DVD Review: Chalk.

So guess what? Today I got a teaching job! I'll be teaching high school freshmen English. And in complete irony, I got this movie in Netflix today, as well (I put it on my queue ages ago). So in honor of my new job, I did the stupidest thing possible and actually watched this. Here is my review.


Chalk is a mockumentary (in a style similar to The Office) about 4 new-to-newish high school educators in Texas. Mr. Lowrey (Troy Schremmer) is a first year history teacher, very nervous and shy, which causes many classroom management issues. Mr. Stroope (Chris Mass) is more comfortable in the classroom, as it's his third year, and he's hoping to win the Teacher of the Year award this time... at any cost. Coach Webb (Jannelle Schremmer) is a second year female coach accused of being gay and rather pushy. And Mrs. Reddell (Shannon Haragan) has moved up from being a teacher to being a first year Assistant Principal... though without realizing how much work it would be and how much strain it would put on her personal life.

To me, Mr. Lowrey is the true main character of the movie. He has the biggest character development and overall story arch. He was the most identifiable. When he was awkward, you felt awkward. When he succeeded, you cheered. When he screwed up, you groaned and cried "why why why?" Mrs. Reddell is the next best character, I suppose, and has the next best development of the group. I didn't care for her as much as I did Lowrey, but you do want her to succeed. And when she finally blows up on Coach Webb, you're like "about time!" 

And speaking of Coach Webb, she starts off OK, an then it goes downhill fast. The same could be said for Mr. Stroope. Both seem to be, at least at first, good teachers. But then everything comes crumbling down. Coach Webb falls apart outside the classroom, while Stroope falls apart within. Webb is just a crazy lady, attacking teachers for not writing up students who were 2 seconds late (and subsequently asking them if they wanted to join her exercise group) and getting pissed when people didn't recycle their water bottles. Stroope, on the other hand, tries to be funny, but half the time at the expense of his students. He tells one student using too big of words to stop doing that because he doesn't understand them and tells another girl who knows more history than him to dumb it down a little so that he looks better (on both counts). He then gets all his students to help campaign for him for the Teacher of the Year and... let's just say it doesn't end pretty.

But Lowrey was the real inspiration of the film. You have no idea how connected I felt to his role, even in the social scenes when he's hanging out with the other teachers or whatever. Granted, I don't think I ever came close to his level of nervousness during my student teaching, but I certainly did experience some of the same classroom management issues (and with a class about three times the size).

Which brings us to one minor quibble. These classes were super tiny, especially for a school that seemed as big as it was (at one point, they mention that the whole school has 80-something phones on campus alone). But there were maybe 7-12 kids per class (or thereabouts). Maybe it's just my personal experience, but small classes usually don't get as rowdy as some of those did. But then again, at the beginning, Mr. Lowrey was pretty awful.

The only other real issue is a dream sequence about halfway into the movie. The movie is documentary-style, so any dream sequence is automatically against the style. I learned afterward that the scene was actually filmed as a joke, but they ended up putting it in the film anyway. I'm not sure that was the best decision.

Overall, the movie was a pretty good representation of the life of a high school teacher. Outside of the Assistant Principal, though, they really didn't get much into how it affected home life. They also didn't address the TAKS test, which I think was a mistake if they were going for realism. Hell, they probably could have done a whole movie about teacher strife in accordance with that thing. But the closest they came to even mentioning it was during a song by the AP where she mentions "no child left behind." 

Otherwise, it was close (some things were too over-the-top, and other things could have been more hardcore... there wasn't enough violence, no gang violence at all, no pregnant girls or people having sex on staircases... no sex talk whatsoever, actually. But I suppose this was more of a movie about teacher hardships and not about realism of student life, so it didn't bother me too much). Some of the things they showed, I experienced (from cell phone issues, student arguments, and even students asking me to free-style rap). Not to mention teachers complaining about other teachers all the time. My biggest problem? With my new news, this movie was too real for me right now, so I probably didn't enjoy it as much as I would have in another year or so. However, it did a great job for the most part--especially the students themselves, who weren't really acting, but being themselves--and I commend it for that.

I Am McLovin!

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