as coaches, and as tutors. While the mentor acts as guiding force in
students’ lives driven by wisdom and experience, the coach and tutor
play a more active role in fostering the innate abilities, both academically
and otherwise, that students present in and out of the classroom. In the
wildly popular 2004 comedy Mean Girls, the academically gifted main
character’s multifaceted relationship with her math teacher offers a look
at a teacher who blends these models together to help the student not
just academically but in all realms of life.
The film focuses on the life of high school transfer student Cady
Heron (Lindsay Lohan), who struggles to transition from an isolated
lifestyle of homeschooling in Africa to the shallow and superficial,
clique-driven world perpetuated by the stereotypical, middle-class,
suburban North Shore High School in Illinois. While Cady strives to
establish her place as a member of the popular “Plastics” clique to
affirm her rising social status, her innate academic ability in the field of
mathematics piques the interest of the quirky-yet-lovable math teacher,
Ms. Norbury (Tina Fey). Despite Cady’s declining focus on academics
during her pursuit of popularity, which escalates as she begins to
purposefully fail exams in order to impress her love interest, Ms.
Norbury consistently tries to persuade the student to fulfill her
academic potential and join the Mathletes rather than focusing on social
climbing. After a rumour-filled “Burn Book” (written by Cady and the
Plastics) circulates the school (mocking students and teachers alike),
Cady becomes a social pariah and ends up joining the Mathletes as part
of her punishment.
In Mean Girls the relationship between Cady and Ms. Norbury
unfolds to reveal this particular good teacher as a combination of the
role model and tutor. Ms. Norbury first acts as a tutor when she
encourages Cady to pursue her strength in mathematics by pushing her
to challenge herself by joining the Mathletes in academic competition.
At one point, she also offers this wise advice: “I know that having a
boyfriend may seem like the most important thing in the world right
now, but you don’t have to dumb yourself down to get guys to like
you… I’m a pusher now I’m going to push you because I know you are
17
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