Recently, schools across Long Island sent busloads of students to theaters to see “Wonder,” a heartwarming story about a boy fighting to overcome a facial deformity. Hearing this news brought back wonderful memories of my years in the classroom when I would take my 7th-grade social studies students to see inspirational films. Over the years, we saw, among others, “Gandhi” at Radio City Music Hall, “The Blind Side,” “Invictus” (about Nelson Mandela), “Lincoln,” and “42” (Jackie Robinson).
I enjoyed it for a number of reasons: 1) I am a movie buff and I wanted my students to appreciate films; 2) it brought history alive; 3) it was a nice way for my students to bond with each other and with me.
All good memories that we still talk about years later.
Some of my colleagues, on the other hand, had less-than-wonderful experiences — outside and inside — the classroom. One teacher made the near-fatal mistake of not previewing a French movie when she took her kids to see it at nearby C.W. Post College. Beginning at 9 a.m., the opening scene contained explicit scenes of lesbian love-making. The teacher immediately hustled her charges up and out the door and returned home by 9:25 a.m. in what some veterans said was the quickest field trip in our school’s history.
Another colleague had a similar experience years earlier. Before the invention of DVDs or even videocassettes, teachers would project a film on a movie screen. Her film about life in a small town was proceeding smoothly and without incident until a very well-endowed and thoroughly naked young lady frolicked across the screen. To shield her students from witnessing such a scene, the teacher stood in front of the projector only to realize that the naked young woman was now frolicking across her chest.
Thankfully, I had no such incidents, but there was one occasion when I was apprehensive about taking my students to the movies. It happened when I accompanied a small group of difficult students (purposely clustered together in my class to give them more individual attention) to see “Paper Clips,” a documentary about a school in Tennessee where the students knew little or nothing about the Holocaust. (They couldn’t fathom six million Jews murdered, so the teacher had them collect paper clips . . . six million of them. The class was featured on the evening news and soon celebrities were sending in paper clips. Steven Spielberg sent them a clip. Tom Brokaw did, too.)
Despite my students’ less-than-stellar reputations, I plunged ahead and we met on a Thursday night at the Roslyn Theatre.
Walking in together, I could sense the apprehension of the mostly elderly movie-goers as my motley-looking crew entered the auditorium. Immediately, some of the patrons got up and went to the box office to get their money back. I grew fearful that maybe this wasn’t a good idea.
Unaware of the tumult their appearance caused, my students settled into their seats. Before the lights dimmed, I witnessed a curious sight: Turning around in their seats, I could see them conversing with the older folks. Wasn’t sure what they were talking about, but there were abundant smiles and nods and . . . then “Paper Clips” started.
I watched my students. They were engaged in the movie. No one snuck out to get popcorn or soda.
When it was over, the crowd — students and local patrons — filed out. I could hear young and old discussing the film. And, as they passed me, the seniors offered compliments. One said, “You have very sweet students.” Another gentleman gave me the thumbs-up and said, “You must be proud of your children.” I beamed at them and nodded.