Good "teacher movies" draw future teachers into the profession and reinvigorate seasoned veterans. Often based on real-life events, the films show teachers reaching deep inside themselves in order to touch the lives and hearts of their students. This week, Education World reports on an e-survey of teachers around the country to find the ten teacher movies that resonate most strongly with today's educators. Included: A message board link so you can weigh in with your favorite teacher movie!
"True 'teacher movies' show the nobility of the teaching profession and honor educators," Philip Bigler, 1998 Teacher of the Year, told Education World. "They show how important teachers really are to society."
Three potent messages from good teacher movies speak directly to the heart of teaching:
Bigler's favorite movie, Mr. Holland's Opus (1995), celebrates the vital and often unseen impact teachers have on the lives of their students. Bigler's own recent experience affirms this validating message to teachers. "I just ran into a student of mine from 21 years ago," Bigler told Education World. "She told me how important I was to her life -- and I never knew!"
Corinne Milmoe from Wading River (New York) Elementary School agrees: "Mr. Holland's Opus shows what we are really here for -- to make a difference in kids' lives."
Making a difference, as all teachers learn, is as basic as making a real connection with the students they teach. Oldie but goodie Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939, 1969) has inspired teachers for decades with Mr. Chipping's transformation from a detached, ineffective prep school teacher into a hero who touches the lives of his large family of students. "I've had thousands of children, all boys," the elderly Chips says as he is dying.
"I frequently quote that to my students when they ask if I have children," Virgil Middle School (Los Angeles) ESL teacher Caitlin Casement told Education World.
The Talmud teaches that "one who saves a single life has saved the entire world." The film October Sky (1999) spotlights the tremendous impact a teacher can have on the life of an individual student. Without the support of his teacher, Miss Riley, Homer Hickam would not have continued his literal and figurative reach for the sky. "October Sky shows that the power of teaching can do amazing things," says third-grade teacher Pam Van Zuilen, from Lakeland Elementary School in Coldwater, Michigan.
After hearing the film's real-life NASA scientist speak, "his admiration for his teacher is still very strong and moving," fourth-grade teacher Wendy Goldfein -- from Newington Forest Elementary School in Springfield, Virginia -- told Education World.
In Stand and Deliver (1987), Jaime Escalante teaches calculus to urban remedial math students. "The message I like from this movie is that all children can learn," Philip Bigler told Education World. "The film also showcases good leadership," Bigler commented in the November 19 Bulletin of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
In another teacher favorite, Dangerous Minds, (1995) English teacher LouAnne Johnson hooks challenging students into learning but has to manage without the benefit of supportive leadership. "Her perseverance is something we should always strive for," elementary teacher trainee K Santhi Saravanan from the National Institute of Education, Singapore, told Education World.
Many teachers, both newbies and vets, credit the films To Sir With Love (1967), The Blackboard Jungle (1955), and Up The Down Staircase (1967) with inspiring their career choices. In each film, teachers innovate ways to reach students who have significant personal and educational obstacles. "Students in The Blackboard Jungle challenged their teacher to find a way to get through to them," says Middletown (Connecticut) High School cinema studies teacher Chris Warren. "They really needed him. The film gave me insight into what I wanted to do with my life."
"The Blackboard Jungle helped me decide to become a teacher," concurred Fran Borden, who teaches eighth grade at Unadilla Valley Middle School in South New Berlin, New York.
"Up the Down Staircase and To Sir With Love were two of the earliest teacher movies that I can remember," Barbara Ross, a teacher at Irving Park Middle School in Chicago, told Education World. "Both of them were kind of corny, but I think that, in some way, they may have been responsible for my having chosen the teaching profession."
Two of the most popular teacher films depict good teachers as mavericks challenging an unresponsive system. "The movie Teachers  shows that teachers are human," said teacher-in-training Lindsay Harmon from Central Missouri State University. "It has made an impact on how I will view teaching when I graduate." The students in Teachers, which is less idealistic than some teacher movies, remind their teacher to stand up for what he thinks is right -- something they learned in his classroom and by his example.
In Dead Poets Society (1989), Mr. Keating's unconventional teaching methods get him fired, but "you witness students falling in love with learning, and that encourages them to live life with their hearts," teacher Jennifer Holden from Westridge Middle School in Orlando told Education World.
As in Teachers, where one of the most creative teachers wandered into the school straight out of the local psychiatric hospital, "the message is that you have to be a little crazy to teach kids," said Matt Price, a doctoral candidate in education at the University of Kansas. And according to our survey responses, that teacher movie take-home message is one of the most appreciated and validating of all!
For educators interested in films, the Internet offers a wide variety of movie resources.
Teach With Movies
This site provides learning guides to each recommended film, describing the benefits of the movie, possible problems, and helpful background. It includes discussion questions, bridges to reading, projects, and links to the Internet.
Media and the Family
This site uses a green light, a yellow caution sign, and a red stop sign to rate the content of media products in terms of violence, harmful or illegal behaviors, sex, age appropriateness, fear, nudity, and language.
Movie Review Query Engine
Search this extensive database for print and Internet film reviews from a myriad of sources.
Kids-in-Mind Movie Ratings
Thumbnail movie descriptions are followed ratings for sex, violence, and profanity. Click through to a detailed listing of scored items.
Article by Leslie Bulion
Copyright © 2009 Education World
Originally published 08/23/2000
Last updated 07/23/2009