I am a sucker for teacher movies. I like seeing a teacher take a rag-tag group of kids and molding them into something spectacular or teaching privileged kids there is more to life than money.
The Emperor’s Club falls into the latter category: Kevin Kline plays beloved Latin teacher William Hundert at a presitgious boys boarding school. The boys’ respect for him is obvious, and then Sedgewick Bell joins the class.
Sedgewick has been in and out of various boarding schools, and it’s implied this is Sedgewick’s last chance. Despite the classroom distraction that Sedgewick is, Mr. Hundert is determined to change him, to get through to him. But he never quite does. Even in adulthood, Sedgewick shows little growth.
When I first saw this movie, I couldn’t understand how Hundert would be so myopic in his teaching. Why focus so much attention on a kid who clearly didn’t want–or deserve–the time and energy? And why did Hundert feel like he had failed as a teacher because of Sedgewick’s choices, when 15 other boys clearly loved and respected him? Why not just forget Sedgewick and focus on all the good he’s done with the other students?
Well, with eight more years of teaching under my belt since I first saw the film, I get it. I could walk down the hallway tomorrow and run into any number of students who would probably say they learned something from me, that my class was valuable, and a few might even consider me a mentor. But it is The One that I’m thinking of tonight. The One student who is angry with me because of a natural consequence. The One student who now I am worried will shut down with my student teacher and miss out on fantastic learning opportunities the rest of the semester.
Why can’t I just forget The One and focus on all the good I’ve done with other students?
Because that’s not why I became a teacher. What good would I be if I only focused on the kids who were easy to teach, and neglected the kids who were a bit tougher?