20 Movies Every Educator Should See | Edutopia
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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.

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

Doug Safford's picture

Paper Clips- gives meaning to teaching in rural communities and also makes you cry

Smoke Signals- great story of friendship, and love- a comedy with native Americans

Victor Kamikubo's picture
Victor Kamikubo
Parent of 1 6th grade (elementary school) student in Westminster, CA

Timothy Bottoms as Ivy league law student. John Houseman is excellent as teacher.

michael hattman's picture

I agree that teacher/school movies offer an excellent opportunity to study our profession. We are not concerned with Hollywood's intentions and flare in creating the reel teachers but the underlying principles of quality teaching and learning that can be reviewed in their creations. I have a different list at my website in the book Mentorship Through the Movies but we agree on many films.
www.movieteacher46.com Mentorship Tab

Stand and Deliver
Stand and Deliver is the true story of Jaime Escalante, highly paid computer
programmer--who always wanted to be a teacher. So he quits his job and hires
on at East Los Angeles' Garfield High School to teach computer science to its
inner city students. There's only one hitch--due to budgetary problems there
aren't any computers. An adaptable sort, Jaime swallows his annoyance and
decides to teach the available subject--algebra-- instead.
At first his students aren't willing to pay attention to him and uninterested in
learning what he has to teach. But Jaime's philosophy is that the students will
rise to the level of the expectations put upon them. If you expect nothing, you
will get nothing. Jaime Escalante expects that his students will pass the AP
Calculus exam. The administration protests: if the students fail at this task, what
will it do to their fragile egos?
But soft-spoken Jaime manages to convince his students that they can succeed
at this task. He gets them to agree to take Trigonometry in summer school, and
in their next academic year, spend hours both before and after school learning
calculus. His teaching style, which includes humor, sarcasm, strict discipline,
and attention getting techniques, might be considered by some to be verbally
abusive, but he always made it clear to the students that he was one of them,
knew where they were coming from, and cared about them.
All of Jaime's kids passed the AP Calculus test. Twice. Due to either the
shortsightedness of the testing company, or perhaps even prejudice against inner
city schools, they were forced to retake the exam. The testing company accused
the students of cheating. Jaime stood up for them, insisted that they had not
cheated, but once it was clear the testing company would not change its stance,
he told that the only way they can prove they didn't cheat the first time, would
be to take, and pass, it again.
It is a credit to his teaching that all did.47
Mentorship Points:
1. The movie portrays Jaime Escalante as a successful highly paid worker in
the field of technology who decides to switch to teaching without in-depth
training. What makes him succeed despite this lack of training? What
problems result because of his lack of educational courses? Would you
consider Jaime to be a born teacher? [7:08] Switching Jobs
Reaction: ______________________________________________________________
2. The "lone wolf" concept makes a good movie, but it can destroy a school.
If the only reason to be in school was math, why have all the other subjects
and extracurricular activities? What would happen if everyone set the
same demands on student time? Theme
Reaction: ______________________________________________________________
3. Jaime Escalante is rude, crude, and abusive to his students. He constantly
belittles and drives them instead of encouraging them - Net Head,
Fingerman, Burros, Work From HeadUp, Wing or a Leg, The Chair, Shoe Shine
Box. Furthermore a couple of his comments were out of line and would be
considered sexual harrassment. [7:58] Sexual Harassment; [15:30] Rude;
[24:08] Belittling
Within 1-3 days, students will know if you care about them and want
them to learn. The combination of praise and criticism you use will be
your style. If they do not think you sincerely care, style won't make much
How was it obvious that Jaime cared about his students? What is your
reaction to his teaching style? Do you think it would work for you?
Reaction: ______________________________________________________________
4. Jaime feels that students will rise to the level of expectations of the teacher.
His peers see a need for changes in family life, social environment, peer
pressure, teacher training, teacher turnover, etc., as reasons for poor
performance. Is Jaime's success repeatable, or are the statements of his
fellow teachers the best way to influence student improvement?
[19:25] Expectations
Reaction: ______________________________________________________________
5. Jaime put his school before his family and his own health. He works
himself into a heart attack. [51:58] School Before Family;
[54:30] Heart Attack
We must constantly evaluate our dedication and expectations. We must
use what resources we have carefully.
Reaction: ______________________________________________________________
6. It appeared that Jaime was always in control of his class. Although he was
a new teacher in an urban school, he never appeared to be upset or
frustrated over the lack of desks, student's aggressive and inattentive
behavior, or the fact the bell rang early. He spoke Spanish to his students
and was not afraid to confront them. [4:20] Spanish; [9:44] Aggressive
Behavior; [12:58] More Aggressive Behavior
Students can usually tell if you are upset and intimidated. How can you
gain control over your emotions?
Reaction: ______________________________________________________________
7. Jaime knew his student's slang and was able to communicate with his
students on their level, without talking down to them. Knowing student's
slang, where they shop, and what they watch on television can be an
advantage to you. Aside from helping you understand their references
and where they are coming from, they may be impressed that you are
literate to their culture. [7:55] Communicating
Reaction: ______________________________________________________________
8. Jaime was not afraid to go to parents to get permission to put their kids in
upper level math. You must be willing to work with parents and be
prepared to take criticism from them. Try to meet with them as a team,
with the students present if this is feasible. [29:58] Parents
Reaction: ______________________________________________________________
9. It was not just the students and the parents who were skeptical over the
introduction of Calculus into the curriculum. Jaime had to fight the
administration and other teachers. He had no credibility in faculty
meetings, and the old timers were suspicious of his doing what had never
been done before. [18:30] Faculty Meeting; [36:20] Suspicions
Always strive to change and advance, but sometimes going slowly with
these changes will make things more accepted by your peers.
Reaction: ______________________________________________________________
10. It is very important for new teachers to be oriented to a school.
Jaime was given no directions, instructions, or welcome. The early bell
ringing came as a complete surprise to him. [2:50] Orientation;
[5:03] The Bell
If there are faculty and student handbooks available, read them carefully.
It is the responsibility of the administration to do as much as possible for
their new teachers, so do not be afraid to ask questions. What sort of
information is available in the handbooks at your school? Do you have a
peer resource who can help orient you to your school?.
Reaction: ______________________________________________________________
Relevant Quotes:
1. "I am a one man gang." [14:02]
2. "You're worried that we'll screw up big tomorrow, aren't you?"
"Tomorrow's another day. I'm worried you're gonna screw up the rest of
your lives." [1:27:35]
3. "Tough guys don't do math. Tough guys fry chicken for a living!" [13:39]
4. "They learned that if you try really hard nothing changes." [1:19:10]
5. "Students will rise to the level of the expectations.

