25 Great Movies That Feature Inspiring Teachers

18. School of Rock (Richard Linklater, 2003)


Now here is a class any rock music lover would love to attend; a class where you are not required to read or write. You are only required to listen to music and more than that, write music yourself. If you are a fan of rock music there is no way you wouldn’t want to miss out on this class and its teacher Dewey Finn (Jack Black).

After being fired from his band, guitarist Dewey Finn is left with nothing to do but get a job. Through a series of circumstances, he lands the job that was offered to his flat mate. The job is for a substitute teacher. At first, he does this just for the money and does not intend to teach the kids anything. But then – after realizing the kids’ musical potential – he hatches up a plan to form a band with his pupils and compete against his old band in a music competition. And so the lessons begin.

Dewey forms a band with some of the kids but also gives the other students roles as roadies. The hardest thing for Dewey to do is to get the kids to forget about classical music and start listening and playing rock. In order to do this he gives them lessons on the history of rock and its many subdivisions and as homework he makes them listen to classic rock bands like Led Zeppelin, Yes, Black Sabbath or Pink Floyd.

As expected, the movie’s soundtrack is a very cool compilation of classic rock music (“Immigrant Song”, “My Brain is Hanging Upside Down” and “The Wait” among many others). If you are a fan of rock music, you will surely enjoy the many references to the genre. If you are not this film is the perfect way to start.


19. Mona Lisa Smile (Mike Newell, 2003)

Mona Lisa Smile

Just from its synopsis this movie sounds like “Dead Poets Society” with women; a free-thinking art teacher tries to teach the conservative 1950’s girls from Wellesley College to dare to question their traditional social roles.

The truth is there are some similarities between the two films but “Mona Lisa Smile” has more power in its message becomes it is about girls who were much more limited than boys were in the 1950’s. They were expected to look pretty so that they can find a husband quick and then fulfill their roles as housewives: cooking, cleaning and raising children.

Art teacher (Katherine Ann Watson) challenges them to think outside the box and discover life in its complex form. She exposes the girls to art, literature and music and encourages the ones that want to move forward to universities. Back then, Law Schools or Medical Universities were considered man’s territory but Katherine wants her girls to succeed in this world that seems to be prohibited for them. In these terms, the movie takes a form of its own and wows the viewer with its powerful performances.


20. School of Life (William Dear, 2005)

School of Life

This made-for-television movie is one of the most underrated movies of the genre. It was the general opinion that it would have done very well in the big screen circuit. “School of Life” is about a history teacher named Michael D’Angelo (Ryan Reynolds), who moves to a small town and shakes the old school ways up a bit.

D’Angelo and his ways quickly gain popularity amongst his pupils and co-workers. The only one who is against D’Angelo’s liberal ways of teachings is natural science teacher Matt Warner (David Paymer), son of the late legendary teacher Norman Warner, who likes his school to be conservative and old-fashioned. Matt, not only must fight against the rising popularity of Mr. D but also against the shadow of his father that still overwhelms him.

The cherry on the take is taken by the fact that his son is in Mr. D’s class and has developed a strong admiration for the non-conformist teacher. Seeing that Mr. D’s unorthodox teaching methods pay off Matt begin to adopt the slogan “if you can’t beat them join them” and tries to refresh his teaching methods. This brings him closer to his younger colleague and the secrets he holds. A wonderful little movie that deserves a wider audience and more recognition.


21. Half Nelson (Ryan Fleck, 2006)


Dan Dunne (Ryan Gosling) is a young middle-school Caucasian history teacher in Brooklyn. Most of his pupils are African-American but his doesn’t mean that Dunne is rejected…on the contrary, he is very much loved by his pupils because of his unusual teaching methods that reject the standard curriculum.

Until now, “Half Nelson” seems like your average film about an inspiring teacher…nothing new. The novelty consists in the fact that Dan is a drug addict and that his personal life is falling around him. This doesn’t seem to affect his teaching skills at all. One day one of his pupils – a young African-American girl named Drey (Shareeka Epps) – catches him getting high in the bathroom but decided not to tell anyone.

Drey has problems on her own with a single-mother who is always at work, a brother in prison for dealing drugs, an absent father and a neighborhood drug dealer who encourages her to get involved in his business. The two form and unlikely friendship and begin to talk and share their problems in hope of better days. Both of them are aware of the problems they have and what they should do, to put an end to them, but both of them seem to be unable to do so.

There is a remarkable heartbreaking scene in this film; a scene that radically changes the course of the two character’s lives. Drey agrees to make a drug delivery and goes to an apartment full of drug addicts to get the job done and earn some money. Drey arrives at the place only to find out that the customer is none other than her teacher Dunne.

The deal is made (Dan gives her the money and she gives him the drugs) but both are too ashamed to look each other in the eye because both wound up doing exactly what they promised they wouldn’t do. There is some good brought by this dramatic event in the sense that it makes our characters re-evaluate their lives and find the will to start over again. Dan finds his peace and his joy in teaching his classes while Drey decides to separate herself from her fate.


