Over the years Hollywood has made many films about teachers and students. The truly inspirational films have been dramas with settings either in the inner city or at a picturesque prep school campus. The usual plot involves a teacher up against the odds, facing a brazen student or group of students and convincing them that learning is worthwhile.
Teaching in real life is nothing like in the movies. But at least these films shed a positive light on the profession. So think about the films that have won the accolades of moviegoers and critics. Which titles come to mind? Here are a few to consider…
Stand and Deliver (1988; starring Edward James Olmos)
The true story of teacher Jaime Escalante (played by Olmos) who inspired poor Latino students to aim higher in life. This film displays Escalante’s drive and inspiration as he encourages an entire class of east L.A. barrio-based students to care about math and ultimately pass an AP Calculus test. A truly inspiring story.
Lean on Me (1989; starring Morgan Freeman)
Another true story. Freeman stars as a teacher turned principal hired to turnaround a high school that is out of control. This tough principal rids the campus of students interfering with his cause. He also encourages and demands scholarship from the students. The film was partially based on the story of Joe Louis Clark, a real life high school principal in Paterson, New Jersey, who fought to improve student test scores in his district.
Dead Poets Society (1989; starring Robin Williams)
Set in a conservative prep school, Williams stars as an out-of-place English teacher whose charisma and love of poetry inspires several boy students to revive a secret underground society. Williams adds touches of his usual improvisational humor, which contrasts with the subplot of one student’s struggle with his father to pursue his love of theater (this leads to the film’s emotional climax). When compared to the first two films mentioned, Dead Poets Society shows that teachers and students can face struggles regardless of the location of the institution.
In today’s age when many teachers are making news for the wrong reasons, these memorable films remind us that great teachers defy the odds — making a difference in the classroom — one student at a time.