Time for a mellow addition to “Allison’s Jukebox.” I heard this song again on the radio, by coincidence, just days before my niece’s high school graduation, and I realized that, in part due to the motion picture it was heard in, it’s a perfect song for graduation season.
First, about the movie the song is heard in: Teachers was a comedic/dramatic motion picture that was released in the fall of 1984. It was the type of film where you’d throw a boatload of notable actors (Nick Nolte! JoBeth Williams! Judd Hirsch!) into one setting, give their characters somewhat disparate yet related situations, and let them do their work.
Of course, since the film’s title is Teachers, it’s about the a typical day (week?) at an inner city high school, focusing on its faculty and teachers who, let’s face it, do not have good moral or ethical standing yet are trying their best to rise above the system (well, some of them anyway).
As noted above, Teachers has one main plot line (er, two really) but quite a few disparate subplots. Here’s a partial rundown of the latter:
- Fights between students.
- Fights between faculty members (like I said, the faculty’s not perfect).
- The death of a student at the hands of police (a harbinger of present day news?).
- A mental outpatient who poses as a substitute teacher and makes U.S. history engaging for the class (Richard Mulligan was always a pleasure to watch).
- And a female student who gets knocked up by a gym teacher, only to have another teacher take her to an abortion clinic (a scene that definitely raised a ruckus with conservative groups at the time).
Teachers’ two main plot lines center on Nick Nolte’s character, Alex, a Social Studies teacher who’s strung out, worn down, and frustrated (typecasting of Mr. Nolte, perhaps?) after all these years from rowdy students and a stifling system. Saying all that, is there any wonder that Alex now takes his teaching role lightly? He’s thrust into two bad situations: A pending lawsuit from a former graduate who claims he was given a diploma despite being illiterate, and Alex having to step into an interim role as school psychologist, where he befriends a bright yet troubled student, Eddie. Alex is now seen as a threat to the administration in the lawsuit, and despite their forcing him to resign from the school, he stubbornly stays on, saying flat out that he’s not there to help the higher-ups protect their jobs but to be there for the students who need the guidance. Call Alex the hero of Teachers, if you must.
Now that you get the idea of what Teachers was about, let’s get to the song this post is supposed to be about. “Understanding” plays during the closing credits, right after Alex gives the faculty a piece of his mind and walks right back into school, to the cheers and applause of the students and the admiration of the troubled Eddie. As you’ll hear in the lyrics sung by Bob Seger, “Understanding” is an appropriate encapsulation of the mentor/pupil relationship between Alex and Eddie. Here is someone who “used to just get lost,” but thanks to guidance from a necessary source, they have some confidence and a new perspective on life.
“Understanding” is not only a perfect capstone to Teachers but an appropriate song to sum up any connection between lost student and sagacious guide. I know I’ve had at least one such guiding force from the world of education who saw the potential I had to become somebody (a topic for another post perhaps). I’m sure my just-graduated oldest niece had her own guiding force while in school, and just as sure that my three other nieces have their own guiding lights. I dare you to listen to this song and not consider your own appreciation for that teacher who saw your rough edges, helped you refine your talents, and applauded when you became fully formed. Enjoy the song, think about that guiding figure in your own life, and perhaps send them a thank you.