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10 Lessons from Movies About Teaching

Movies have a magical way of transporting the viewer into new fantastical places and offer experiences that many have never seen. They usually have a different impact however, when the subject matter hits close to home.

Over the years there have been many exception movies about teaching made; whether about innovative teachers or broken systems or comedies that mock the profession. Each film offers a different perspective about life inside schools that are worth exploring.

After seeing the #BFC530 question considering how movies about teaching have impacted me as a teacher, I thought it would be fun to write about 10 movies that have taught me something important.

Here they are, in no particular order:

  1. Dead Poets Society - Never be afraid to break the rules if it means a better student learning experience. Whether ripping the pages out of a poetry textbook or bringing students outside to learn valuable lessons, Robin Williams' character challenged his students to really consider what learning means, especially if it made them uncomfortable. He forced them to question. I hope to always force my students to question everything, pushing the boundaries of what is possible.

  2. To Sir With Love - This one makes me cry every time. The lessons he taught students about self-respect and honesty are invaluable. This movie reminds me of the power of what we do and how we can change the course of student lives by simply exposing them to things they wouldn't otherwise see or learn. We need to show kids they are capable of doing more than what their blueprints suggest and see each child as pure possibility. To inspire, we must be able to see the bigger picture, especially when our students can't.

  3. Coach Carter - Always raise the bar. Set standards high and expect kids to rise to them because we know they can, even when they don't realize it. It can't just be about sports or clubs, it has to be about becoming well rounded, respected people. We can only accomplish this feat by ensuring consistent and clear expectations with a willingness to talk about why. Transparency is key, especially when working against a system that isn't supportive.

  4. Mona Lisa Smile - We cannot ever judge our students based on what we see as it is seldom ever the full story. This movie really showed me the range of our reach. Often, we don't get off to the best start with students and that has the potential to really challenge the relationship over time. If we keep an open mind and truly listen to what students say to us, then we can help them in the way they want to be helped and not in the preconceived way we think is best.

  5. Freedom Writers - Writing is a powerful tool that levels the field for students. It offers an unexplored potential that most are afraid to see. We must be champions for our students, giving them outlets to explore what goes on for them on the inside and nurture what they find. Teachers give of themselves personally, as does the teacher in the movie and it is that personal investment that draws students in and allows them to trust, so we can't be afraid to let students into our own lives.

  6. School of Rock - Learning should be fun and unconventional. There is much to be absorbed from experiential learning, perhaps far more than rote memorization in the classroom. By providing students will rich opportunities to build things or play with things or create things, we are offering them chances to explore real-world applications to skills and content that appear inside textbooks. All learning should be an experience; it makes it harder to forget.

  7. Notes on a Scandal - It is important to maintain appropriate boundaries with students, especially those of the opposite sex. It is easy for young, impressionable students to get attached to teachers who they feel recognize them in meaningful ways. As adults, it is our responsibility to help kids but not cross any dangerous lines. This movie really shined the light on an ugly reality that rarely happens (but can and still does) in our profession. Getting involved with students inappropriately breaks a level of trust that can never be repaired.

  8. Whiplash- Recognizing student talent is an essential part of our career but how we help to encourage and foster student gifts is essential. We can't terrorize students to do things our way, even if we think it will draw out the best in them. Adolescents and younger are very impressionable and we have a duty to shine a light on their talents and nurture them, not kill them.

  9. The Harry Potter Series - Although I could probably break down specific lessons from all of the movies, I think the most important one is that words are magic. What we say and how we say it has the potential to change lives. We model the behaviors we want students to emulate and the relationships they develop with friends and teachers will set the course of their entire lives. With this in mind, we must intentionally make choices that make positive influences and not the opposite.

  10. Mr. Holland's Opus - Although some of us have different aspirations than being in the classroom, it is possible to do what we love inside of it. Mr.Holland wanted to be a composer and by the end of his career, he was. Teaching isn't a one-way ticket away from personal dreams and aspirations. The old adage of 'those who don't teach' is not the truth... those who do, teach. We must embody a love for the content we share with students and that can easily be imparted if we have rich lives inside of our field of study outside of school. I'm a writer AND a teacher of writing. It makes me better at what I do and adds credibility. This movie also really shows the challenges of being a parent and a teacher and how balancing the two is extremely hard.

There are many movies we can learn from as teachers and as we watch them there are many lenses through which we can change.

What are your favorite movies about teaching? Please share which ones and how they have impacted you

This post originally ran on my Education Week Teacher blog in June 2015

43 views2 comments


Starr Sackstein
Starr Sackstein
Jul 30, 2020

I love Finding Forrester, Timothy. It's a good one.


Unknown member
Jul 30, 2020

A movie I enjoy you don’t mention, and I cannot remember the title. It’s about writing. A black male HS student attending an all white private school in NY. Lol do you know which one I’m referring too?

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