Before Caitlin Barlow was writing, producing and acting in TV Land’s new sitcom, ‘Teachers,’ she was an educator herself.
When it comes to teaching, “I’ve done it all,” Barlow said.
She’s not kidding. Barlow worked in the profession for five years, teaching Adult ESL (English as a Second Language) in the fourth-largest school district in the country--Chicago Public Schools--and spending a year as an aide at a charter school in the city.
During her time as an educator, Barlow was involved in teaching extracurricular activities, including both an after-school yoga group and an improv class.
She believes in the therapeutic nature of extracurricular activities and even continues to lend her talents to help students learn improv--her specialty.
Most recently, she paid a visit to an improv class at KIPP Charter Schools in Los Angeles to offer students some professional advice.
For the most part, though, Barlow is focusing her energy on working with a group of improv partners--the Katydids--six women improvisers, comedians, actors and writers who all have some variation of the name “Katherine” and each of whom has her own style of comedy.
On “Teachers,” the women play respective parts in a group of young teachers who are navigating the first few years of teaching; each character has a distinct personality and hilarious approach to the profession.
“Teachers” started out as web series developed by the Katydids in 2012 in partnership with director Matt Miller.
Miller says on the web series’ website that “Teachers” started after he “happened upon a few online articles about teachers- studies that cited teaching as one of the must adulterous and most gossip-ridden professions- and yet also one of the most admired professions. I thought that was an interesting juxtaposition. And that led to the concept for ‘Teachers’: a show about the small and often wildly inappropriate conversations teachers have with each other in the course of their workday.”
Barlow plays Cecilia Cannon, a liberal activist with intentions to help the downtrodden. She leaves school early in one episode to attend a LGBTQIA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning, Intersex & Asexual) meeting and is called out for asking her co-workers to support the Albino Narwhal.
Her fellow co-workers range from queen bee Ms. Snap, to Ms. Bennigan, a conservative who can’t hold back from teaching students creationism over evolution when she substitutes Ms. Cannon’s class. They’re joined by Ms. Feldman, a character with a hypnotic monotone voice who tells like it is, Ms. Watson, a crafty, sing-songy individual getting over a bad breakup, and Ms. Adler, a spunky character with a love for metal music and dark eyeliner.
With Barlow’s past background in teaching, she brings something extra special to the show. She says “110 percent” of the show is influenced by her experiences and the content is intended to reflect real life.
“We wanted to make sure that the comedy was really rooted in the actual experience of teaching. Because the characters in the situations are heightened we wanted to make sure that when people watched it they'd be like, ‘Oh my God,’ this is actually what it’s like.’”
Barlow wanted to show viewers challenging times in teachers’ lives. These busy professionals are just like other workers--they spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to balance work and play.
The show uses humor to exaggerate the everyday goings on of life teaching K-12, which has resulted in it getting some mixed reviews.
It has been criticized in part “for relying on tired tropes about the teaching profession,” said Education Week in a recent article.
Regardless of the criticism, there are so many trials, crises and funny moments seen in "Teachers" that do happen to teachers off screen. In the first episode, the group of teachers brainstorm on ways to create an anti-bullying program for the school with some unexpected consequences as they troubleshoot ideas. Not all of the teachers want to participate in the time-consuming efforts, but the threat of looming cutbacks make them all raise their hands to join in.
There’s likely not a teacher in the country who can’t relate to the fear of consequences from cutbacks. And there’s definitely not a teacher who doesn’t want a break from the tension to laugh instead of cry.
“Our goal,” she says, is to make the educators in “Teachers" “human.”
So far, Barlow says many of her past co-workers are big fans of the show, as is her mother, a teacher herself. Her friends and family get together to host viewing parties every Wednesday to watch new episodes. Barlow suggests that enterprising teachers could host their own gatherings to provide stress relief for harried teachers who need a break instead of an adult meltdown.
Besides her teaching experiences, Barlow says one of her inspirations is Sex and the City, a show that is similarly about a group of young, professional women trying to make it through life despite romantic and professional challenges. In terms of her own style of comedy, she says she’s a big fan of seedy but endearing characters. She admits she’s a huge fan of the Canadian cult comedy show, "The Trailer Park Boys."
“Teachers" definitely has elements of both previously mentioned shows: there’s a group of women successful in their careers like Carrie and the gang. But they are not nearly as polished as the New York City women, which is where you see echoes of the down-at-the-heels characters Barlow admires. The result of Caitlin’s team and her vision is a ground-breaking sitcom that skips the politics and touchy language when it comes to K-12 trends and practices.
For those interested in checking out the show, past episodes are available on-demand at TVLand.com and new episodes air on TV Land at 10:30 PM EST.
Article by Nicole Gorman, Education World Contributor