9. Stand and Deliver (Ramon Menendez, 1988)
“Stand and Deliver” is one of those films that every time you watch it you discover something new; some king of hidden message or teaching that escaped you on your previous viewing. Edward James Olmos stands and delivers his best performance to date in this film as math teacher Jaime Escalante, who seeks to change the ways of a neighborhood high school and help its kids reach their full potential.
As soon as he arrives at James A. Garfield High School in Eastern Los Angeles teacher Escalante tries to implement a program in which to help the students excel in academics. As soon as he realizes the immense potential of his pupils, Escalante make this his goal by installing summer classes and extracurricular activities.
Of course, his actions are met with cynicism and skepticism from his fellow teachers but where there’s a will there’s a way. The teachings of this film do not limit themselves to mathematics but become teachings of life that the audience learns through Jamie Escalante; if we lower the academic levels to the least common denominator then that will be their limit. However, if the bar is raised the sky’s the limit.
10. Dead Poets Society (Peter Weir, 1989)
“Dead Poets Society” is one of those films that is so powerful in its message that it makes the world seem vincible. Not only will this movie touch your heart and bring tears to your eyes but it will inspire you to be a better teacher to others and to follow your dreams no matter what the boundaries may be. It is truly poetry on the screen… a great story and a touching social commentary on humanity and life’s greatest challenges.
It is set in 1959 in a conservatory aristocratic Academy for boys. At first, we meet the boys: each different, each unique but all condemned to be the same. There is the shy Todd Anderson (Ethan Hawke), the popular Neil (Robert Sean Leonard), the romantic Knox (Josh Charles) and the nerd Cameron (Dylan Kussman).
Then we meet their new English teacher: an unconventional and extraordinary man named John Keating (Robin Williams in one of his best roles). Keating starts his lesson by telling the boys to rip up their text books because poetry isn’t found inside two hard covers but within each individual. Keating’s motto in life is the Latin precept “carpe diem” aka “seize the day”.
This simple proverb inspired the boys to become their own masters and to bring back to life the “Dead Poets Society”: a poetry club in which the boys recite romantic poetry from the classics. Unfortunately, the conservative times in which Keating and the boys live do not allow such “misconduct” and everything must be put to a stop with sad and tragic consequences.
There is a wonderful short exchange of words in the film between Keating and one of the other teachers. The teacher tries to convince Keating that the boys must be guided rather than encouraged to think on their own. In his argumentation, he quotes a famous poet. Keating responds with another poetry quote. The teacher ponders on whether or not he knows the poem which Keating just quoted and asks: “Tennyson?”. The response in brilliant: “No, Keating”.
11. Lean on Me (John G. Avildsen, 1989)
The Eastside High School in Paterson, New Jersey is plagued with numerous problems involving drug dealing and gang violence. No one seems to be able to do anything about it so the teachers start turning the blind eye towards these issues and the fact that the children are receiving low scores on the state’s basic skills test. But his is all about the change once the school hires Joe Clark aka Crazy Joe (Morgan Freeman) as principal.
Joe Clark has a troublesome history as a radical and sometimes violent teacher who gets the job through unorthodox methods. Because of Clark’s past, the board of directors is reluctant but desperate times call for desperate measures. As expected Crazy Joe imposes his Spartan regime and gets the kids to clean up their act and shape up.
Morgan Freeman is perfectly cast as “Crazy” Joe Clark, the principal who gives his pupils tough love in order to push their boundaries and pursue academic excellence. Because of the low test scores, the school is face with the threat of being shut down.
Every odd is against Joe Clark but through discipline and radical teaching Crazy Joe pushes through by rallying with some of the other teachers who share his views and refusing to give up the fight. The fight “Crazy” Joe Clark is fighting is that for education and a brighter future – and, in anyone’s book, is a fight worth fighting.
12. Kindergarten Cop (Ivan Reitman, 1990)
After Arnold Schwarzenegger’s comic debut in 1988, in the movie “Twins”, people wanted to see more of the action super star’s funny side. Their wish came true in 1990 with the smash comedy “Kindergarten Cop”.
After years of pursuing a notorious drug dealer detective John Kimble (Arnold Schwarzenegger) has finally been able to put a murder charge on him but has just one problem. He needs to find the dealer’s ex-wife and son in order to get them to testify in court. In order to do so Kimble goes undercover to the criminal’s son kindergarten. There he poses as a substitute teacher and the fun can begin.
Kimble loves being a detective therefore he has no social life and absolutely no experience with children. He will soon find out that dealing with children is a lot harder than dealing with criminals. His first days as a substitute teacher are a nightmare but since it is not in his nature to give up he finds a way to control his pupils and eventually grows fond of them, even risking his life for their protection. Schwarzenegger is surprisingly funny in this heart-warming family film that is perfect for a lazy Sunday afternoon.
