Being an educator these days is a challenging experience. Working in a field which demands an intrinsic desire to help students while trying not to be taken advantage of by a society which does not value its teachers can be a delicate balancing act. Add the negative stereotyping and scapegoating educators must endure, helicopter parents, an entitled generation which largely does not value a free public education, and the overall highly politicized nature of the occupation, and it is not hard to understand why burnout among teachers is a common affliction. The following movies pay respect to the underrated profession of educator and offer some inspiration to both students and teachers.
To Sir, With Love (1967)
Sidney Poitier stars as Mark Thackeray, an unemployed engineer who gets a job teaching the unruly students of London’s East End. Thackeray learns how to work with these troubled youth but must decide whether to remain a teacher or take a long awaited job offer as an engineer. Thackeray earns the respect of the students by being firm while treating them as adults. British singer Lulu plays in the movie and sings the title song.
Dead Poets Society (1989)
Robin Williams is English teacher John Keating, who inspires his students to be passionate about poetry and live by the Latin motto, “Carpe Diem,” or “Seize the day.” His students struggle to live this motto responsibly and with the expectations and pressures placed on them by parents and society. While Keating’s students are private school enrollees from affluent families, this movie inspires teachers and students across demographics.
Mr. Holland’s Opus (1995)
Despite starting out with “bigger” dreams, Glenn Holland (Richard Dreyfuss) finds that he can truly make a difference as a high school music teacher. Holland’s efforts with his students are highlighted throughout the years, and rewarded with a forced retirement when the school district decides to cut funding for the music program from the budget. Former students return from their successful careers to pay tribute to the teacher who inspired them by playing his composition.
Finding Forrester (2000)
Sean Connery is William Forrester, a reclusive but famous author who learns lessons about trust and friendship while mentoring Jamal Wallace (Rob Brown) as Wallace struggles to overcome a variety of obstacles to realize his fullest potential as a talented writer. While much of this storyline takes place outside of school, Forrester’s non-traditional teaching methods are inspiring, as is Wallace’s ability to triumph as the underdog.
Freedom Writers (2007)
Hillary Swank is Erin Gruwell, a new teacher whose first job is teaching at risk students who struggle inside and outside of the classroom. After realizing her students deal with gang violence on a daily basis, Gruwell introduces her students to the Holocaust through the book, The Diary of Anne Frank. Student response to the book leads to a field trip, fundraisers, and a special guest speaker. Along the way, Gruwell must take multiple part time jobs and sacrifices her marriage while inspiring her students to succeed.
This is a list of favorites, but certainly not an exhaustive list of inspiring movies for those in the field of education. A couple more which come to mind include: Men at Boys Town (1941) starring Spencer Tracy, and Dangerous Minds (1995) starring Michele Pfeiffer. Feel free to respond in the comments with any movies you believe should be added to the list.