The job of a teacher is quite challenging. After all, teachers have to meet a completely new set of students each year, and then they have to set about the often arduous task of trying to connect with each of these new students and engage with them on an intellectual level. This task is difficult enough already, but it is even more of a challenge when you consider that each of these students has his own foibles and peculiarities, and that beyond those problems, he almost certainly doesn’t even feel like being there in the first place, let alone learning anything from you.
It is precisely this set of challenges, on top of who knows how many others, that pushes teachers to find new tools to use in the classroom. After all, when you must come up with fresh, interesting ways to pique your students’ interest, it isn’t long until you move beyond textbooks and lectures in search of something that will, so to speak, jump out and grab your audience in a more direct way. In this desperate situation, many teachers have turned to the use of movies as an educational tool. After all, some movies can be quite educational, and what student wouldn’t prefer to watch a movie over listening to yet another lecture?
It’s true–movies can be useful teaching tools. There are basically two types: one is the more traditional feature film that gets played in theatres. Although many of these have intellectual value whatsoever, a careful teacher can find one that will be legitimately useful. The other type is a documentary, or other purely informative film–these of course do the job even better, though they may not be quite as engaging as those belonging to the first group. The bottom line is that as long as a teacher is careful about what she chooses, she can create a useful learning experience for her students through this medium.
Then again, however, there are certainly teachers who are not so careful. Sometime a movie is an all too convenient compromise–the teacher doesn’t feel like lecturing, and the students don’t feel like listening to a lecture, so instead of having to put up with each other, the teacher puts on a movie. Perhaps this is a pessimistic view, and it’s certainly not the case in all movie-viewing classrooms, but it happens. In these situations, when the movie as a teaching tool is overused, it can start to be detrimental. When a teacher starts to use movies to replace teaching, instead of to enhance teaching, the movie as an educational tool becomes problematic.
While there will always be people who feel very strongly that watching a movie in school is never appropriate, the best course of action is almost certainly a mixed approach. Movies can be quite helpful, and can definitely facilitate the goal of learning, as long as they are used only when necessary and productive. It’s when that sort of tactic becomes the norm that it starts to be counterproductive and threaten the entire purpose of the classroom itself.