13. Dangerous Minds (John N. Smith, 1995)
Up until “Dangerous Minds” it was usually male teachers that came to troublesome, violent inner-city high schools and overturned kids on their way to embracing life on the streets. “Dangerous Minds”, bases on the true story of retired U.S. marine turned teacher LouAnne Johnson, proved thatn women can be tough and stay on top of any situation.
Retired U.S. marine LouAnne Johnson (Michelle Pfeiffer), applies for a teaching job at Parkmont High School in California. To her surprise, she is offered the job with immediate effect. Showing up the next day to begin teaching, however, she finds herself confronted with a classroom of tough, sullen teenagers, all from lower-class and underprivileged backgrounds, involved in gang warfare and drug pushing, flatly refusing to engage with anything.
They immediately coin the nickname “White Bread” for LouAnne, due to her race and apparent lack of authority, to which LouAnne responds by returning the next day in a leather jacket. Gradually LouAnne and her pupils form a special bondage that determines them to stick together through thick and thin, each of the parties learning important life lessons from each other.
14. Mr. Holland’s Opus (Stephen Herek, 1995)
Glenn Holland (Richard Dreyfuss) is a high school music teacher and an aspiring musician whose aim in life is to write just one great piece of classical music. Although the story is fictional it could have might as well existed as they are a couple of Glenn Hollands in every school.
Holland’s passion for music knows no limits and throughout the course of the film, he strives to prove that to the audience and to the board of directors who consider his subject a minor one with whom the school can do very easily without. The film follows Holland’s life from his early days as a cocky teacher up until his retirement.
Many generations of young and talented students pass through but the teacher remains the same; always willing to help, always willing to encourage, and always in love with music. As the film shows, his love for music sometimes surpasses the love for his family and for this, he is punished. His only son is diagnosed as being deaf.
This news upsets our hero dearly as he is devastated with the very thought that his son will never hear and feel the joy of music. But it is safe to say that over the years all of his pupils have become his children and at the end of the movie everyone involved in the teacher’s life comes together to give him a gift that proves his life was worthwhile.
15. Good Will Hunting (Gus Van Sant, 1997)
“Good Will Hunting” is not a film about teaching but it is about guidance, mentors and the harsh lessons life gives you. If one were to make a deep analysis of the film the result will probably be a story of growing up, gaining and losing friends and falling in love. But the glue to all these themes is knowledge and that way it is tough and passed on from one generation to another.
The story revolves around Will Hunting (Matt Damon), a boy genius who takes up a job as a janitor at M.I.T. One day he is spotted by Professor Gerald Lambeau (Stellan Skarsgard) – professor of advanced mathematics – and taken under his wing. As it turns out Will is an orphan and has had a violent childhood in foster-homes and on the streets.
After a violent incident, his parole condition is to be placed under Lambeau’s supervision and to attend therapy sessions. Will reluctantly agrees. His therapist is Vietnam veteran and widower Sean Maguire (Robin Williams), who can relate to Will’s background and whose unorthodox methods might be just what the boy needs.
Although it is not a film of the teaching genre it feature not one but two inspiring teachers with radically different approaches to life. On one side, we have Gerald Lambeau who believes in hard work, discipline and guidance for the young.
On the other side, we have Sean Maguire who believes in freedom of expression, communication and the luxury of letting the gifted young ones choose their own path in life. Will seems to ignore both of their teachings at first but then incorporates their life philosophies into his own and makes a new and better start for himself.
16. Music of the Heart (Wes Craven, 1999)
Unfortunately, this film will always be more known for the fact that it is director Wes Craven’s only non-horror film rather wonderful performances in it. Meryl Streep makes the role of Robert Guaspari her own and gives an amazing and memorable performance as a violin teacher struggling to teach the beauty of the instrument to the inner-city kids of a New York high school.
Dramatizing the life of violinist and music educator Roberta Guaspari the film tells her story; from the moment she is left by her US Navy husband right to the moments where she finds happiness and fulfillment in her job as a violin teacher.
The plot is simple and straightforward and the movie rolls beautifully in front of the audience. Roberta’s struggles to reach out to the kids and find common ground not only help her becomes a better person but point out (to both her and the audience) that it is the simple pleasures that make life beautiful.
17. The Emperor’s Club (Michael Hoffman, 2002)
Yet another film told through flashbacks about a teacher (now retired) who recalls his youth and its perils. This film tells the story of William Hundert (Kevin Kline) an idealistic but strict prep school teacher who wants nothing more but to inspire his students to reach their full potential.
Being a teacher of the Classics Hundert wants to pass on his knowledge and love for these authors and pushes his students to be the best so that they can participate in “The Emperor’s Club”, a competition of his own device after which the best student of the class can be crowned “Mr. Julius Caesar”.
As with every generation, Hundert quickly gains the respect of his class. However, in 1973 Hundert’s tightly controlled classroom is shaken with the arrival of new student Sedgewick Bell (Emile Hirsch), a cocky son of a U.S. Senator who couldn’t care less about his teacher of his contest. Soon enough a fierce battle begins between the two. The teacher makes it his goal to redeem his incorrigible student and the student makes it his goal to prove his teacher wrong.