documentary about a nyc teacher whose unconventional methods won him the hearts of his students, but brought him some ire from the faculty. the documentary didn’t play up the problems other teachers had with his flamboyant and challenging style and i appreciated that. making something out of nothing is a drag. i had a teacher almost exactly like this one, also in fifth grade. he, too, taught his students shakespeare and held high expectations for his class. he, too, had an ongoing vocabulary list that was determined by the students, not the teacher. we’d see/hear a word we didn’t know and he’d write it on the board. one thing that mr. manitzas (my teacher) did that the subject of this documentary didn’t was throw pennies to whoever answered a question correctly. it made for a little contest, it gave us money and it made him cooler because he was going against the grain by throwing things inside. the subject of the documentary, too, threw things, but he would throw chalk and erasers at his students. nowadays that would get him canned, but i don’t have too much of a problem with it. the difference, as one former student noted, is that he allowed the students to throw it back. there was an equity in the classroom that really inspired the students, even the trouble-makers, who he literally asked to have in his class.
as inspiring a figure as he was, the documentary doesn’t do a great job of really building that inspiration. there was stock footage and plenty of interviews with former students who went on to lead happy and successful lives, but it lacked heart in some way. i suppose it never really got close enough to anyone and didn’t develop a story. since the documentary was made in the 2000s and he was teaching mostly in the 60s, truly developing and showing the style is difficult. it would have been infinitely more rewarding, for example, if we could have seen him deal with problem students over the course of a year. seeing the progression and impact he undoubtedly had would have been quite a treat. luckily i had a teacher like this so i can fill in the many blanks.