22. The Great Debaters (Denzel Washington, 2007)

The Great Debaters

“The Great Debaters” is a period biopic that seems to be tailored on the Hollywood film recipe. It is also Denzel Washington’s second directorial effort. Based on a true story, the plot revolves around the efforts of debate coach Melvin B. Tolson (Denzel Washington) at historically black Wiley College to place his team on equal footing with whites in the American South during the 1930s, when racial segregation laws were common and lynch mobs were a pervasive fear for blacks.

In the movie, the Wiley team eventually succeeds to the point where they are able to debate Harvard University. This was their 47th annual debate team. The movie also explores the social constructs in Texas during the Great Depression including not only the day-to-day insults and slights African Americans endured, but also a lynching.

Still, this movie is not a sad one but quite an optimistic one, proving itself to be very inspiring. Denzel Washington’s double role (director and actor) in this film paid off as it was very well received and perceived as one of the most inspiring films of the decade.


23. Freedom Writers (Richard LaGavrenese, 2007)

Freedom Writers

“Freedom Writers” is based on the true story of Erin Gruwell (Hilary Swank), a new excited teacher who comes to Woodrow Wilson High School in Long Beach, California with very high hopes. The problem is that the kids in this inner-city high school have self-segregated into racial groups within the classroom – this is in 1992 when interracial riots where a common thing in California.

Erin tries in vain to bring them together and works day and night to find a solution to this problem. She also does her best in encouraging them to attend college. Little by little, she manages to unite her class but feels that there is still something missing. In class, when reading “The Diary of Anne Frank”, they invite Miep Gies, the woman who sheltered Anne Frank.

Miep Gies’s inspiring story gives Erin an idea. She gives her students notebooks encouraging them to write their own diaries in a book form. This way their anxiety and frustration can become productive and help them evolve. This project turns out to be a huge success.

Unfortunately, as she is making progress with her students her marriage is falling apart as her husband divorces her. He blames her for being more concerned about her pupils than their marriage and for spending littler and littler time with him. Although she is crushed this does not stop Erin from achieving her goal to make her students realize their true inner potential.


24. Entre Les Murs (Laurent Cantet, 2008)

Entre Les Murs

When asked about the best films about teaching most film critics will include in their shortlist this 2008 French drama about an idealistic teacher and his year with a racially mixed classroom from a tough Parisian neighborhood school. The film deserves its place amongst the best and it is very well made and acted.

The film covers an academic year, beginning with the teachers gathering for the autumn term, introducing themselves to each other and being welcomed by the principal, an unsmiling figure wearing rimless glasses and ends with an informal game of football between staff and pupils. The camera never leaves the school but wanders around every inch of the building.

The audience has access to the classroom, the staff room, the dining room, the playground, the conference room, the principal’s office etc. After the introduction to the school and its teachers the film concentrates on teacher Francois Marin (François Bégaudeau – the film is loosely based on his own experiences as a teacher) and his efforts to keep order in the class, mediating between conflicting ethnic groups, quieting the rowdy, bringing out the reticent, and trying to educate them.

The class is difficult, and in some ways, the brightest are the most disruptive. The film’s subject is more or less common in American films but it’s surprisingly refreshing to see it tackled by French cinema; especially in this era when France has become an ethnic mosaic. A great, great film!


25. Detachment (Tony Kaye, 2011)


Tony Kaye could have become the world’s biggest director after his first film, “American History X”, became a huge hit with audiences and critics alike. However, because of his conflicts with the film’s star Edward Norton Kaye detached himself from the film claiming that it did not represent his artistic vision and filling lawsuit after lawsuit.

Since then he has directed a documentary and the almost never seen “Black Water Transit”. “Detachment” is another movie that fell under the radar undeservedly so. The film is simple, static and almost painfully slow but it is meant to be all those things because of the point it is trying to make.

Detachment is a chronicle of one month in the lives of several high school teachers, administrators and students through the eyes of a substitute teacher named Henry Barthes (Adrien Brody). Barthes’ method of imparting vital knowledge to his temporary students is interrupted by the arrival of three women in his life — the damaged and naive prostitute Erica, a fellow teacher and a troubled teen named Meredith.

These women all have profound effects on Barthes’ life, forcing him to both re-discover aspects of his own personality. The film offers an excellent cinematic experience that goes beyond the teaching genre and reaches heights of “existential angst”.

Author Bio: Horia Nilescu is a 30-year-old cinephile from Brasov, Romania. He works at a local bookstore as a multimedia & events manager (handling supplying issues in regards to cd’s and dvd’s and also organizing local events). He is passionate about film and fascinated by its diversity. He has created a local film club in Brasov (going of 3 years) in which he handles all aspects. He likes to talk and write about movies but most importantly he likes to watch them.