Chalk
By the look on her face, I think he just asked her to prom … creepy.

Theatrical Release Date: 04/11/2007
Director: Mike Akel
Cast: Shannon Haragan, Chris Mass, Janelle Schremmer, Troy Schremmer

I must admit, when Ian asked if I wanted to go see “Chalk”, I wasn’t sure. As a teacher myself, I know that our profession is often under fire in the media, and at the end of the school year I am just too tired to be teased mockumentary style.

However, “Chalk” is a wry, hilarious take on the teaching profession. It’s the first day of school at Harrison High, an essentially generic Anytown bastion of public education. Enter our select sampling of Harrison High’s finest, a set of relatively new teachers and administrators that will be followed over the course of the year.

Coach Webb (Schremmer) is an energetic, idealistic 2nd year PE teacher that must come to grips with the fact that her desire for an organized school environment comes off as bossy and strident to her peers. In addition, she struggles with changes in her relationship with her best friend Mrs. Reddell (Haragan), who has recently moved up into an assistant principal position.

Mrs. Reddell is struggling with her own issues, as she finds out that the position of AP forces her to spend 14 hours a day at school doing everyone else’s job.

The male teachers don’t fair much better. Mr. Stroope (Mass) is a 3rd year teacher who has set his sights on being Teacher of the Year. Unfortunately, his boorish teaching style and biting sarcasm isn’t as well received as he thinks it is.

Then we have Mr. Lowrey (Schremmer), a painfully awkward new history teacher. After changing over from a career in computer engineering, he has absolutely no experience with classroom management, or kids for that matter.

Mass is a co-writer and co-producer of this film, as well as an educator. The movie was filmed at the school he teaches at, using either unknown actors or actual school staff.

The direction and acting is seamless, creating a realistic documentary feel. The characters are definitely archetypal, but the performances ring true- we have all had teachers like these at some point in our educational experiences. While most teachers aren’t as inept as these ones, everyone has shortcomings and insecurities. As a result, the interpersonal relationships are both hilarious and heartbreaking.

While these people are deeply flawed, their earnest struggles are often touching. The performance that resonates most strongly is Schremmer’s portrayal of Mr. Lowrey.

At the beginning of the film, his awkwardness with his students is uncomfortable to watch, and I prayed that he would just quit and put everyone out of their misery. During the course of the year, however, I began to change my mind.

While he continues to struggle all year, he starts to figure some things out. He jokes around with his students, and tries to connect with them. His successes are modest to be sure, but that is how real growth works.

By the end of the year, you are really cheering for this sweetly hopeless man, and I actually sat on the edge of my seat while I waited to see if he would sign the next year’s contract.

I teach elementary school, so in some ways high school teaching is as foreign to me as it is to the next girl. However, as a 2rd year teacher, I think all teachers will agree that it is one of the most difficult careers you will find out there.

Near the end of the film, Mr. Lowrey says that teaching is a gift. This film is a gift for teachers, an opportunity to laugh at ourselves while still reassuring us that someone understands how hard we work to connect with our students.

For all of this, I give this film a 4 out of 5. If you want to learn a little bit about what teaching actually entails, and have a good laugh in the process, give this movie a try.