery on the bruised souls and minds of his class.
Transformative power works when the intent of every action is equipping young minds with the skills and resources to navigate the adult world successfully. Teachers have a very limited window of opportunity during which students can be influenced, inspired, and motivated. If the time is not utilized purposefully, efficiently, and effectively, a class, a grade level, a school, or even an entire generation could lose out on the possibility of becoming great individuals.
Intentional Change Agents
Walk through the doors of your school each day with the purpose and intention of being an agent of change. To do this effectively, you must believe. You must believe that you have the most important career in the world. You must believe it is your duty to give hope to the hopeless, dreams to the dreamless, and power to the powerless. You must believe that you can be the impetus for a transformational life experience-not only for one young learner but for an entire generation.
It may never have occurred to you, but the profession of teaching has built within its structures an amazing ability to transform human beings. In fact, transformation is what education is all about-the act or process of imparting or acquiring general knowledge, developing the powers of reasoning and judgment, and generally preparing oneself or others intellectually for mature life. Succeeding in those actions requires a mindset for changing, morphing, transforming. Education is designed to evoke transformation both on the part of the educator and the part of the student.
Join the Movement — The Teachers Movement and make a difference today.
Dr. Graysen Walles
Author, Reasons to Keep Teaching: The Greatest Career on the Planet