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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

mrschirles's picture
mrschirles
teaching students math since 2001!

Great movie on race in schools.

Also 2nd-ing Mr. Hollands Opus

Laura Thomas's picture
Laura Thomas
Director, Antioch University New England Center for School Renewal
Facilitator 2014

An amazing example of problem/ project based learning- but not for the faint of heart I guess...

And it's not a movie, but the Phineas and Ferb episode entitled "Phineas and Ferb Get Busted" is going to make it's way into my presentations- just as soon as I can figure out the copyright issues. :-)

Taci Jones's picture

I love the teacher/student relationships and how respect is earned not given!

Keith Heggart's picture
Keith Heggart
High School Teacher from Sydney, Australia

Still remember watching Stand and Deliver in Year 9 at school. Really made me want to be a teacher - which is what I turned out as, after a few excursions.

I am, in equal parts, frustrated and inspired by Dead Poet's Society. I love the inspiration, the students finding their voices, the hope and optimism, but I also struggle with the artificiality of it all. This frustration has only occurred since I became a teacher - perhaps I am simply annoyed that I can't inspire my students like Mr Keating does.

Sarah Ward's picture
Sarah Ward
Graduate Student in Education/Future Elementary Teacher

School of Rock is one of the movies that inspired me to become a teacher. Its hilarious and a reminder that kids are cooler than we give them credit for, so we shouldn't sugar-coat everything and just let em' rock! Hehehe

Gaetan Pappalardo's picture
Gaetan Pappalardo
Teacher, Author, Guitar––Word.
Facilitator 2014

I guess more for the writing teacher. My favorite scene is when William is in the bath tub with all of his notes trying to bring them together to write his piece for Rolling Stone. It also highlights how the corporate (Rolling Stone) controls and manipulates authors vs. the Independent (Cream Magazine) which encourages art for art's sake.

Don Berg's picture
Don Berg
Author of Teach-Kids-Attitude-1st.com and the book Attitude First.

Twenty-Four Eyes (Japan, 1954) The story of a new elementary school teacher and the long-term relationships she has with her first class.

Farewell, Children (France, 1987) The impact of the Nazi occupation on a church school that harbors a Jewish boy.

Butterfly's Tongue (Spain, 1999) The story of a boy's relationship with his teacher and how the politics leading up to WWII impact them.

Not One Less (China, 2000) The story of a 14 year old girl who is recruited to be the substitute teacher for a village school but is told she will only be paid if there is not one less student on his return (where in rural areas drop out rates are extremely high even for young children).

The Chorus (France, 2004) The story of a new teacher in a rough boarding reform school in the late forties and how he brings music to the lives of his students and one boy in particular.

The Class (France, 2008) The story of a current-day high school and how one teacher is challenged to deal with his students and their issues.

The King of Masks (China, 1996) The story of the keeper of a family art form that was passed to him from his father, who learned from his father, etc. and his attempt to pass it on through the adoption of what he believes is a son.

These should all be available through Netflix.

Meghan Cameron's picture
Meghan Cameron
High school history, social science and civics teacher in Ontario, Canada.

The movie Teachers (1984), starring Nick Nolte is pretty campy, funny, and at some times, dramatic. The mixed bag of teachers and teaching 'styles' is pretty representative of the profession ... lots of passionate, dedicated individuals with a few bad apples. My favorite character is the substitute history teacher who is actually a patient from a mental half-way house.

mrschirles's picture
mrschirles
teaching students math since 2001!

A colleague of mine uses mean girls after they read Julius Caesar. Great movie! Also great if you've read Queen B's and Wanna Be's.

Jon Orech's picture
Jon Orech
Instructional Tech Coordinator

2 more:

To Sir With Love Sidney Poitier takes on an "LD" "BD" class in London, and makes the learning much more authentic and valuable along the way.

"The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie"

Maggie Smith teaches a group of 12 year old girls in Scotland. It is a reminder of what an enormous responsibility we have as teachers, and what can happen if we misuse our authority.

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