Jill Lebiedzinski's picture

I was hoping someone would mention Ron Clark. Check out the member's only site at greatamericanteachersclub.com

Jeff Cooper's picture
Jeff Cooper
Online Support Consultant

Just gotta add these two to the list. If you don't have an appreciation for these movies, and the angst suffered by students plowing through dreary classes (i.e. if you don't love Sean Penn vs. Mr. Hand ;-) then you shouldn't be teaching imho.

I'm an unemployed educator and early online adopter, getting my students at Richmond High (of "Coach Carter" fame) published internationally in the mid 90s using nothing more than a 386. You can read about that success story at http://snurl.com/netc1 if you wish. Today's students have infinitely more potential for international collaboration and success, but are hampered by atavistic analog politics and pedagogy.

If students are to truly become engaged they need computers... period. Give every student in the world a computer and online access, let them solve the problems that we've created for them now and in the future. Get Google Education flowing, Dragon Naturally Speaking working for kids, virtual classrooms, etc. It's all doable, but it means a decentralization of learning... and oh yeah... politics.

Anyhow... those two movies totally *rock*. I used to work for Bill Graham Presents and got *paid* to see The Ramones. Ah... those were the days!

Jeff Cooper's picture
Jeff Cooper
Online Support Consultant

Excellent post and lesson ideas. Please consider joining Tapped In http://www.tappedin.org (a free professional educators' collaborative with over 500 professional development groups, university and K-12 classrooms). I'm on Helpdesk there (JeffC) and specialize in helping teachers create their own virtual classrooms. You have great ideas and I'd love to help you share them.

Jeff Cooper's picture
Jeff Cooper
Online Support Consultant

sorry folks... don't mean to spam the board... but tried numerous ways to have my comment deleted and/or posted *under* the Escalante lesson. either i'm screwing up (probably) and/or Edutopia needs to make some modifications to it's message board.

btw... while we're at it: Blackboard Jungle and To Sir with Love

Atika Aziz's picture

This film is so inspiring, especially for the teacher. It taught educator to teach creatively and be close to students.

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