Led Zeppelin didn't write tunes that everyone liked... they left that to the Bee Gees. -Wayne Campbell, Philosopher, 1992
This was my first year teaching high school and I had nearly all seniors. There were lots of things I wasn't prepared for, but none more than the push to try to graduate a full two weeks before the year ended. Seniors finals were a week early so my last week I had about 5 students my entire day. Then we had 2 hour long finals periods, but I had no finals to give.
Good thing Rescue Rangers came out!
And I'm pretty sure they wrote the movie for me personally. I am absolutely a 90s kid and my formative years were spent watching the Disney Afternoon block. From Duck Tales, to Dark Wing, to the pinnacle of serialized cartoon animation Gargoyles and on to Rescue Rangers, (Sorry Bonkers, you came too late for me) I watched it pretty much every single day after school. I admit to having multiple Disney Afternoon theme songs on my music playlist.
I then went on (or perhaps simply continued) to become a nerd. Despite being far too old to do so, I continue to follow video games and youth pop culture. At least I can use the excuse that I do it for my students!
Rescue Rangers very clearly plays on early 90s nostalgia, (I mean, honestly, it's the entire theme of the movie.) but it also plays on modern pop and nerd culture. I won't spoil it by revealing who one of the surprisingly important characters is, but if you aren't up on your modern nerd pop culture, you'll probably be incredibly confused. The movie is filled with little one-off references that are a ton of fun, but when major characters are references, you know you've limited your audience. Whether it is the hilarious stop-motion movement of the Gumby rip-off or the aging stubble of the main villain, or the red and blue tint of the 3D character, there are things that much of the audience simply won't get unless they have a very specific frame of reference.
Even the very last line of the movie nails this. Again, I won't spoil it, but it felt like they were reading my mind. Yes, movie, I was waiting for that!
So, I can draw only one conclusion - whoever made this movie, made it specifically for me.
And that is really cool.
I found myself immediately recommending it to fellow teachers who are my age and who I know share a similar nerdy bent, but I can't recommend it to everyone. I loved it specifically for the nostalgia and references. If someone didn't get those things from it, the movie would barely exist. The plot of the movie is so thin that it even mocks itself for it at a major story point (which I found hilarious.) I will, however, always have a strong personal connection to it. Just as I will always put Wayne's World in the top 5 movies of all time because of how it colored my childhood, this movie will rank highly because of how it knew my childhood. I loved it, because it was mine.
And I began to wonder if any of my students have walked away from one of my lessons with that same feeling.
It's easy to see when a lesson works with a class. Students are engaged, they are having a good time, they are learning and they are a little bummed when it ends. As a teacher, one gets really good at reading a room. Well, one should at least. I know when energy is dropping. I know when something isn't making sense. But, admittedly, I mostly know it on an aggregate level. I have not really trained myself to see if one specific student is connecting or not. In a 50-minute period that is filled from bell to bell with learning, it just doesn't seem particularly feasible.
As teachers we are taught, literally, to use universal design techniques that will reach all students. We can then differentiate for our advanced or struggling learners. Let's be real though, that second part doesn't often happen. It is way too time consuming and frankly, is really hard to do well. So, instead we design lessons to appeal to as broad a spectrum of our students as possible. Then, if you're like me, you look at the few who didn't get it, write them off as outliers and say to yourself, "well, most of them got it!"
And hey, a day where most of my students got the lesson is a win in my book! So, I'm not saying this is wrong. I think the problem though, is that by aiming toward the middle every time, we might miss out on hitting one of those perfect lesson high points that ends up jump-starting a student's interest in our class or subject.
Because, I do really like Led Zeppelin, and I really liked Rescue Rangers.
So, what if we had lessons that were a bit more targeted from time to time? Maybe digging deep into John and Abigail Adams' love letters would turn some students off, but it might hook one who only ever saw history as war after war after war. Maybe theming a lesson around Among Us would be "so cringe" to some students, but it might appeal to that one student who is obsessed with the game and too embarrassed to talk about it now that it isn't the "in" thing any more.
How do we do this? I don't know yet. I just know the movie got me thinking and hopefully it helps free up my design ideas this summer. I'll still aim to reach as many students as possible, but I'll be more open to taking risks that might appeal to just a few in a target audience.
And I wanted an excuse to tell you to watch Rescue Rangers if you're 90s kid into nerd pop culture!