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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

Hellen Harvey's picture
Hellen Harvey
high school English

Monsieur Lazhar
The Class
To Be and to Have
Please Vote for Me
Half Nelson
Freedom Writers (cliched but must see)
4th season of The Wire
Ciao Professore
Caterina in the City
The Rebuttal to Waiting for Superman (Inconvenient Truth)
One concession to Hollywood: Teachers
Classics - To Sir with Love, Blackboard Jungle, Up the Down Staricase

zep's picture
Education Specialist

Sad anyone would still recommend movies that outright lie, or those that continue racial stereotypes. Lean on Me was debunked ages ago, test scores actually dropped, principal quit after 1 year then sued the district for pay while he got paid for a speaking tour, sorry Hollywood but reality is a bit more complex than belittling teachers and carrying a big stick. At least your list left off the bigotry of Freedom Writers & Dangerous Minds, really, must a nice white lady rescue our poor black young men? In my neck of the woods plenty of young men take care of themselves, perhaps w/ the help of a black man, leave your insulting pity in Hollywood please... I will give cudos to those who mentioned Half-Nelson which at least makes an effort to break the stereotypes invoked by "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" Joe & the pathetic nice white ladies.

Becky's picture
Gifted Education Specialist

Slam should be on the list - especially because it crosses the cultural divide.

Julie Tremmel's picture
Julie Tremmel
3rd Grade Teacher

"Temple Grandin" is a movie that every teacher should watch. It depicts the true-life story of an autistic girl who grows up to be world-famous. The extras on the DVD include a commentary in which Temple comments and explains things further.

Yonna's picture

[quote]"Temple Grandin" is a movie that every teacher should watch. It depicts the true-life story of an autistic girl who grows up to be world-famous. The extras on the DVD include a commentary in which Temple comments and explains things further.[/quote]

sue kelewae's picture
sue kelewae
Education instructor at Kent State University

Today I would include a Dangerous Minds, Good Will Hunting,, and also the psudo-documentaries (for discussion purposes) such as "Waiting for Superman", and "Won't Back Down".

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...

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