I can’t think of a single TV show that gripped me like Breaking Bad. Sure there was Star Trek: The Next Generation and The X Files in high school. Not too long ago The Shield had me hooked. And The Walking Dead still keeps me thinking. But none of those shows put a stranglehold on my mind like Breaking Bad.
I watched the pilot years ago in some kind of Amazon video trial. I heard a thing or two about it. I was intrigued when I saw the cover image of a middle-aged white guy standing, gun in hand, in his tighty-whities while a gas mask and battered RV sat in the background. I’m so glad I decided to watch it. I was hooked like a street druggie on some of that sweet baby crank.
The series finale aired a few weeks ago. Even though I knew it was in its last season, it was still sad. It was the same type of feeling I get when I finish book series or an incredible novel.
It will be hard completely saying goodbye to Breaking Bad. I’m still thinking about the nuances in the finale. It was an incredible run.
More than just entertainment, I’m glad the show reminded me of some dangerous truths about teaching. I say dangerous because not following them could have dire consequence for you or your students.
Here are five dangerous truths about teaching that I learned from Breaking Bad.
1. You must help kids find something they’re good at
I’m not sure if it was ever revealed how good of a high school chemistry teacher protagonist Walter White was. I’m sure he was fine. But cooking his blue meth… That was something he was the best at.
There’s no telling what amazing things could have come from him if he would have been pushed to use his brilliant mind for good. Instead, he felt trapped and went down a slippery slope. He used his intellect for worse and worse things.
We must help our students find those things they are good at. There’s a chance it won’t be school or the current class they’re in. Sports, music, logic, art. Whatever.
Each of us has the potential to change the world for good with our God-given gifts. What a blessing to be able to find that out as early as possible.
2. You should find a partner
Walter figured out early on that he needed a partner. He found that in the unlikely person of his former student, Jesse.
Jesse became more than a partner as the series progressed. He became Walt’s confidant and eventually his friend. He was right there experiencing everything going on during their crazy ride. I like to think that Walt was a type of father figure for Jesse, and he eventually loved him like a son.
Being a teacher is insane. The demands are crazy. The time required is exhausting. It’s an impossible job that we try to make possible.
If you don’t want to wind up dead on the floor of a metaphorical meth lab, then you should find a partner too. Burnout is way too real. Teachers need someone who is right there experiencing the crazy ride of a school year. We were never meant to do life alone.
3. Sometimes, no matter what, you just can’t change someone
There was no going back once Walt set down the path of cooking meth. One he made up his mind to be a criminal, he set forth a series of events that would alter the path of his life.
Walt had many people in his life try to change his mind at one point or another. He wouldn’t listen. Not to Jesse, not to his lawyer, not even to his wife. He made up his mind to continue down his dark road and no one was going to change it. He once said, “Never give up control. Live life on your own terms.”
There will be students like this that enter our lives. For whatever reason, they’ve made up their minds about something, and they’re not going to change it. This can create loads of tears and stress for any teacher.
Sometimes you just have to let it go. I’m not saying to give up on a student. I’m just advocating for perspective. I’ve realized that I can’t be that teacher to every student. It was a sad, but relieving realization.
No matter how warm your classroom, no matter how engaging your lesson, no matter how big your heart, there is no way you can change everyone. Do what you can with the time you have, and let the rest go.
4. Understand that everyone has their reasons
I’ve learned that there’s always a story behind the story with students. We see a tiny fragment of their lives. We think we know their reasons for misbehavior, their lack of effort, or their bad attitude. But we don’t.
Walt chose to go down a dark path after he was diagnosed with cancer. One bad decision led to another. He felt he had no other choice when he committed murder. Every criminal act was always justified in his mind. He had his reasons.
Up until almost the end of his life he always said he was doing it for his family. It could be hard to tell from the outside. Most would pass him off as a degenerate outlaw. Yet, Walter remained convinced he had to do it because of his family.
He finally admitted to his wife on the last day of his life something different. “I did it for myself,” he said. “I liked it. I was good at it. It made me feel alive.”
We never truly know another’s motivations and how or why they change. That should keep us incredibly humble.
5. Never underestimate a person’s potential
Walter White had so much potential inside of him. Like we all do. It’s sad that it took a cancer diagnosis to bring that out. It’s even more tragic that he used that potential to hurt so many people.
Walt was a mild mannered high school chemistry teacher. No one would’ve believed he had what it took to become the biggest drug manufacturer in the south west. But he hit his breaking point and unleashed a potential that surprised everyone, even him.
How incredible would it be if we could help our students and children find that potential in themselves?
Wouldn’t be amazing if we could put our energy into building a rock solid foundation instead of picking up the pieces after the demolition?
What kind of difference would it make in their lives to know early on that they truly matter and are capable of so much more than they could imagine?
Our job is to make the impossible possible each day. We have young people counting on us to make that happen. Don’t discount any inspiration or encouragement, even if it comes from unlikely places—like the exploits of a fictional crystal meth kingpin.
Did you have any take-aways from the series?
- Fact: a shaven head and goatee makes you look 78% more awesome.
- Teachers should definitely get paid more money.
- RVs can serve a variety of purposes.
- Don’t write off your former students. You never know when they’ll come back.
- Don’t cook meth. Just don’t. And probably don’t sell it either.