10 ways Saved by the Bell can speak to educators today

“Saved by the Bell” wasn’t the pinnacle of quality TV, but it was about education (sort of) and it was engaging (sort of). If we’re careful, we can learn lessons about education from it. (Photo via Wikipedia)

I have a confession to make. I think I’ve seen every episode of “Saved by the Bell.”

You know, that cheesy adolescent-focused sitcom that aired on Saturday mornings in the late 80’s and early 90’s. The jokes were lame and the acting was superficial, but I couldn’t stop watching. (It was kind of a guilty pleasure.) I can still quote lines from my favorite episodes to this day.

When Jimmy Fallon invited the cast of “Saved by the Bell” on “The Tonight Show” for a reunion — complete with a very accurate set and wardrobe — I had to watch. It was great.

Of course, when I watched it this time, I was a teacher instead of a student. As I started to think back on the entire series and all of the characters, I remembered how ridiculous some of the antics were. But I also saw some parallels between the halls of Bayside High and our schools today.

Whether you were an avid watcher of “Saved by the Bell” like me or never saw an episode, hopefully you can still glean some of the wisdom from it in this list. (I know … it’s a little ridiculous that I mention the words “wisdom” and “Saved by the Bell” in the same sentence. Just bear with me …)

Here are 10 lessons teachers can learn — or remember — from “Saved by the Bell”:

1. Fashion changes … but some things don’t. In the “Saved by the Bell” reunion skit, check out Zack’s stone-washed jeans and pink button-down shirt. They scream 80’s. Fads come and go in education, but some skills remain vital throughout the ages.

2. Mr. Belding mattered. Richard Belding, the principal at Bayside High, always seemed to come around at inopportune times. He was cast as a bumbling administrator, but he talked his students through some rough times and showed that he cared. I’ll bet that, in the end, Zack probably thanked Belding for his guidance.

3. Who was missing in the reunion? When you watch that skit, there are a couple of familiar faces that didn’t make the show. One was Dustin Diamond, who played Samuel “Screech” Powers, the nerdy, clueless, true-blue friend of Zack Morris. Why wasn’t he there? It’s likely that legal trouble played into it, according to E Online. He’s another example of a wayward student whose life could have been altered by the right positive role model at the right time. (For the record, I hope that’s the only time I cite E Online as a source in this blog!)

4. Students like to take control. In the “Student Teacher Week” episode of “Saved by the Bell,” the students became teachers at Bayside High. Zack plays the principal, Kelly is a history teacher, and Lisa and Screech team up as P.E. teachers. Despite the fact that the whole idea ends in chaos, those students had ideas they were enthusiastic about trying, and they got to see them to fruition. That makes for quite a learning experience.

5. Motivation creates action. In the “Save the Max” episode, the students’ favorite hangout — the Max restaurant — is in danger of closing. They put together a grand campaign to save it, including a riveting inspirational speech by A.C. Slater at the end. Their passion for the Max brought out the best in those students. (P.S. — When you watch the reunion video, notice that one of the posters in the school says, “Save the Max”!)

6. Failure teaches great lessons. In the “The Lisa Card” episode, Lisa maxes out her dad’s credit card while shopping and must pay it off before getting in big trouble. She and Zack sell the clothes she bought and avoid disaster. Lisa’s poor decisions led to failure, but she learned great lessons by going through that trial.

7. The school is “the place.” Bayside High was the focal point of Zack, Kelly, Slater, Jessie, Lisa and Screech’s lives. All their biggest joys and bitterest defeats came in those hallways. Many of our students feel the same way about our schools, even if they’re not willing to admit it. School can be their only safe place for the day, and it might be the only place they get a warm meal. We can’t forget that.

8. Students need each other. In the “Jessie’s Song” episode, Jessie crams for a test and takes caffeine pills to cope. Slater warns her against it, and Zach rushes to her side to cancel a singing performance to rescue her. Many times, students are each other’s best allies, and whatever we can do to empower that is time well spent.

9. Real life rules. In the “The Friendship Business” episode, the students run their own businesses selling friendship bracelets as a class project. They compete relentlessly against each other, crafting corporate mergers, using insider trading and creating unique commercials to gain an edge. Their ethics may not have been great, but connecting their classes to real-world scenarios made them want to do their best.

10. There are no shortcuts. Zack is always looking for the easy way into — and out of — everything in life. He hires an actor to portray his dad to Mr. Belding and uses the same actor to portray Mr. Belding to his dad. He uses subliminal messages to control his fellow students’ minds. In the end, though, Zack’s best-laid plans always blow up in his face. You’d think he would learn that shortcuts don’t pay off. (I don’t know that he ever did, though!)

[reminder]What was your favorite moment from “Saved by the Bell”, and did it have a connection to education today? (Even if it didn’t, still tell us!)[/reminder]

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