These 10 best movies about teachers are largely about inspiration. Teachers inspire their students to learn. Students inspire their teachers to… teach. Whatever. You may notice that none of "The Substitute" movies are on this list. That’s because they’re too awesome.
- “Half Nelson.” Most movies about teachers are inspirational tales about the positive impact they have on their students’ lives. This movie isn’t one of those. It stars Ryan Gosling as a crack-smoking junior high school teacher who connects with one of his students as his own life spirals out of control. It’s a sad but tender movie that eschews the usual conventions of movies about teachers.
- “To Be and To Have.” A critically-acclaimed French documentary about a small, one-classroom school in rural France, this film sparked a minor controversy when the teacher featured in it sued for royalties after claiming he was misled about the scope of the movie. He lost his case, and the film went on to be a success without his being paid a dime. The lesson taught here? Always read your contract.
- “Freedom Writers.” A movie based on a book that was based on a true story, “Freedom Writers” is about a teacher who connects with her students by teaching them about the Holocaust and encouraging them to write diaries which she then assembles into a collection called “The Freedom Writers Diary.”
- “The Miracle Worker.” A movie based on a play based on a television series based on Helen Keller’s autobiography (did you follow all of that?), “The Miracle Worker” tells the story of Keller’s relationship with her tutor, Annie Sullivan. Despite being a derivation several times removed from the original source material, the movie actually turned out quite well.
- “A Beautiful Mind.” Russell Crowe as a schizophrenic math genius? It seems improbable, but surprisingly enough he pulled it off and even earned an Oscar nomination for Best Leading Actor. Like several other of the movies about teachers on this list, this one was based on a true story. Crowe played Nobel laureate John Forbes Nash, Jr., a math professor at MIT who struggled with lifelong mental illness.
- “Stand and Deliver.” Another movie based on a real life teacher, “Stand and Deliver” starred future Galactica commander Edward James Olmos as high school math teacher Jaime Escalante. It was a prototype of sorts for the many “tough-as-nails teacher overcomes the odds to reach his troubled inner-city students” movies to follow.
- “To Sir, with Love.” Sidney Poitier plays a black teacher of mostly white students in a London school. It is a reverse of the sort of pandering “white teacher inspires minority students” made popular by movies like “Dangerous Minds” (which you may notice did not make this list).
- “Dead Poets Society.” Between this and “Good Will Hunting,” Robin Williams has carved himself a nice little niche inspiring college students and janitors alike. In this movie, he portrays a white teacher who inspires white students by teaching them about dead, white poets.
- “Mr. Holland’s Opus.” Band directors are teachers, too, you know. Here, the teacher is Richard Dreyfuss as the titular Mr. Holland. In addition to music, he teaches kids to live and to love, etc., etc., while learning a little something himself. What does he learn? That he is never going to be a famous composer so he might as well convince himself that being a band director is just as rewarding.
- “Pygmalion.” Sure the story was much more successful when it was turned into the musical “My Fair Lady,” but musicals are lame. Watch this 1938 black and white film adaptation of the George Bernard Shaw play instead, because it is much better.
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