By Teachers, For Teachers
After polling teachers, checking box office numbers, critical reviews and teacher forums, we've compiled a list of the Top 12 must see teacher movies.
They appear in no particular order.
Robin Williams gives a shockingly understated, touching portrayal of a teacher who brings inspiration to the lives of his straight-laced prep school students. A little saccharine but mostly sincere, Dead Poets Society is guaranteed to infuse poetry into the most prosaic days.
Teachers taps into the realities of teaching with over-the-top satire, including disappearing desks, a brawl over the copy machine and a star substitute who is actually an escaped mental patient. Nick Nolte stars as the slacker hero who brings heart to this spoof.
In this intense, indie drama, a friendship forms between a well-intentioned, drug-addicted teacher and his 13-year-old student who is trying to escape her convict brother’s fate. After she catches him smoking crack, the two alternately try to save the other while their own lives spiral out of control. Unlike most feel-good teacher movies, Half Nelson is about real people with real problems, but also maintains a tangible sense of hope.
Based on a true story, Stand and Deliver depicts a rebellious math teacher who transforms his seemingly hopeless, apathetic students into the top-scorers in the state. Their achievement is so remarkable that the school board accused the Latino students of cheating. Just imagine this story in our test-obsessed age of NCLB.
This French documentary transcends with trite world of hokey, inspiration fiction. To Be and To Have follows teacher Georges Lopez and his 12 students (ages 4–12) in their rural schoolhouse. Peter Rainer of New York Magazine wrote that “it demonstrates without overreaching what an actual teacher can do to shape lives.”
Classical musician Glenn Holland assumes that teaching will leave him plenty free time to compose his classical masterpiece. Instead, he finds his life’s passion in musical education. Mr. Holland’s Opus reminds us that, even when it seems frustrating and futile, teaching will can change lives – both your students and your own.
As two single-race Virginia high schools are forced to integrate in 1971, football coach Herman Boone (Denzel Washington) must transform his divided black and white players into a united team. Boone’s team faces prejudice and resistance at every turn, but they manage to find a common ground while tearing up the turf. Just as teachers shape students beyond the classroom, coaches shape who players become on and off the field.
Morgan Freeman has played a limo driver, a U.S. president, a prison inmate and even God, but he takes on his most challenging role in Lean on Me. Freeman’s radical principal wanders the halls with a baseball bat, locks troublemakers out of school and refuses to accept any excuses. His extreme approach shocked teachers, students and the school board, but ultimately changes the lives and learning of his students. (Trivia: Freeman also had a small role in 1984’s Teachers)
After getting kicked out of his band and threatened with eviction, wannabe rockstar Dewey Finn (Jack Black) fakes his way into a sub job at a private school. Dewey taps into his fifth-graders’ talents for his rock n’ roll comeback. In a surprisingly heartwarming, screwball comedy, School of Rock also manages to slip a lesson on the value of art education under the radar.
When everyone else in a kid’s life is pointing them in one direction, a teacher may be the only one who helps them blaze their own path. That’s the case in October Sky. A young Jake Gyllenhaal stars as an outcast teen with a passion for rocket launching in a 1950’s close-minded, coal-mining town. With the support of his teacher, he follows his passion to the state science fair, to college and eventually to NASA.
In the style of Christopher Guest, this mockumentary provides a dry, yet poignant portrait of teaching. The film follows a handful of teachers at fictional Harrison High, comically showing the struggles they face without making teachers the butt of the joke. You’re sure to recognize some painfully familiar classroom encounters.
Despite the Coolio connection (or maybe because of it), Dangerous Minds has become an iconic movie for the fish-out-of-water teacher. Ex-marine Louanne Johnson wins over her rebellious students with candy bars, karate and Bob Dylan. It may be trite, Hollywood and a cliché of “the great white hope,” but it is also shows compelling connections between a teacher and her students. Either way, no list of teacher movies would be complete without it.
They say I gotta learn, But nobody's here to teach me.
If they can't understand it, how can they reach me?
I guess they can't,
I guess they won't,
I guess they front,
That's why I know my life is out of luck, foo!
Schooled, The Karate Kid, Freedom Writers, Children of a Lesser God, Hoosiers, Sister Act II, To Sir With Love, Pay It Forward, Finding Forrester, The Emperor’s Club, Akeelah and the Bees
What is your favorite teacher movie? Share in the comments section!