Right? You must have an all-time favorite teacher movie. While discussing national education policy, new teacher mentorship, and other heavy topics, members of the Teacher Leaders Network took a breather and named and justified their favorite films about teachers or teaching in 100 words or fewer. Many of the TLNers were impressed by the films about instructors who refuse to be just another cog in the machine. Afterward, we encourage you to pick your own favorite and explain why you’d watch it again and again after perusing our top choices.
#1 Mr. Holland’s Opus (1995)
Richard Dreyfuss’s description of the teacher as a “genuine human with all the oddities and poor judgment calls that make us all part of the same species” was much praised by instructors in our TLN community for its attention on the significance of passion in teaching.
That “our students are certainly our magnum opus” serves as a reminder to Barbara. “It’s one of only two or three movies about school that ring true to me,” Nancy, a 30-year music instructor, tells the New York Times. My favorite ironic twist at the end is that you give up your life’s passion (music) to teach students to have the same enthusiasm, then get the boot 30 years later because your life passion is not appreciated by legislators.”
#2 Stand and Deliver (1988)
Movies based on true events and characters, as you’ll see in these picks, are popular with teachers. Actor Edward James Olmos’ portrayal of Jaime Escalante, who “won the respect of his at-risk children” and refused to “identify themselves as failures,” was praised in our best teacher-movie vote.
During the film’s premiere, Jane commented, “I had just transferred from my comfy San Diego college setting and had been placed in a rigorous school in Los Angeles. Because of the familiarity of the pupils and the educational environment, the movie had an impact on me. The kind of teacher Escalante was—a’rebel’ with high expectations who saw the potential in the students—was what I want to become.” Kathie, a teacher in Los Angeles, said that unlike Escalante, “I’ve never felt pushed out because of my accomplishments. However, for some dedicated educators, this is a very real possibility. I was moved to tears and am still moved by this film.
#3 October Sky (1999)
One of the best films of the year according to The Long List, this adaptation of the book Rocket Boys tells the true story of miner’s son Homer Hickam, who overcame mockery from his peers and an inspired instructor to pursue his passion for rocketry. Every year, as part of her astronomy lesson in middle school, Marsha displays the film to her students, according to her. “That’s saying a lot considering I had to pay for the viewing rights!”
Rather of focusing on the film’s impressive problem-solving, Patty argues that the teacher was the real inspiration in the film. “It was amazing to watch the interest of science blossom into a career,” says Georgiean of his experience. They also reminded me of students in my scientific lectures who get sucked into an idea and don’t let go until they complete it.”
#4 Dangerous Minds (1995)
An ex-marine instructor, Michelle Pfeiffer plays a teacher who struggles to connect with her students and ultimately uses “unconventional” teaching approaches. The film, based on an autobiography, received a mixed response from our group, but there are still a lot of people that enjoy it.
As Ellen B. put it, “I truly despise how Hollywood depicts wonderful instructors as martyrs who sacrifice everything (even their own cash) for their children.” “However, LouAnne Johnson’s dedication to her students captivated me.” As Ellen puts it, Johnson’s narrative “helped me connect with the idea that ‘those kids’ outside of my own personal experience were, in fact, just kids with a far rougher life than I had. Instead, she is a wonderful teacher in the trenches who is focused on the success of her students, not on fame or fortune.”
#5 Freedom Writers (2007)
Erin Gruwell’s 1999 book The Freedom Writers Diary and its emphasis on writing as an effective learning tool had already been a favorite of many TLNers. Hillary Swank’s portrayal of Gruwell in the film focuses on her dedication to social justice and the potential of every kid.
Because it accurately depicts “the problems a beginning teacher confronts as she enters her first classroom,” Carolann, who works with pre-service teachers, calls it “the best education-based movie I have ever watched.” In Carolann’s words, “novice teachers may offer a newfound feeling of vitality and passion to a school, and also rejuvenate those of us who have been teaching awhile.”
#6 Chalk (2006)
A memorable tagline from Chalk is, “Real Teaching Leaves a Mark.” It’s a “squirm-inducing yet highly entertaining faux documentary (that) demonstrates true empathy for its subjects,” according to the Los Angeles Times. ‘It deals with circumstances that happen in real classrooms,’ said Susan G., who adored the film. Cops have a habit of blocking their scanners (and freaking out time-enslaved teachers). Hall duty and tardy slips are the subject of “mindless faculty meetings and ugly small territorial tiffs.”
There are some teachers who don’t love their students and aren’t very resourceful or creative, as Susan points out. All of the kids aren’t cured, appreciate learning, express thanks, or love their teachers. It puts you in suspense, wondering if all the trouble and work was worth it in the end.
#7 To Sir With Love (1967)
Sidney Poitier was seen with TLN member Sherry A. during an education conference. This late ’60s British version on the blackboard jungle “brilliantly shows the conflict between idealism and reality,” she adds. What an important role instructors have in students’ lives. “Work hard every day and accept nothing less than your best” is the lesson conveyed by this film, which manages to avoid schmaltz. In Marsha’s memory, Lulu, a British singer-turned-actress, sings the title song. This song was cool to me too!
#8 Dead Poets Society (1989)
After nearly two decades, Anne J. thinks this private boarding school film “continues to stick with me. Inspired by Robin Williams’ famous and heartbreaking portrayal as professor John Keating, I’ve continued my unconventional teaching style and rely on my enthusiasm rather than standard methods of teaching. As an educator, Keating urged students to seize the day and make the most of their time here on Earth. Our students deserve nothing less, don’t we agree?
#9 Remember the Titans (2000)
An African-American high school coach who replaces a highly successful white coach helps racially separated players learn to win together in this film, played by Denzel Washington, is another “real character.” Cindi writes, “It makes me cry and laugh and gives me chills.” About 50 times have I viewed it. In this way, it reminds us that the top coaches are among the most influential teachers in our schools.”
#10 Teachers (1984)
Also starring Judd Hirsch and JoBeth Williams is this early Nick Nolte film. Ditto, the teacher who appears to have developed the worksheet, and the sub, portrayed by Richard Mulligan, who takes student participation to new heights are just two of the notable characters in the film. Then there’s the bureaucracy, which is dreadful. Claudia found Nolte’s “portrait of a teacher who cares about his students enough to violate some limits” to be a positive aspect of the film. Is this possible? No. Is this a real issue? Absolutely. There is too much pressure to “give in” and appease the politicians.”