Teaching: How Buffy Made Me a Better Teacher

With the announcement that Sarah Michelle Gellar will be attending Star Wars Celebration, I’ve been thinking more about the show lately.  It also helps that it’s been in entertainment news lately because it has reached its 20th anniversary.

When I first watched the show, during the original run, I just watched it for the drama and humor.  Both were top notch, even if the special effects sometimes were not up to their level.  It wasn’t until the second time I watched it, that I realized the brilliance of Joss Whedon.  It amazes me that he wasn’t a high school teacher  (his mother was, though).  He captures high school perfectly.

By this, I mean he captures all the horrors of high school.  “Out of Mind, Out of Sight” showcased a girl (Clea DuVall) that just wasn’t noticed in high school.  When I watched around 2010 it reminded me of what that feeling felt like.  It reminded me that I need to reach every student, not just the attentive and the troublemakers. “I, Robot…You, Jane” was well ahead of its time with it’s stories of making friends on the Internet. At the time of the writing, only real nerds did this kind of stuff, but it still resonates today. “The Pack” might be a little too on the nose with it’s group bullying storyline.  I mean that as a compliment. “Earshot” looks at a student who reaches the point where he wants to commit suicide.

The brilliance of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is that you can watch it from both sides.  When you are younger, you see it through the eyes of the Scooby Gang.  When you are older, Giles, Joyce, and Angel are you window into this world.  When we met Anthony Head, I thanked him for making me a better teacher.  The show not only gives you a viewpoint to the life of teenagers, but it is written in a way that builds empathy for them.  This is the mistake most shows about that age group make…they divide us from the people.  Most teenage shows have the older people be obstacles or people that don’t have a clue.  Not here.  Giles and Joyce are responsible adults who truly care about those in their charge.  They don’t always understand everything, but they always try. Through them, we become protective of the Scooby Gang.  Because of them, I have become more empathetic to my students’ issues.

Angel even furthers this.  He is perpetually young, but he is the oldest soul on the show.  And because he has a soul, he sees the tragedy in almost every situation mainly because he has seen every situation many times. As a teacher, you often just repeat years.  The students change, but the problems don’t.  Too often, you see students make mistakes before they make them.  This can be as simple as putting off homework or as complicated as choosing the right college/vocation.  We treat high school students as kids because they are, but at the same time, we ask them to decide their future.  The future is always the biggest and baddest big bad.

I know I won’t have time to tell Ms. Gellar all of this.  I am fully expecting to be so star struck that I’ll be surprised if I can utter actual words.  But I had to thank her, and the cast, and Mr. Whedon in some form.  So I choose this one.

 

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