Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Shin, Eui-kyung

Degree Name

Ed.D. (Doctor of Education)

Legacy Department

Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations


Teachers in motion pictures; Education in motion pictures; Teacher education; Film studies


This dissertation examines the constructed image of a female teacher protagonist as seen in Hollywood school films. School films of the previous century mostly depicted either a male super hero teacher or a helpless, scared educator girl. The former is unattainable, the later is undesirable. However more recently, school films are presenting a completely different image of a female teacher that is neither heroic nor naive; rather, she is lazy, unhappy, and completely disheartened with her profession.||For the purposes of this study, three films: Won't Back Down (2012), Larry Crowne (2011), and Bad Teacher (2011) were divided into a five act structure based on the syntactic patterns present in school films: 1) establishing character at school, 2) establishing character at home, 3) teaching examples prior to change, 4) teaching examples after change, and 5) conclusion/suggestion of a new life. The characterization of each protagonist within the five acts was abstracted using James Phelan's (1989) concepts of character dimension and character function. Elements of mise-en-scene (setting, costume/makeup, lighting, staging and performance) were added to Phelan's concept of character dimension to layer a visual analysis on top of the plot progression. Screen captures from the five acts of each film provide the mise-en-scene for analysis and evidence of mimetic, synthetic, and thematic components of characterization. Given theoretical frameworks of both narratology and feminist/post-feminist theory, thematic coding reveals five themes in Hollywood's modern depiction of a female teacher: 1) Low Enthusiasm with Even Lower Expectations, 2) Without an Incentive, Students are Insignificant, 3) Boyfriend/Husband/Father Knows Best, 4) the Only Real Advancement is in Attitude, and 5) Feminism is Flexible. The conclusion of this dissertation provides a comparison between the characterization of Nona Alberts of Won't Back Down, Mercedes Tainot of Larry Crowne, and Elizabeth Halsey of Bad Teacher and the masculinized teacher heroes who fought for the rights of their students in earlier school films.


Advisors: Eui-Kyung Shin.||Committee members: Joseph Flynn; Robert T. Self.


193 pages




Northern Illinois University

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