I’ve said before that a great movie is one that you can revisit time and again and glean something new from it each time. The great movie that inspired this post is The Muppet Christmas Carol, the best adaptation of the Dickens classic (I will fight you on this). Specifically, I wanted to focus on a certain scene that stood out to me on this year’s viewing.
In this scene, Scrooge (played by the inimitable Michael Caine) is transported to a moment from his childhood by the waiflike Ghost of Christmas Past. He finds himself standing in his old classroom and gazes upon himself as a boy, dutifully toiling away at his desk.
Simply being in this place again has a noticeable effect on Scrooge. He slowly paces the musty, light-filled classroom with a sort of reverence.
“I know it all so well, spirit,” he says. “The desks… the smell of the chalk…” He turns to face his ghostly companion, not without a hint of pride. “I chose my profession in this room.”
This year, upon hearing Caine’s delivery of that last line, tears leapt to my eyes.
Because I’m sentimental by nature, I ascribe a lot (maybe too much) meaning to places. Places become inexorably connected to a certain time in one’s life and get caught up in our feelings and memories. This scene from The Muppet Christmas Carol got me thinking about classrooms.
I’ve only recently embarked on my teaching career. I’ve taught a few different classes at a few different colleges. In some cases, I’ve taught in the same room from semester to semester.
The rooms themselves have been mostly unremarkable. The majority of them are square, windowless rooms with dull carpet and beige walls. A dry erase board faces rows of long, Formica-covered desks with rolling chairs shoved underneath them. The rooms are utilitarian, with nothing too noteworthy about them.
And yet… even though I find myself in an interchangeable beige room from semester to semester, my experience in that room is never the same. The gathering of the specific group of individuals that meet in this room at this specific point in time will never take place again, making each semester-long interaction rare, special, and un-replicable.
The things in our lives gain significance because we grant them significance. In these classrooms, I’ve seen friendships form, fielded weighty questions that gave me pause, and witnessed epiphanies with the power to shift long-held perceptions about the world. Like any spot granted a plaque or historical marker, these rooms become significant because of what happens in them.
When the Ghost of Christmas Past urges Scrooge to reflect upon the time he spent in his old classroom, Scrooge dismisses the significance of those days long past.
“They were all very much the same,” he says. “Nothing ever changed.” Indeed, as he watches his childhood pass before his eyes, he sees himself sitting and studying in the same modest classroom year after year.
“You changed,” the spirit points out.
It’s easy to forget the simple magic of a place like a classroom, a space where many disparate lives meet, clash, and influence one another. This year, The Muppet Christmas Carol helped remind me of the power of this place. Like Scrooge, any one of my students may choose their profession in this unassuming little room, discovering what they want to do with the rest of their life.
This semester is coming to a close, but it won’t be long before I find myself standing again before a smudged dry erase board and some folding desk tables, ready to bear witness to something singular and extraordinary.
- Thanks, Muppet Christmas Carol, for inspiring this post and giving me an excuse to wax poetic about classrooms.
- This year marks the film’s 25th anniversary, if you needed an excuse to revisit it.
- Shout out to Sam Eagle for providing me with one of my many teaching inspirations.
Coming soon: a look back on the films of 2017!