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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

These are the top 20 movies every educator should watch. While every movie is not specifically about educators, there is definitely something to take away from each. These movies are not listed in order of importance, just the order they came to me. Each title is linked to their IMDB page.

Summer School
Mark Harmon tries to be the teacher he is not and only succeeds in reaching his students when he is the teacher they need him to be. Be true to yourself and the students will listen.

Lean on Me
Morgan Freeman plays Joe Clark, the principal who is willing to do anything it takes to help make his school safe and create an environment for all students to learn. Sometimes doing what's tough is what's best for kids.

Ferris Bueller's Day Off
As a teacher, this movie is a bit funnier when you think about the things Ferris is able to pull off and the craziness Edward Rooney, the principal, must have had to deal with to push him over the edge.

Dead Poets Society
One of the main reasons I wanted to be an English Teacher my captain, my captain.

Stand and Deliver
This is a great movie about reaching students who feel like they have no hope of success in their life. Looking at it now, it also has something to say about standardized testing.

Searching for Bobby Fischer
A young chess prodigy is pushed by his father and chess teacher to be the best, when he just wants to play. Thought provoking story about how we treat gifted children. Do we really know what is best for them?

The Karate Kid
A wimpy kid is trained to defend himself by a old Japanese man. What I always take away from this movie is the unconventional ways that Mr. Miyagi taught Daniel. Sometimes the unconventional is the way to go.

Rushmore
Max Fischer, played by Jason Schwartzman, is the student that seems to be involved in everything, but can't seem to get his studies done. Bill Murray should have won an Oscar for his performance. I think every school has a Max, but how do we reach them?

Carrie
Besides being the right thing to do, Carrie showcases a great reason on why kids should never bully other students. You never who has telekinetic powers, so be nice to everyone.

Mean Girls
Tina Fey does a great job with this script showing how high school gossip and overall cattiness plays out. It is a funny take on a serious issue in some high schools.

Election
Reese Witherspoon and Mathew Broderick (now playing a teacher) are amazing in this film showing the dark underbelly of student government. It is a funny movie that, as a teacher, makes you wonder what student leadership is all about.

Heathers
It might seem like a bit dated for today's schools, but Heather's commentary on cliques is still relevant. Heathers is an excellent movie that still packs a punch today.

Dazed and Confused
Forget about the herbal parts of the movie and focus on Jeremy London's character. He is supposed to be "the jock" and commit to being a certain person. He fights to be himself and that is something to be admired.

The Breakfast Club
A movie that is a must-see for everyone. When I watch the movie now, it reminds me that no matter how I might perceive a student to be, there is a good chance they have some darker parts they are just waiting to share. Sometimes they just need someone to ask.

Finding Forrester
One of Sean Connery's last movies before he retired and he is magnificent. A young man gets into a fancy prep school on a basketball scholarship, but it turns out he is a great writer who butts heads with his tyrannical English teacher. Connery is reclusive writer who helps the student find his voice. There is more to students than we realize at times.

The Mighty
This is a story about two unlikely friends that have much to learn from one another. I stumbled upon this movie a few years ago and loved it. I will always stop and watch it.

Real Genius
Val Kilmer is very funny in this movie. He mentors a young kid who skips ahead to college. It's interesting to see what the pressure of being a "genius" can sometimes do to a person.

School Ties
This has an all-star cast dealing with bigotry during the 1950's. Even though it deals with anti-Semitism, the story truly applies to all types of discrimination students might face in schools.

Super 8
The reason this movie is on the list is because I feel it nailed the type of relationship young boys have at a particular age. JJ Abrams did an amazing job of writing exactly how young boys act when they are goofing around or when there is a girl in their midst. When dealing with boys in the classroom, this movie might help you make sense of their actions.

Stand by Me
This is another example of boys being boys, but also young kids being forced to deal with unfair expectations or labels based on their families. Whether it's not living up to your all-star brother or trying to escape the reputation of a criminal brother, fighting to be yourself is never easy.

What other movies would you add to this list? Please add to the comments section below.



Do you have an education-related list of 20 you'd like to submit? Please send to community AT edutopia. Be sure you have a profile on Edutopia.org with a photo and bio included.

Comments (136)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Judy Yaron PhD's picture
Judy Yaron PhD
Pedagogical Advisor and Teacher Trainer

What a treasure! Thanks for all the recommendations. My favorite is "Music of the Heart" (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0166943/). Based on a true story , it portrays the struggles, but most of all the passion of a violin teacher in NYC. I used to show it to my fresh teacher trainees on the first day of school to give them a sneak peek what being a teacher within a school, community and system is all about.

William Hughen's picture
William Hughen
District Director of Guidance Hudson (NH) School District

Christian Slater in Pump Up The Volume. The school counselor looks like a goof but still a good movie and even better soundtrack.

Michael Parent's picture
Michael Parent
High School Principal from NJ

Gus Van Sant's master work and his take on the tragedy of Columbine.

Sarah Daugherty's picture

Get past the canned scheming and you'll get a movie about all the students who don't fit the college mold. They create a college of "what do you want to learn?" and then use the student body as the faculty. Wait...the learner as facilitator? Engagement-driven curriculum? Sounds like #edcamp 101 to me!

USF_Tay's picture
USF_Tay
High school English charter school teacher; Ed Leadership grad student

The English teacher in me loves the way students cling to writing to survive hardships. The at-risk teacher in me loves how the teacher approaches her students. The movie fan in me loves the plot. =]

Jan Seiter's picture

You missed (or didn't see) a very important movie about the abuses of power and the damage that can be done to students in the name of 'the organization'.

Ryan Kelsey's picture

You have to see this movie about a teacher's last year in a rural one-room school house. Simply amazing!

Jim Berman's picture
Jim Berman
Chef Instructor working with 10th, 11th & 12th graders; Wilmington, DE
Blogger 2014

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is a great story; it reminds us to use the imagination and wonder of youth. We so often overlook imagination, that little fire of creativity, in lieu of the day-to-day rat race. Sometimes it is good to take your foot off the gas, breath and reset to a new mind set. I, for one, like to press my own ctrl+alt+delete buttons to get back on track. Perhaps Willy and Charlie can do that for us, if not just for a little while.

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