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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

Niloufer's picture
Andhra Pradesh

I can't believe the list doesn't mention, "To Sir, with Love"

Niloufer's picture
Andhra Pradesh

I can't believe the list doesn't mention, "To Sir, with Love"

Dr Jim Nichols's picture
Dr Jim Nichols
Chair of Ad Ed at Nyack College School of Education

This is largely an inappropriate list for teachers with certain exceptions. To Sir with Love, Up the Down Staircase, Mr Holland's Opus, Conrack are excellent suggestions. Most of the movies are smutty and inappropriate, paint teachers in a disrespectful light and other s have nothing to do with education. Dead Poet's Society, Stand and Deliver, Finding Forester are inspirational.Even Lean on Me is a totally fictionalized account of a principal who broke the law and illegally threw kids out school.

Carrie? A movie with the message that if you bully a girl she will use her telekinetic powers to incinerate her class.

Bonnie Yelverton's picture
Bonnie Yelverton
New job (2 years after credentialling) in Science in southern California

A movie that isn't generally considered about education moved me incredibly as an educator: Buck http://buckthefilm.com/ is about a "horse whisperer" His methods to train recalcitrant horses (using love and understanding) is an incredible lesson for teachers as well. There is also a book, The Faraway Horses, about him that continues the inspiration. He is an inspired teacher!

Vincent's picture
Curriculum Director and developer; Education and Media blogger

There is a Singapore movie called "I Not Stupid" (and its sequel "I Not Stupid Too") that had a profound effect on me as a teacher and parent. With the current fetish for test scores and Asian education practices, this movie serves as a reminder of the pressure students in Asia face from teachers and parents. The movie begins with a boy wishing to commit suicide because he is a mediocre student. http://youtu.be/5kKqWhDDgc8

eric's picture
veteran math and technology teacher/coordinator

as a teacher, there are many lessons that i've learned and not all of them happen in the classroom. i also find "Radio" and, to a lesser extent "Friday Night Lights," to be a phenomenal movie about the role of a school and caring teachers/coaches/educators in the lives of students.

Rosanne's picture
Middle school science teacher 6-8th grades

What about a very old movie Cipher in the Snow.
Also on my list Freedom Writers, October Sky. All three have had an impact on my career. The first reminds us of the importance of connecting with each student.

Bonnie Yelverton's picture
Bonnie Yelverton
New job (2 years after credentialling) in Science in southern California

I think it would be great if you'd make a printable list of all the suggestions, adding to it as they come in.

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

I have been collecting movie titles like this for quite some time. I just put up my list on my blog: http://blog.attitutor.com/2013/02/education-in-movies-titles-list.html

I have not included all the ones listed in this post nor in the comments because I either have not seen the movie or do not believe that it's valuable. There are only a few titles that I have on my list that I have not yet seen. Conrack, for instance, is one I have not yet seen, but I include it because it is a title that has been mentioned repeatedly on lists like this. There are 272 movies in my list, so it's pretty comprehensive. The films I am most likely not to include would be horror and those that are centered on High School and College.

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