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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

Linda Estridge's picture
Linda Estridge
Media Specialist at New Heights Middle School in Chesterfield County

The story about Stacey Bess, takes place in 1987 and follows a young teacher and mother of two who, fresh from college, ends up teaching homeless children at a school without a name. With the support of her husband, she overcomes fears and prejudice to give these children the education they deserve. This was a Hallmark movie and one well worth watching.

Linda Estridge's picture
Linda Estridge
Media Specialist at New Heights Middle School in Chesterfield County

The Ron Clark Story should be an inspiration to us all to never give up. Ron is still at it in his school in Atlanta and some of the teachers from our district visited the school last year. They were very impressed.

Allison's picture

My favorite because it puts out what I suspect is a real thought that many adolescents have: my teacher is actually an alien! (and she's trying to kill me!) Understanding that this is where some kids are coming from is the first step toward enlightenment...

Sean Malinger's picture

Three Idiots
This Bollywood dramady tells the story of two friends who seek out their college classmate who inspired them to live and think differently. Utilizing flashback from their present day search to their memories of their friend, this film covers the gamut of the pressure to please parents, the stress of school, rigid thinking in education, love, redemption, and a sense of wonder that comes from learning.

A. Gordon's picture

I think "Phoebe in Wonderland" has a lot to offer viewers. There are a few stereotypes / tropes here, as in most American movies--the lone teacher who can relate to the difficult child; the rigidly rule-bound principal and staff; the kids who are "saved" by an original approach. But the movie is special--it's imaginative, dramatic, and thoughtful, and while the movie wraps up quite neatly, there's no suggestion that a child with learning differences is "fixed" by one good experience. (And any fans of "Alice in Wonderland" will LOVE the references to the novel, and the way Phoebe encounters various Carroll characters.)

Melanie Lightbourn-Rowe's picture
Melanie Lightbourn-Rowe
Dean of Students, LAUSD

While I have a very strong opinion concerning the suggestions some educators have made, I do believe that Akeelah and the Bee offered a strong proclamation of the brilliance that children of color do possess. Students of color are frequently mislabeled in our school systems, and while the movie conveys that she was a shining light in the midst of 'a slim list of hopefuls' the underlying message was heard; we are indeed powerful beyond measure and the only thing we have to fear is ourselves.

eric's picture
eric
veteran math and technology teacher/coordinator

i'm a huge fan of mr. holland's opus. not necessarily unlike dead poet's, it focuses on someone who never planned to be a teacher, though he was destined to be.

Nailah S's picture

Should add the 2008 film,The Class ( French title: Entre les murs)
and the 1967 film, To Sir, with Love

Jennifer Fenton's picture
Jennifer Fenton
Technology for Learning Coordinator @ International School of Geneva

I know it's a bit sentimental, but I would add Mr. Holland's Opus. As educators we are coming to realize the importance of fostering creativity and following our passions - this film illustrates the power of a teacher who models this and the impact it has on his students. I also think the Indian film Tarre Zameen Par is a film every educator should see.

Doug Safford's picture

Two special movies- that should be on the list-
Paperclips- how a middleschool in Chattanooga, TN found a way to understand the Holocast-

Smoke Signals- story about friendship with Native Americans and how parts of life ties us together.

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