Thursday, October 31, 2013

Media Representations of Teachers: Admiral Slaughter

Admiral Slaughter is one of the more down-to-earth teachers on Community.

Admiral Slaughter's Class (Community 1x19)

Community, one of my favorite television shows, has a large cast of eccentric, crazy, and just plain unqualified teachers, so Admiral Slaughter really stands out in the show's representations of educators. The show is interesting in that it sort of defines the roles of teachers implicitly through parody, satire and deliberately bad examples of them. Slaughter is almost the complete opposite of the other teachers in this show, which makes him in a way representative of the show's philosophy on what a good teacher should be. In a group of characters that is rich with parody and wild antics, he is the real deal. He begins his week-long course by explicitly stating his objectives, the standard he is holding his students to, what kind of work the students can expect, and his grading policy. From the moment he steps into his classroom (the boat in the middle of Greendale Community College's parking lot), he assumes the secure and confident role and identity of "teacher," focused on the students, the content of the course and project-based collaborative learning.

When he introduces himself, he is at a lower elevation than the other characters, and they are looking down at him, but they are separated. The students are on one side of the boat, and he is on the other as he gives them information. This is reminiscent of a lecture hall's structure, with elevated rows of students and the teacher down at the bottom where everyone can see. This decision from the director makes his role as a teacher visually obvious. For the rest of the course, he stands behind the captain's position on the boat, his arms either crossed or holding his clipboard. This too is a product of good directing that helps in the representation of Admiral Slaughter as a teacher. He stands there because he is guiding the students in project-based learning. They have their instructions and are co-constructing and applying knowledge together on the boat as he watches and gives new instructions and information when needed. During dialogue sequences, his body can be seen in the background. This is a deliberate decision, showing that while all of the action is in his students' hands at the moment, he is always there to keep them on task and track their progress. When the boat is triumphantly sailing across the parking lot to rescue Pierce, Slaughter can be clearly seen standing above and watching with his arms still crossed, a solid and imposing form. The majority of his teaching (such what each part of the boat is, among other things), is done off-screen, so how well he handles that portion of teaching is implicit in his students' work and actions. They perform well, using all kinds of relevant vocabulary. They also seem to know their roles on the boat very well.

When his students have decided to start applying their knowledge with this unplanned rescue project, he doesn't bark at them or stop them. He's giving his students choice and allowing them to apply their knowledge in a creative way that reflects who they are as people. This is evident in Shirley's statement that "the sea may be cruel, but I am not," and he rewards this behavior. Admiral Slaughter praises Shirley a lot. He does this through spoken compliments and head nodding. While I think he should be praising the other students more often (he does make a big point of saying that all of their efforts together are what matter), this praise is another positive thing to see from a teacher on this show, and Shirley becomes more confident as a captain as a result. Her promotion to admiral at the end of the episode is unnecessary in the context of the class, but Slaughter knows she has earned the extra praise and his respect.

I don't think he is the best representation of the teachers at Greendale Community College, but I do think he is one of the best representations of a good teacher on the show. He achieves his objectives through explicit instruction, his assessments seem fair in the context of the course, and he creates a classroom culture geared towards learning together through project-based learning. He praises students for their good work and he lets them know when things go wrong or when they are in danger of failing without humiliating them. There are a lot explicit representations of teaching styles I do not agree with on a realistic level in Community, but I do agree with this representation of the teacher's role. The focus is on the students, but he is leading and giving them just what they need when they need it while giving them respect.