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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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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.

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?

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.

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.

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 (139)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Marty Mintman's picture

A really funny film that makes us wish we could all be so lac as Cameron Diaz is about teaching. She sleeps, drinks on the job, shows movies all the time. I love when her middle schoolers come back from winter break and she is concerned about getting their test scores up (for a 10 grand stipend!) and gives them homework. Student: "Homework? We havent had homework all year!" LOL

Garrett Sims's picture
Garrett Sims
4th Grade Teacher & STEM Educator

Mr. Holland's Opus
School of Rock
Spellbound (Oscar Nominated Documentary that follows 8 kids from around the country as they qualify for the National Spelling Bee in DC - it speaks a lot about how children learn and how there is never just one way to be good at something)

Though not a movie, I would also add to this list some episodes of The Simpsons that focus in part, or largely, on education.

Some examples
the students taking the Career Aptitude Normalizing Test, or CANT. Bart finds out his future career is a police office while Lisa's is a home maker. Sample question on the test: I prefer the smell of A) Gasoline, B French Fries, or C) Bank Customers.

Teachers go on Strike and the townsfolk agree to take over the teaching jobs. For one new 'teacher' everything not ok deserves a paddlin'

And, basically, anytime the show one of the old time School Documentaries on any subject, here are some samples: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oC7TVRU5nho

Will Green's picture

Very good list. Super 8 is an amazing movie on a whole host of areas that push buttons in a number of ways. Another movie that will have your students seeing the world with a new set of eyes is "Cipher in the Snow."

This very short film (Parts 1 + 2) in the URL below, takes some bitter truths and has you swallow them to see how it might feel. Not the kind of medicine that you want daily, but a single dose goes a long way to cure actions that may otherwise cause distress.

Check it out at:




Darren Beck's picture
Darren Beck
Public Education Advocate

First off, "Won't Back Down" is not a documentary nor is it a pseudo-documentary, to former poster. Better than critics or the education establishment gave it credit for being. The power of committed teachers and parents should not be dismissed.

Secondly, "Bad Teacher," at best and worst, was a satire of the profession--we too often whine we are not treated as professionals, yet we do some really unprofessional stuff. I enjoyed the trashiness for what it was worth, but there was a deeper tale to tell and they almost did it.

On to what I hope are good additions:
"The Emperor's Club" with Kevin Kline was much better than it got credit for being. A deep passion seems to power any teacher, regardless of the school, the curriculum, etc.

My odd entry, "Invictus," was all about a leader transforming a nation at a crossroad in a nation's history. He had to teach by example, he used project-based learning, and he used straight up chats. Brilliant and powerful. Love this film.

"The Blackboard Jungle" was so edgy for the era of the mid-1950s. It was and is a great film about why a teacher would stick with what must seem a lose-lose proposition.

AWarren's picture
Fifth grade teacher in Salt Lake City, UT

I love "Gifted Hands: the Ben Carson Story", starring Cuba Gooding, Jr. It depicts the amazing transformation of Dr. Ben Carson, as a young student, from feeling like a complete failure, to becoming very successful academically. The way his mother teaches him and never gives up on him is truly inspiring.

Nancy Broyles's picture
Nancy Broyles
High School Physical Science/Earth Science Teacher

I would add The Blind Side and the new version of The Karate Kid with Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan. This Karate Kid forces the headstrong child to accept another culture in order to fit in and to truly understand what honor means.

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