The Way Teachers Look

In the book that I have been reading titled That’s Funny, You Don’t Look Like a Teacher (1995) by Weber and Mitchell there is a discussion about our perceptions of teachers and the way they are portrayed both in reality and in popular culture.  The book asks us to question: does popular culture dictate how teachers are perceived or is it teachers who inspire the roles played out in popular culture?

Weber and Mitchell draw on a variety of examples from media, film and television for their practical examples of teachers within popular culture and support their discussion with a variety of highly theoretical writers such as John Fiske, Luce Irigaray and Angela McRobbie.  Interestingly, it was refreshing to see these names appear in relation to teaching since I am used to encountering them in relation to visual culture.  Although the reason for this is the heavy influence from cultural and communication studies as well as the premise of their study being centred around drawings of teachers and how they look.

I have a few interests in discussing this book, one is personal and another is about using more current examples  of popular culture to discuss the ideas explained by the authors.  Firstly, it is not uncommon in my current role as an Art Teacher to either be told, ‘you are looking like an Art Teacher today Miss’ or ‘I would have never thought that you were an Art Teacher, you look more like a Biology teacher’.  To which my response is often – what does an Art/Biology teacher look like?  Having experienced this personally, made my interest in reading Weber and Mitchell’s account of teachers appearances much more interesting.  Weber and Mitchell start by inviting children to “Draw a teacher (any teacher)” (p.17).  Due to criticism from other researchers this question was later changed to a series of questions that included: Please draw your teacher teaching somebody, Please draw your favourite teacher, Please draw your class at work, Please draw an ideal teacher.  This was to be reassured that children were not just drawing stereotypical images of ‘a teacher’ when asked to respond to the task.  In addition, Weber and Mitchell collected drawing from pre-service teachers by also asking them to draw a teacher.  Surprisingly, regardless of the questions, the outcomes were all quite similar.  Most were female and most stood in front of a blackboard.

Out of curiosity I Google image searched the terms ‘art teacher’, ‘biology teacher’ and ‘teacher’.  These are among some of the examples of drawn images that I found.  Like Webber and Mitchell’s study there was also a dominant portrayal of women and a dominant use of the ‘blackboard’ in the background.

Google search for ‘art teacher’ – I was surprised by how an art teacher is still portrayed with a blackboard/whiteboard behind her.  Yes, I have a whiteboard in my classroom but it doesn’t define me as an art teacher.


Also found on Google images – titled ‘a boring teacher’ ; although she is performing her experiment with a smile!?


Overall, this whole discussion makes me query the ‘look’ and stereotypes associated with the word ‘teacher’.  It has also been interesting to see how some types of teachers have a more dominant presence in our visual vocabulary and that this is has not waned for a decade if not a century!



… further commentary from 23 July 2011

Glee – extension of  ‘High School Musical’
Bad Teacher – Cameron Diaz, Justin Timberlake

Waiting for Superman – animated interview with director at: