This morning I was told that my high school teacher of math and physics passed away. I was not good at math and certainly I’ve never had so much “mathematical intelligence” (or maybe I never put a , I always preferred liberal arts). However, I have a very intense and pleasant memory about this teacher, because he was very nice and we supported the same football team.

The bad news brought me back 30 years and made me think of all the dearest teacher who accompanied my years at the high school, especially the last two years. And then, of course, my classmates (some of whom I met again on Facebook). A powerful and beautiful flashback, although colored by a thin streak of melancholy.

For a sign of fate that this evening I found a film I heard about but hadn’t seen before, The Emperor’s Club, 2002 film directed by Michael Hoffman and masterfully interpreted by Kevin Kline.

The story resembles many other Hollywood movies and the character played by Kline (Professor William Hundert, esteemed teacher of history at St. Benedict College, Virginia) looks like the teacher of literature (played by Robin Williams) in “Dead Poets Society” or the teacher of art (Julia Roberts) in “Mona Lisa smile”  or the teacher of music (Richard Dreyfuss) in “Goodbye Mr Holland”. Many different stories with common traits. A “committed” and “successful” teacher, with a deep passion for his work (which he certainly does not consider a job), who watched generations of students (some who will have great successes, others less) graduate and, from this particular perspective, watched the years of his life pass by.

It is one of those films that I like, in which there are vocation, education, melancholy and learning, facilitating learning. All the teachers and all the trainers should be like this one, if they are aware of the importance of “continuing to learn” while we try to facilitate the learning of others.

The story of this film is at the same time the story of a career, as a teacher and as a headmaster (at least until someone tells him that competence is less important than the ability to “find funds”) and the story of a man who does not surrender and tries to be an example of virtue, even when sone of his students decides to follow attractive and dishonest “shortcuts”, even after leaving college.

A movie that not only remembers other movies, but that shows the “beauty” of the vocation of teenagers educators, and of the desire to learn something new, every day, by the very people who are there to learn from us.

From this movie I took this beautiful quote: “Sedgewick (the little model student son of an American senator) … the worth of a life is not determined… by a single failure, or a solitary, success. My other students taught me that”. As one of my co-workers, who is now in his 70s, says: I can learn much more from the participants in my courses than they can from me, for they have only me in front of them, and I have all of them before me…

So I want to dedicate this film, this “life path” and story of virtue to my teacher that last night passed away… and to all the other teacher who died too. And, more generally, to those who have a “vocation” for being a trainer. Because, even though I am a trainer myself, the trainer I wish to be (and that I never stop wishing, classroom after classroom), was also influenced by the sarcastic smile and the sincerity of a man who left us tonight and who taught me so much… Even if I’ve always been and I will always be bad at math…


Stefano Cera

Buy the film


“The emperor’s club“ A film Michael Hoffman, Kevin Kline, Steven Culp, Embeth Davidtz USA 2002

Buy the recommended book


“Sustainability: Approaches to Environmental Justice and Social Power” by Julie Sze


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