Teachers on screen remembered
Emrah Güler - ANKARAWorld Teachers Day may have been celebrated two months ago, but Turkey is getting ready to celebrate Teachers Day tomorrow. Teachers have been remembered every year on Nov. 24 since 1981, the anniversary of the founding of National Schools in Turkey, which taught literacy to a country transitioning into the Latin alphabet. Let’s remember some of the memorable teachers in Turkish cinema in the last half-century.
In his research on “The teacher’s image in Turkish cinema”, Erdoğan Efendioğlu reflects on the changing images of teachers on screen since 1960s. “Teachers in the history of Turkey’s motion picture generally are reflected as socio-economically poor and idealistic in 1960s, humorous in 1970s,” and “political and religious” in 1980s and 90s, he writes. The new millennium, according to Efendioğlu, sees the sexualizing of female teachers, as well as an “interference of teachers in the private lives of students.”
The socio-economic anxieties of a relatively young country are clearly reflected in the 1965 classic, director Ülkü Erakalın’s “Sevgili Öğretmenim” (Dear Teacher). A poor female teacher is appointed to an all-male private school, where apparently there is one poor student and no one who is not obnoxious. The headmaster summarizes it perfectly on the teacher’s first day: “These are not students; these are the devil’s disciples.”
In an overly dramatic scene, the young teacher tells the students how she has to look after her sick mother and her sister, something the whole class sympathizes with. In a bizarre twist, the teacher marries one of her students, morally justified through the fact that the student is older than her. Again, the teacher of Erakalın’s 1968 “Paydos” (Recess), playing the audience’s heartstrings once again, would be considered another classic example of an “idealistic yet poor teacher.”
‘Hababam Sınıfı:’ The timeless classic
Perhaps the most famous teacher in Turkish cinema is Mahmut Hoca, the tough yet warm-hearted teacher of the famous series of 1970s, “Hababam Sınıfı” (The Class of Chaos). Adapted from the plays of the late literary giant, Rıfat Ilgaz, the five original films in the series tell the shenanigans of a group of high school students and school staff with satire and warmth.
The films were brought to screen by another legendary name, director and writer Ertem Eğilmez, which overshadowed Ilgaz’s other work of over 60 poetry books, novels, plays, essays, memoirs and children’s books. To this date, the five films have proved to be timeless classics, continuing to put smiles on generations of people, and garnering new audiences from even younger generations through millions of replays of its famous scenes on YouTube.
Teaching at certain point in Ilgaz’s life might have been an inspiration for “Hababam Sınıfı,” and may be perceived by many as sweet recollections, but most of his life was spent in suffering and misery, going in and out of prisons, custodies and court houses. In his semi-autobiographical novel of 1974, “Karartma Geceleri” (Blackout Nights), Ilgaz recounts a teacher on the opposite end to his Mahmut Hoca, a teacher and poet whose books are confiscated during World War II. Late director Yusuf Kurçenli brought the novel to the screen in 1990, winning awards in Istanbul International Film Festival, the Golden Oranges and earning a nomination for the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival.
The most memorable portrayal of a teacher on screen in recent history is the 2008’s “İki Dil Bir Bavul” (On the Way to School). The semidocumentary from directing duo Özgür Doğan and Orhan Eskiköy chronicles one school year of a hapless teacher in southeast Turkey, trying to teach Turkish to young students in a Kurdish village. He doesn’t speak Kurdish, while the children don’t speak Turkish, creating a unique film that became a surprise hit both at the box office and among critics, and went on to win the Best First Film award in the Golden Oranges in 2009. Here’s to all the teachers on and off screen.