About fifteen years ago, I discovered 10 Things I Hate About You when it hit the basic cable rotation of non-stop replays on USA. As any good stock preteen character would do, I watched it ad nauseam and became majorly obsessed with it.
I wanted desperately to be Kat, all angst and feminist rage. I was in love with Patrick because Heath Ledger. I felt Cameron’s awkwardness and longing to be noticed deep in my bones. As I got older, the movie got funnier and funnier, both because of the weird insights into teenage life, and because of my own work with and in schools.
The movie is great because it, along with Can’t Hardly Wait and other late ’90s early 2000s teen comedies ushered in the next wave in the post-John Hughes teen movie landscape. Teens were already proven to be funny, tragic, and complex young people, but now they added self-referential, sarcastic and self-aware to the game. It both streamlined and complicated the existing John Hughes blueprints. Added to this was the inexplicable desire to update and modernize everything Shakespeare to appeal to the youths (see also, She’s the Man, O, that Ethan Hawke Hamlet, and Baz Luhrman’s Romeo + Juliet) which at least lead to a less “popular” play being adapted through 10 Things.
We’ve already covered the greatest moments in the movie and our own Selena even recapped her first time watching the movie. So instead of rehashing everything great about this movie (which includes its amazing cast and insanely quotable dialogue), I’ve decided to embrace this movie as it informs my understandings of schools as a sociologist and as a someone who has recently returned to work as a high school administrator after a few years in academia.
10 Things I learned About Schools
- This is the truest summary of schools in America.
It was a funny line when I was 12 and didn’t understand how entirely true it is, but now that I’m older, it’s also sad.
- Many things on film are less fun when you start working in schools.
Like the empowering fight scene. Or Kat flashing someone. You never see the less fun, school side of these scenes. The phone calls! The paperwork! PEOPLE HAVE TO CLEAN THIS MESS UP.
- “Teenage Rebellion” is cute…
until it’s not.
- Seriously, who is that kid? aka the Invisible Effect
Teachers and school staff are usually painfully aware of all the cliques and friend groups and weird teams of students. There are also always those characters that just seem to sort of glom onto people (either individual or groups) and don’t really come out of their shell quite yet. It’s okay, you’ll figure it out when you want to, or are ready.
- Lunchtime talk is essential for survival.
Much like most jobs, lunch can be a time of stress for anyone with anxious tendencies. If you’re new, the questions start popping up left and right. Should I follow my team? Do they have a thing? Where’s the best place to eat around here? What’s the cafeteria food like? If your school lacks a faculty lounge, this may also be the time you’re sitting in an awkward corner of the cafeteria, trying to strike a fine balance between approachable and friendly to students, and please everyone just be quiet and stay away from me. Also, lunch break is where all the good gossip is shared, let’s be real.
- Free food is just as important to teachers and staff.
Arguably this is true of most workplaces, but I have never really seen people scramble for food, the way I’ve seen teachers pounce on free food. Hey, school officials and teachers work long hours, often mostly on their feet, for relatively low pay. Free food is our catnip.
- There is always that person who is just so beyond over it.
Ms. Perky had her book. There is always that person who just side-eyes and makes sarcastic jabs at students. This is often the teacher or administrator who can call people out on their shit and people respect it. Both Ms. Perky and Mr. Morgan do this in the film, and I love it so much, because everyone knows at least one person who did that over the course of their student life.
- There is also always that too real teacher whose genius is not appreciated.
I mean Allison Janney is great and inappropriate and hilarious, but the unsung teacher hero of this movie is Daryl Mitchell’s Mr. Morgan, who drops truth bombs on his Pacific Northwest classroom that is starting to come into consciousness about the world.
- Parents = greatest ally or worst enemy.
Every parent and guardian has their own style of parenting. Sometimes this meshes really well with specific teaching styles, and/or the overall school culture, other times, not so much. Either way the teacher-parent relationship is difficult and delicate.
- School security is not equipped to handle these types of situations.
But look how dreamy he is anyway!
10 Things I Hate About You will always be one of my favorite movies. It’s because I can remember every single time I three-way dialed my friends to let them know it was on, and then sat there holding the phone to my ear and chatting throughout the entire movie. As an adult, I can gripe about things that would never happen in schools, but really I just want to enjoy the darkly comic joyousness that 10 Things so perfectly captured about being a teenager.