By Kate Halstead
Teaching degrees give teachers the expertise and knowledge to be successful in the classroom. Many teachers follow standard practices, providing a typical educational experience to their students. But if you examine the outstanding teachers in your own life, you'll probably find people who defied the terms "standard" and "typical." These types of teachers span the whole gamut in the following movies about teachers.
Teachers and Hollywood
Teacher stereotypes are portrayed in movies to bring the characters to life. Often, teachers in movies find their way into the profession accidentally and are not intent on an education career. However, faced with the challenge, they use their unique personalities and life experiences to help students overcome their difficulties and develop a thirst for knowledge.
Since the 1939 classic "Goodbye Mr. Chips," there have been a number of classic movies showcasing the true-to-life stories of remarkable teachers and their wildly unorthodox methods for connecting with students. Take a look at these five inspiring movies based on real-life teachers.
The Top Teacher Movies
1955 Directed by Richard Brooks, Starring John Ford and Sidney Poitier
War veteran Rick Dadier (Ford) is a new high school teacher in his first teaching job at an inner-city boys’ school. He quickly learns that behavior problems are more than just rumors, and tries to discipline his class with predictably bad results ("I've been beaten up, but I'm not beaten."). In spite of his students’ contempt for authority, Dadier decides to fight the odds, keep teaching, and see if he can truly get through to them.
This realistic movie depicts violence and race issues that are still around today. Rick Dadier's heroic idealism was the model for many movies about teachers that came after Blackboard Jungle.
1989 Directed by Peter Weir, Starring Robin Williams
The scene is first day of English class in a conservative 1950s era New England boys' prep school. The new teacher enters the room and instructs the class to turn to a page in their Introduction to Poetry textbook. He further instructs them to rip the pages from the book because all it contains is nonsense. In an institution steeped in tradition and conformity, his act is the height of rebellion…and it captivates the hearts and minds of his students. If you saw this classic teacher movie, you knew it was one for the ages.
Teacher John Keating's quirky, jumping-on-desks approach to poetry class inspired his students to resurrect a long-defunct club, the Dead Poet's Society. His constant reminder of "carpe diem" (seize the day), and "make your lives extraordinary, boys" leads them to not only devour the poetry of Robert Frost and others, but to explore their own dreams and ambitions, and ultimately follow their individual muses.
1995 Directed by John N. Smith, Starring Michelle Pfeiffer
Thrusting a retired, white female U.S. Marine into an East Palo Alto high school full of tough, street-wise minority kids might be a recipe for disaster. LouAnne Johnson quickly learns that her petite size and "white bread" demeanor will make teaching near impossible.
Returning to her Marine roots, she finds the strategies needed to survive her classroom of delinquent students. Donning a leather jacket, she adopts a rough, cursing and authoritative personality in the classroom. When challenged, she backs it up with her Marine karate training. Having earned their trust, she challenges their minds using everything from college-level textbooks to the lyrics of Bob Dylan, inspiring her students to not only stay in school, but also learn something along the way.
2007 Directed by Richard LaGravenese, Starring Hilary Swank
Set in Long Beach, California after the 1992 Los Angeles riots, "Freedom Writers" depicts one of the most challenging situations imaginable for a young white woman embarking on a career in teaching.
Faced with a class of Black, Latino and Asian gang members who hate her even more than they hate each other, teacher Erin Gruwell scrambles to survive. She quickly realizes what these kids need most is someone who will listen.
Scrapping the standardized freshman English curriculum, she provides each student with a journal, instructing them to write about their lives, to open up and share their world with her. Amazed at the depth and perception of her students she insists they publish the collected writings as "The Freedom Writers Diary: How a Teacher and 150 Teens Used Writing to Change Themselves and the World Around Them."
Stand and Deliver
1988 Directed by Ramón Menéndez, Starring Edward James Olmos
Jaime Escalante, a high school math teacher in East LA finds himself with a classroom full of losers and kids with severe behavior problems. Reaching into his own cultural roots, Escalante starts to connect with his mostly Hispanic students, teaching them of the Spaniards and Latin Americans whose great accomplishments were the result of intensive study and devotion to learning.
Finally realizing the only way to escape the barrio is through self-improvement, Escalante's students start paying attention. In fact, they absorb what he is teaching so effectively that their scores on an academic achievement test are thought to be the result of widespread cheating. When ultimately given the opportunity to prove they didn't cheat, the students demonstrate in dramatic fashion how well they know the material and silence all doubts.
To Sir, With Love
1967 Directed by James Clavell, Starring Sidney Poitier
A bright young man with an engineering degree moves to 1960s London from Guyana to find work. In the days before a teaching degree was required, and not able to find anything better, Mark Thackeray takes a job teaching high school in the slums. Warned by their outgoing teacher of the student’s unruly and unteachable behavior, Thackeray is determined the 'young punks' will not get the best of him.
When the students' disruptive tactics culminate in throwing Thackeray into a rage, he realizes it’s time to throw out the book—literally. Dumping textbooks in the trash, he opens a discussion during which students may ask any question they wish. In addition, he insists students address each other as "Sir" or "Miss." Discovering the value of self-respect and dignity, his students eventually come to address Thackeray as "Sir" and acknowledge the respect they have for their teacher.