often better off without a strong teacher presence because they are
more adept at teaching themselves.
The final model that arises from the emotionally superlative
student category is that of the wise student, as exemplified by the
children’s film Matilda (1996). The titular character Matilda Wormwood
(Mara Wilson) is both academically and emotionally superlative with a
passion for learning and a wealth of knowledge (even at a young age),
as well as an emotional maturity. She appears to be self-sufficient and
wise beyond her years in contrast with her unsupportive and amoral
parents and the tyrannical headmaster, Miss Trunchbull (Pam Ferris).
Matilda ends up taking down Miss Trunchbull and even saves the
stereotypical good teacher, Miss Honey (Embeth Davidtz), who has
always been a friend and confidant to the littler girl. In this sense,
Matilda’s superior morality and level of responsibility as well as her
ability to support the adults around her instead of relying on their
support all point to her as being the emotionally superlative student,
one who is wise beyond her years and capable of feats most other young
students would find impossible.
THE COMPLEX STUDENT: LEFT UNHELPED BY THE GOOD
TEACHER
Despite the different forms of support, guidance, and care
provided by the various good teachers and the lessons learned from the
occasional bad teachers, the four student categories and the student-
teacher relationships that emerge from them offer many insights into
how these students in film are influenced by the teachers in their lives.
It is important to recognize, however, that these categories and models
are not exhaustive and, in fact, leave out a number of students who fail
to receive the support of these educators. This omission, though
troubling because of the students who are not part of the story, is a
function of the economies of cinematic storytelling. After all, these
films average about two hours. With that limited screen time, directors
make choices, and the conventional narrative structure of Hollywood
(by way classical dramatic structures set long before) are focused on a
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