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The Educational Impact of Robin Williams

Jordan Catapano

The world mourns the loss of actor Robin Williams—not just for the entertaining roles he played, but also for his artistic portrayals of some of life’s most fulfilling experiences. We will always cherish the Genie from “Aladdin,” the antics of “Mrs. Doubtfire,” and the fun of “The Birdcage.”

His lucrative career enthralled us with hilariously incisive stand-up comedy, and loads of funny voices and impressions. But he was perhaps one of the most dynamic modern actors, taking part in more than 100 works, earning hoards of accolades and achievements.

Robin Williams was more than an artist, though—he was also a teacher. And I believe it stands as no surprise that the roles we’ll remember him best for are the roles he played as a teacher, in both “Dead Poets Society” and “Good Will Hunting.”

“Dead Poets Society” ranks at the top of our must-see films for teachers list, and it’s no accident that many teachers attest to these films as their inspiration for entering the profession. Williams taught us that passion, heart, and honesty are some of the most powerful tools at a teacher’s disposal. And when the right teacher intersects with the right students, lifelong impacts will be made that alter students’ perspectives of themselves and the world around them.

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Students who view these films will begin to see their own educational endeavors in a better light. School is far more than merely getting grades or prepping for college—it’s an opportunity to embrace yourself and your life at every moment. Every lesson they learn transforms from a textbook task into an alarming and exciting insight as they remember they are here to learn, but to embrace. They’re not absorbing knowledge, but leveraging it to turn their lives into a deeper and more fulfilling experience.

Williams’ career as a performer leaves us with a daunting legacy. While he inspires us with his talents and charisma, he likewise challenges us to firmly grasp the heights of life, teaching, humanity, and relationships. Education is forever altered from a formulaic, obligatory task into a passion-filled, artistic endeavor by the immense possibilities Williams opens our eyes to.

Robin Williams casts a large cultural shadow, sets a high standard, and whispers in our ears, “Carpe diem …”

And in response to his loss we are compelled to cry out, “O Captain, my captain!”

Jordan Catapano is a high school English teacher in a Chicago suburb. In addition to being National Board Certificated, he also has worked with the Illinois Association of Teachers of English and currently serves as a school board member for a private school. You can follow him on Twitter at @BuffEnglish, or visit his website

Jorg Hackemann /

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